It’s hard to say—and it’s the thing I’m most often asked—where my favourite place has been. Each one is visited not just by me but by the weather, the time of day, crowds and—as a consequence and in addition to those things—a different frame of mind.
That considered, I was cold, recently awoken, and inside the clouds climbing the San Bernadino pass. So while it was very atmospheric it was not the most enjoyable drive.
I arrived at the top of the Stelvio Pass without actually climbing it due to a small lapse in navigational attention. It was once billed by Top Gear as “the greatest driving road in the world” and at 2756m it was also the highest my bike went on the whole trip. I ended up riding down and then back up its 48 hairpin turns. It’s more of a novelty: the turns are sharp, steep and there is a lot of traffic. I would recommend the route that Top Gear take from Davos over the Flüela and Ofen passes though.
Once in Italy I camped at the foot of the Sella Pass in the Dolomites. I awoke to skies clearer than the previous morning and the view I’d had from my campsite became expansive and illuminated as I began to ride. At the top of the pass I felt, with elusive certainty, that I’d ridden the most beautiful road of the trip.
Immediately following the Sella Pass are the Pordoi and Valparola passes. The scenery remained astounding and I was similarly certain that these were the best driving roads of the trip. They were wider and less trafficked than those in Switzerland with corners that swept rather than whipped back on themselves before pitching the bike, with perfect rhythm, into another turning the opposite way.
BMW also thought highly of them: Looking down from the top of the Valparola Pass at about 7am I saw a fleet of six cars working their way up the road, sounding at the ragged limit of traction. No sooner than they’d got to the top of the pass they turned around and headed back down. At least the lead car (judging from the one half-decent photo I got) was a pre-production 2014 M3 with a Munich numberplate. Munich is where the BMW factory is and also where my next stopover was to be.
Before leaving Italy I wanted to take the cable cars to the top of Monte Cristallo. Due to snow only the lowest of the two was open but I trudged up beyond that until it got too difficult. It was still an incredible view and I can’t imagine how good it would be to do one of the via ferrata routes at the top—some day.
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In Austria I settled down for what I expected to be my final night’s camping. An hour into the next day and the weather really caught up with me: I was in a downpour for the majority of the remaining journey.
One of the few downsides to travelling this way is that it can be hard to appreciate one place immediately after another, especially if they are similar. That was the case with what I saw of the Austrian and subsequently the German Alps. Not only was the weather against me but had I just come from some of the best scenery and riding of the trip in The Dolomites. If anything it’s a good reason to revisit another time, in different weather and with a different state of mind. But for now my time in the mountains was over.
Next update: Munich.