Before I came to Europe I had never heard of passes named Großglockenspiel, Furka, Albula, Klausen or Susten. Yet, anyone who has ridden motorcycles in Europe, has either rode or dreams of riding these passes someday. Well, it’s my turn – My time to ride some of the most beautiful passes in all the world!!
The route planning started well into last year with hours and hours of internet searching, and studying. I made lists and created map waypoint of every Alp pass and then did my best to find a route that connected them all. In the end I created a map of 22 Alp passes that I wanted to ride from Slovenia, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.
Originally I had panned to do this trip with Chantil but she ended up having her own motorcycle trip. I’ve been pressing her to write her own blog about it and I hope we can share it with you all in the future…
So, I’ll be riding this trip solo. I’m a bit nervous about it because I’ve been riding with Chantil for a few years now and this will be my first longer length trip on my own. Not to worry though, I’ll made sure to take some pictures along the journey and share the adventure.
Previously to this trip, I rode an event called the Illyria Raid. You can read about it here: Illyria Raid 2019. This event ended at a hotel in Zader, Croatia and this would be my starting point for the next leg of my trip focused on riding the exciting pavement of some of the most famous Alp passes!
Alps Trip – Day 1 of 8
🗓: 15 Sep | 🌍: Zader to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Map of Day 1: An easy Sunday ride of 142km.
At 1000, I left the hotel in Zader and found a self-serve car wash so I could clean up my mule, Apache, from the last four days of dirt and mud. I then entered Plitvice Lakes National Park as my destination making sure that highways were not selected, and then I was on my way…
A beautiful day for riding some two-lane backcountry roads. To be honest, this part of Croatia felt very similar to riding in San Diego Country, USA.
As I passed through the town of Obrovac I noticed these ruins overlooking the town. It turns out these are the ruins of a 14th century fortress.
Another view of the fortress. There were some walking trails to the top but I decided to skip the hike in order to make it to my destination and relax for the remainder of the day.
The two-lane road was well maintained and relatively free of traffic. I was a bit on guard because some riders had mentioned that people in Croatia drive pretty reckless. I didn’t experience this for myself, however.
You can’t tell in this photo but my riding jacket and pants are FILTHY! – The homeless looking kinda filthy! I hope I can find a campsite with laundry facilities to wash up.
I ended up reaching the camp site at 1345 with gave me plenty of time to do laundry and catch up with some photo editing and social media posts.
Washing my motorcycle jacket and pants is actually quite a pain. Removing the armor from the knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, and back are a bit time consuming. Once it’s washed you got to put it all back in. However, I was grateful to have clean gear!
Camp Borje provide a nice quite campsite to relax and enjoy the rest of Sunday afternoon. It was a bit expensive however – The campsite and two bags of laundry cost me 296 HRK = $44 USD.
Tomorrow I plan on getting up early enough to beat the tourist busses and enjoy the beautiful waters and falls of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Alps Trip – Day 2 of 8
🗓: 16 Sep | 🌍: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia to Lake Bled, Slovenia
Map of Day 2: from Plitvice Lakes National Park to the Žumberak and Samobor Mountains, then to a campsite near Lake Bled, Slovenia.
I slept in. My original plan was to wake at 0600, pack-up camp and be at Plitvice Lakes National Park at 0700. I went to bed with earplugs in my ears and didn’t hear the 0600 alarm. I didn’t wake up until 0652!!
I quickly packed in 20 minutes (perhaps a record) and still made it to the National Park before the first tour bus. Victory for me!!
I found a spot to park the mule without having to pay a parking fee. An entrance fee is required however – Cost 250 HRK = $37.43 USD. Ouch!
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is known for its water-falls and clear emerald-green water, however I was impressed with the calm lakes and the reflections.
You can rent row boats but I was here to hike and take pictures.
The water is really clear and clean. This picture was taken from the surface looking into about 5-6 feet of water.
Wooden paths run everywhere! It would have taken a lot of time to build the trails for this park.
The park features many falls from 16 interconnecting lakes of emerald green water.
No swimming is allowed but I found a quite spot to dip my feet.
A beautiful day.
I love this picture of the red leaf floating on the surface of the aqua hue water.
Ducks and other water fowl enjoy the park as well.
Elevated wooden paths seem like the best way to minimize foot-traffic impact at this popular park.
Vegetation grown right up the wooden paths.
A nice and sunny day with perfect temperatures and shade from the many trees.
The trial climbs up the hillside and provides a nice overview of one of the largest lakes.
You can even bring your furry four-legged friend to the park – leashed of course.
I took a ferry from dock 2 to dock 3 which was a mistake because this was where the tens-of-thousands of people were.
Cool walkway near the restaurants.
An interesting tunnel and the aqua-blue water of the northern lakes. It makes me want to swim in there and imagine a secret oasis hidden from all the other tourists.
A steep trail from the crowded lower trail provided some relief for my anxiety around large crowds.
The upper trail also provided a birds-eye view of the walking path and water below.
At this point, I was quickly reaching stratosphere level annoyance with the crowds of tourists. My advice would be to go early and leave early before the peacefulness is invaded with bus-loads of tourists.
After leaving Plitvice Lakes I made my way towards the Žumberak and Samobor Mountains. The map seemed to indicate this area was forested and less traveled.
Onward to Slovenia! After I snapped this picture I continued along to the border checkpoint. The border official looked at my American Passport and then went to talk to the supervisor. He returned and told me that I would have to “turn around!” I questioned “Why?” and he said because I was an American and not part of the European Union (EU). I replies that I was part of the EU because I live in Germany. I then presented my International Driver’s License issued from Germany. He went back to the supervisor. They discussed it for a bit with some raised voices and hand gestures. They both came out and the supervisor said I could “pass through, this time”. Whatever that means?!? Anyhow, on my way!
An interesting home built on the side of a hill in Slovenia.
I made it to camp with enough time to set up before dark and enjoy a bit of down-time before climbing into my sleeping bag for another night of sweet dreams.
Tomorrow I plan to get up early enough to get some sunrise photos of Bled Lake and then ride Mangart Saddle and Vršič Pass before continuing north through Austria to the Eagles Nest in Germany.
Alps Trip – Day 3 of 8
🗓: 17 Sep | 🌍: Lake Bled, Slovenia to Berchtesgaden, Germany
Map of Day 3 – Bled Lake, Slovenia 🇸🇮 to Austria 🇦🇹 then Germany 🇩🇪
I woke up early with high hopes that Lake Bled would be clear of fog for some drone photography. Sure enough it was and I was grateful that I got the shot I came for.
Initially, it was difficult to find a quite place to launch the drone. After riding around 3/4 of the lake I found a place near the Olympic Training Center.
The area had some statues and plaques honoring Slovenian athletes who won metals in the Olympic Games
I got the shot! One of the most picturesque spots in all of a Slovenian.
I wished I had more time to enjoy Lake Bled but I had a pretty tight agenda to cover before the end of my vacation days – Off I rode towards the north.
I purposely skipped freeways so I could enjoy the countryaide with their small villages and artwork like this on the side of a random barn.
Memories of WWII are common in Europe. This was the ruins of a massacre that occurred here in Sep 1944 where 24 Rodovnas were burned to death in their homes by German forces after the villagers of Rodovna refused to return two captured German soldiers.
I stopped for some food at a grocery store and thought the house across the street was very similar to a lot of the homes in northern Slovenia.
The sign translates to “dangerous road section!” but the animated graphic explains this even if you don’t read Slovenian.
I crossed into Italy for just a short while on my way to Mangart Saddle, Slovenia.
A beautifully crafted lion statue gated the entrance towards Mangart Saddle.
The cost was €5 to ride to the top but the curves and views were worth it. Italy can be seen to the north.
I was a bit worried that the clouds would obscure the view but as I reached the summit, I was blessed with incredible views overlooking Italy and Slovenia.
Looking south into Slovenia.
Vršič Pass (#1) was the next surprise. I enjoyed each and every winding curve. The weather was perfect for carving through some tight asphalt!
This is a rock garden sculpture along the route. There were thousands of these stacked rocks there.
I continued north into Austria 🇦🇹 but didn’t stop much other than to take this interesting picture of a memorial to WW2.
I needed to make good time so I took to the freeway for a few hours so I could make it to a campsite near the Eagles Nest in Germany.
I’ll plan on starting tomorrow with a trip to see this historic site and then make my way back to Austria to ride the famous Grossglockner High Alpine Road…
Alps Trip – Day 4 of 8
🗓: 18 Sep | 🌍: Berchtesgaden, Germany to Thai, Austria
Map of Day 4. A morning of exploring Eagles Nest, Germany followed by the twisty roads of the highest surfaced road in Austria, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. After slaying Grossglockner, I continued south towards Italy and discovered a pullout where I enjoyed some wild camping.
Since I didn’t have to be at the bus stop for the tour until 0920, I enjoyed a relaxing morning before making my way for my morning history lesson at Kehlsteinhaus (The Eagles Nest).
The motorcycle parked in the picture belonged to a couple I met yesterday evening. They saw that I had ‘HS’ license plates and pointed to their plates that also had ‘HS’ on them as well. German plates are unique in that the first 1-3 letters indicate the region and city where the vehicle is registered. In our case the ‘HS’ means Heinsberg, North-Rhine-Westphalia. Nice couple.
A bit chilly today at 14°C (57°F). I found it funny that the thermometer at the campsite doesn’t have both temperature scales – just Celsius.
Kehlsteinhaus (The Eagles Nest)
We took a bus up to the top of the entrance to the Eagles Nest. Because of the fog we couldn’t see the building at the top of the mountain, however, our tour guide assured us it was there.
Built in 1938. Notice the chip under the “93”? Rumor has it that after a US soldier was frustrated with the long hike to get to the entrance he took out his aggression by shooting this marker.
The tunnel is quite long and you can see the craftsmanship that went into each of the bricks.
After taking the elevator to the top, we entered a large dining area. There wasn’t much to this place really. There were no living or sleeping accommodations. Special invited guests of Hitler’s would only come for a meal, to relax, and to enjoy the views from 1834 meters above sea level.
Almost everything is original from 1938.
My favorite part of the trip were the incredible views. The clouds were just starting to lift after we arrived.
The original wooden sign letting guest know that they were at 1834 meters above sea level.
These medium-sized black birds were chirping and enjoying eating from some of the visitors.
Like islands rising from the clouds.
Looking back at the Eagles Nest from the walking path.
There was a wooden cross with this carving of an Edelweis, the typical flower only to be found in the mountain regions.
In one direction was just clouds.
There were many walking paths around the Eagles Nest. I imagine you could hike to the top and not pay for the bus ride and tour.
It was an enjoyable morning and an interesting look into the history of the Third Reich.
After the bus ride down, I plotted the next location into the GPS – Grossglockner High Alpine Pass (#2).
Grossglockner High Alpine Road
I’ve been excited about riding this famous roadway for sometime. It’s definitely well-know amongst motorcycle enthusiasts but it does come at a price – for 2019 it costed €27 a motorcycle!
There are many motorcycles on this road. The parking lots are full of BMWs, Ducatis, and KTMs but not many American brands so I was excited and somewhat surprised to see an Indian Scout.
One of the many little shops and cafes along the route. Stone stairs wind all the way up to a viewing platform…
…with a sight for looking at Grossglockner Mountain. Not today, I guess, too cloudy.
The small tunnel is marked with two crests. Here is one of them. I wonder when this was carved?
Austrian styled and painted window shutters.
About half way along the road the clouds started to lift and the sun appeared!
By the time I rode to the very top where you can see Grossglockner Peak, the skies were almost clear. Lucky me!
The were sculptures and this unique building? What’s inside?…
…It turns out there are steps that you stand on then poke your head up into a hole where you are immersed in a reflective room with projectors and a narrow LCD screen playing images that accompany classical music by Austrian composers.
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road was really a lot of fun to ride and experience. I continued along south hoping to make it to Italy.
Along the way I stopped to admire the vibrant artwork on this uniquely painted building.
I discovered a trail just off the highway and explored it to find it went down to a river and waterfall. It would be a perfect place to do some “wild camping”.
Although it was only 1800, I was ready to roll into the sleeping bag and get some good rest before riding six more alpine passes tomorrow…
Alps Trip – Day 5 of 8
🗓: 19 Sep | 🌍: Thai, Austria to Passo Stelvio, Italy
I woke up well rested; the nearby river produced a natural background noise that helped me sleep throughout the night. Packing up and getting the motorcycle back to pavement was quick and efficient and it wasn’t very long before I was crossing the border into Italy.
I was excited because I’ve been looking forward to experiencing the Dolomite mountains of northeastern Italy and riding the four well-known passes of Gardena (#3), Sella (#4), Pordoi (#5), and Campolongo (#6).
I found a small breakfast bar next to a train station that had these brightly-colored passenger cars.
Along the route I stopped on the side of the road to let some cars pass and I ended up parking right next to this gal who didn’t seem to mind me at all!
The Dolomite Moutains! Or at least what I could only see of them through the low clouds. Is all day going to be this cloudy?
Nope. As I continued along the pass, the clouds lifted and I was rewarded with the beauty of Italy’s famous mountain range.
There were numerous cable cars along the route taking visitors to summit vistas.
The famouse Three Peaks of Lavaredo.
Between stretches of winding roads are little quaint Italian villages with well kept hopes and flowers in every windowsill.
Lovely alpine homes with monolith limestone mountain backdrops.
After finishing the loop through the Dolomites I continued west towards Jaufen Pass (#7).
I stopped at the top of Jaufen Pass to enjoy some delicious and hot minced meat soup.
Just below the entrance to Umbrail Pass is this roadside oddity of a place named Museo all’aperto di Lorenz Kuntner (Open air Musueum of Lorenz Kuntner)
… that features art made of animal skulls and bones…
…and rusted recycled metal welded and shaped into faces…
…and even some brightly-colored carved wooden pieces…
…all done by the artist Lorenz Kuntner. We talked for a little bit and after I told him I was from the United States he started saying how sad it was that the Native Americans history and livelihood was destroyed by the “white man”. Locals here affectingly refer to Lorenz as The Indian, and his artwork definitely seems to have a lot of influences from Native American and African art.
Umbrail Pass(#8) was steep and had it’s share of tight-tight switchbacks. I reached the summit just before dark and the temperature was dropping quickly…
… so I found a hotel with breakfast, WiFi, and a hot shower for only €50.
Tomorrow I’ll continue down Umbrail Pass into Switzerland, cross back into Italy, Austria, and then make my way into Lichtenstein and Switzerland…
Alps Trip – Day 6 of 8
🗓: 20 Sep | 🌍: Passo Stelvio, Italy to Albula Pass, Switzerland
Map of Day 6. Today I traveled from Umbrail Pass, Switzerland, to Silvretta Pass, Austria, then to the small country of Liechtenstein, then south into Switzerland to slay Flüela and Albula Passes. Four countries in one day:🇨🇭, 🇮🇹, 🇦🇹, 🇱🇮!
Good morning Bormio! It’s looking like another great sunny day!
After breakfast at the hotel, I walked around and took some photos of Umbrail Pass coming up from the Italian side.
A group of Ferraris were getting an early start on the windy roads of the pass.
…almost covering the sign to the village of Bormio. I’ll return in 2020 with Chantil and add our viajarMOTO sticker to the mix.
Umbrail Pass down the Switzerland side was amazing!
On the decent there was a large group of road cyclists that was doing an exceptional job of keeping up with me on the switchbacks, however on the straightaways I could easily pass them…
…enough that I was able to pull off and capture this picture of them rolling through the town of Santa Maria Val Müstair, Switzerland.
On the way north towards Silvretta Pass I stopped at a memorial created by the Germans after WWI.
The memorial to the Germans that lost their lives fighting for their fatherland.
It’s already a very sunny day!
Passing through this area of Italy gave me plenty of beautiful scenery to capture with my camera.
Alp mountain beauty, Italian style.
Near Reschensee (Lake Reschen), Italy.
The Kirchturm von Altgraun (Submerged Steeple in Resia Lake) is a famous bell tower from a 14th-century church that has continued to stand strong despite it being vacated for the creation of the man-made lake in the 1950s.
The clock hands and bells from the tower were removed prior to the flooding.
Crossing into Austria provided beautiful views with mountains, pine trees, and lovely green grass.
Silvretta Pass (#9), Austria. I liked this area because it gave me the opportunity to ride a bit on the dirt roads…
…and enjoy the beautiful and uniquely colored alpine lakes.
My journey continued to the small country of Liechtenstein. Here is a comparison of how small it is compared to Rhode Island – the smallest state in the United States. Pretty small.
My reason for visiting was a bit shallow – too add another flag to my windscreen. However I felt the ride up to the town of Malbun was definitely worth the diversion… Also the flag is cool 🇱🇮
Funny story: On the way up to Malbun, a few cars were stopped while some cattle were being herded down the road. I stopped and decided to film the event from my helmet as the group of cows descended all around me, pushing their way to the left and right of me. One even bumped into my motorcycle as it hustled by! I captured the whole incredible moment on my GoPro. However, it was all for nothing, since I somehow ended up putting my camera in backwards at the last rest stop after charging it. I have some footage with the sounds of cows mooing and some black video of the chin of my helmet. Huge bummer 😔.
One of the buildings at the end of the road in Malbun, Liechtenstein.
Views of the surrounding mountains at Malbun, Liechtenstein.
On my way to Switzerland I saw this car getting gas and asked him if he liked the Denver Broncos. It turns out there is a local school football team in Lichtenstein and they use the Broncos logo (however, they added a forth portion of mane above the ears).
The sun is starting to set on the mountains surrounding Flüela Pass (#10).
Just before sunset I found a dirt single-track just off the road near Albula Pass (#11) and set up camp for the night in this quiet and secluded spot under a pine tree.
Tomorrow I’ll continue into Italy and Switzerland to try and complete the rest of the planned passes. We’ll see how it goes. I’m a bit worried about the forecast calling for a week of rain starting in two days…
Alps Trip – Day 7 of 8
🗓: 21 Sep | 🌍: Albula Pass, to Andermatt, Switzerland
I covered a lot of ground today in order to make the best of the exceptional September weather. Today I enjoyed:
• Maloja Pass
• Splügin Pass
• San Bernardino Pass
• Saint Gotthard Pass
• Furka Pass
• Nufenen Pass
• Alpe di Sorecia
Today definitely reminded me that there are some incredible places on this tiny blue dot!
“Good morning Apache. Did you sleep well?”
I hit the pavement early since it was expected to be sunny all day. The morning was a bit chilly (thank you for heated grips) but the curves of Maloje Pass (#12) provided the wake-up adrenaline I needed this morning.
I would occasionally stop and capture just a bit of the beauty around me.
An interesting architectural structure near the top of Splügin Pass (#13). I couldn’t find out anything about it online?
I liked the simpleness of this architectural tower with minimal windows.
A bright and sunny morning with beauty all around.
Passing by the picturesque Lake Montespluga.
The German (top) seems to be more harsh than the Italian (bottom). Perhaps it’s the double exclamation points?
Just one of the many tunnels I travel through today. I especially like the open ones that let in the natural light and the surrounding views.
Climbing Splügin Pass from Italy to Switzerland. I stopped to take this picture because of the Tibetan prayer flags hanging from pole. Chantil is enjoying Tibet somewhere on her own motorcyle adventure.
Passing by Moesola Lake. Traffic was getting noticeably worse. If I caught up to a large tour bus, I often just pulled over and took pictures instead of trying to pass on the narrow and windings roads.
San Bernardino Pass (#14)!! You are a beautiful stretch of God’s beauty!
Each of the passes offers their own personality and I liked them all. However, San Bernardino was a favorite pass for it’s incredible beauty. Don’t miss this one when traveling Switzerland.
This is my lunch. I’m pouring granola cereal into my hand, putting into my mouth, and chasing it with milk from a bottle. 😆
As you can see, I spent a bit of time photographing San Bernardine.
Even the concrete paths carved into her landscape have their own unique beauty.
Saint Gotthard Pass (#15) was a bit of a mess with multiple on and off ramps and wide lanes that were more crowded than I liked. I was left yearning for the narrow and less crowded passes that I so loved earlier in the day.
Furka Pass (#16) you were also beautiful but your winds were bitter cold this late afternoon.
By late afternoon the cold winds and clouds were howling trough Nufenen Pass (#17) making getting off the mule to take pictures not a pleasant experience.
After climbing Alpe di Sorecia (#18) I entered the small village of Saint Gotthard. The short walk to this sculpture was bitter cold and left my fingers numb from being exposed to the cold wind.
This is a statue of Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov, the famous Russian military leader of the late 18th century.
Because of the cold, I decided to seek refuge at the nearby Hotel Crown. It was nice to relax, enjoy some fast internet, and order some delicious pizza. A word of warning however – Switzerland hotels are expensive $$$.
Tomorrow I tackle the last three passes of the trip. Fino a domani!…
Alps Trip – Day 8 of 8
🗓: 22 Sep | 🌍: Andermatt, Switzerland to Germany
Another incredible day of alpine passes to include:
• Furka Pass (again)
• Grimsel Pass
• Susten Pass
• Klausen Pass
Another beautiful day! The weather and scenery couldn’t have been better. In fact, I’ve been extremely fortunate with the weather this entire two-week trip. This is something I did not expect this late in September.
At the top of Furka Pass I did some exploring of this dirt road. I followed it until it ended in a rock-slide. It looked like other more adventurous riders had riden over the rock slide but the consequences of dropping the motorcycle meant it would fall about 40 feet down a straight cliff wall. No thanks.
You can see the winding path of Grimsel Pass heading up out of the valley. These passes are quite an engineering feat for sure.
This is pretty common along the alpine roads. Construction crews work on one side of the road at a time and these sensor traffic lights control traffic.
At the top of Grimsel Pass is this fun sculpture.
These two seem to be loving the day as much as I am.
I been wanting to see a marmot ever since I started this Alps trip. It wasn’t until the last day did I finally see one – at the Marmot Park.
Looking north from Grimsel Pass (#19)
Interesting signs remind riders to ride smart.
Susten Pass (#20) was an especially enjoyable portion of my afternoon.
As I was heading towards Klausen Pass, I stopped to look for a gas station on my phone. Within a minute of stopping, Swiss Helicopters landed one of their birds about 100 yards from where I was parked!
One of the many tunnels I rode through today.
Klausen Pass (#21) was really enjoyable with great roads and views but also seemed to be the most unforgiving with steep drop-offs and narrow lanes.
But oh what beautiful scenery!
When it’s warmer, I usually ride with my helmet visor open. Well today, a small wasp ended up getting lodged into this tiny space between the outer helmet and the foam portion that my cheek pad snaps into. I could hear it buzzing like mad in my right ear but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I ended up having to nearly tear my helmet apart to free the mad wasp.
All kinds of vehicles enjoying the weather and roads today.
Klausen Pass was a challenge to ride quickly because I kept stopping at every pull-off to capture the incredible views around me.
“Drive Sober!” – Good advice.
I stopped at the Klause Ranch, and its famous red bull, to enjoy a cold Coca-Cola and talk a bit with the owner.
One of my favorites from Klausen Pass.
Leaving Klausen Pass! As easy as that, my “21 Alp passes in 8 days” trip was over. No cheering crowds. No fan fair. Just me pulling over and entering “home” into my GPSr.
But what a memorable day!
The remainder of the day was spent on unexciting freeway/autobahns as I continued north through Switzerland and entered Germany to return home.
Illyria Raid and Alps Trip Summery
What an adventure! In 15 days I rode over 3,660 miles (5,900 km) from northern Greece to western Germany. In USA standards that’s longer than riding from San Diego, California to Portland, Maine! I ended up riding through another 11 counties that I previously hadn’t traveled through and have some wonderful photographs and memories of a lifetime.
Thanks to Adam Tester for inviting me to join him for the first week of off-road oriented adventure. It still amazes me that one could ride over 2,200 km, with a majority of that being off-road, in some of the most beautify scenic areas of southeastern Europe.
The Alps! Simply amazing. I often wished that I had a different camera that would capture the depth of this incredible mountain range. There were moments when I would come around a corner, or over a ridge, and just be blown away by the beauty and grandeur of these mountains.
Prior to coming to Europe I had never heard of Großglockner, Furka, Albula, Klausen, and Susten. Now I know them like old friends. Riding through 21 of these Alpine passes in a week period was exhilarating! Every motorcyclist owes him/her self the experience of riding the Alps.
Until the next motorcycle adventure…