5 Gold Wings and 2 sports cars met on 5th at lunchtime in Hirson, NE France after crossing La Manche in a variety of ways; dependent on pre-visits, hotel choices, cost and crossing preferences. Everyone arrived within a few minutes of each other which was quite a surprise although lunchtime service was spectacularly slow which helped to get us in the holiday mood.
We enjoyed well maintained roads and seeing immaculate war graves sites all the way to our first stop at a budget hotel in an industrial area on the outskirts of Nancy where the cuisine rather saved the day. Roger and Edit were there before us so the party was united on night one.
United we did not stay for long as on leaving the hotel Alan went missing and was not seen for quite some time, a pattern he was to repeat with great consistency.
On Sunday we rode/drove all the way to Lake Lucern in Switzerland. The impressive French roads gave way to generally immaculate Swiss carriageways. The high prices in Switzerland are at least offset by what must be the best infrastructure in the world. The range of mountains approaching and across the border is a wonder and, compared to UK, traffic is light and well disciplined. The coffee and cakes are very tempting and the prices although high seem worthwhile for the whole experience.
Our quirky afternoon stop was at the Ace Cafe in Rothenburg. For once the value seemed very questionable but the popularity was undoubted. Biking is very, very popular in central Europe.
Our Hotel in Weggis was right on the lake shore and Alan had by far the best room in town. We stuck together for the evening meal in an Italian style restaurant on the lake shore which was of excellent quality. The paddle steamer passing by fully lit up was very tempting and the next morning it featured on several itineraries. One couple, recently enriched, insisted on travelling first class on the steamer’s upper deck and treated the aristocracy to a similar fare too! Others went for the high life up the mountains.
The town of Lucern made for a great day for those interested in history, engineering, architecture, bridges, shopping and hydraulics. The lake is surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains served by the skiing infrastructure giving access to lots of walking opportunities. Roy however set the trend for walking probably covering almost one kilometre over the course of the day.
Tuesday was a pass day with the Furka the headline act supported by the Wassen and the Simplon, very very nice!
The Swiss roads were marvellous and especially as they were followed by Italian road surfaces which were reminiscent of the UK with potholes, patches, strips and crumbling much in evidence. The North Italian plain is a dull place with few notable features but our “hotel inspector” came up trumps as he found what must be one of the gems of the area in Novi Ligure, the Villa Permona, an ideal venue for the celebration of any anniversary with beautiful grounds and cuisine to match.
The main party set off for Sienna by an untried and twisty route. Alan went off back to Berne in Switzerland for a fancy dress event and the B team headed for Genoa on a route advertised as less testing. Clearly our Routemeister has never been to Genoa. The motorway in was like an Italian driving school nightmare. The coffee stop was at the most crowded Marina in the world with a million scooters parked up and escape from the city was difficult, tiring and caused us to be split up for at least an hour with Roger and Edit making straight for the hotel whilst the re-united squad went to see the leaning tower in Pisa which was surrounded by thousands of Chinese tourists. After Pisa things looked up a great deal as the roads of Tuscany tested and delighted us all the way to Sienna.
Sienna was everything we had hoped for; a stunning city for the pedestrian where cars and bikes are clearly not wanted and a bit of a handful. Parking of the cars was far from easy and the bikes had to be stuffed into a very small area in front of the rather grand hotel. Pizza in the fan shaped Piazza was much enjoyed on the first evening and on the second evening a small trattoria impressed with both taste and value.
The Cathedral in Sienna was a wonder and our English speaking guide added a whole lot more to the experience. We crept around the crypt, battled the battalions in the Baptistry and climbed the walls of the unfinished extension, cancelled after the plague halved the population of the city in the 1500’s but giving the most fabulous views of the city rooftops. It was so good it was worth the hour queuing to get up the 200 steps.
On the Friday we left Sienna for Porto Novo near Ancona on the Adriatic coast. That was the furthest point from home and we had a four day stop. The journey there was through stunning countryside but sadly the roads were crumbling, deformed, often falling away and not really fit for purpose. We passed lots of closed factories and shops and houses falling into dereliction. The hill towns are very attractive, approached by twisting and steep roads but central Italy is in dramatic economic decline and now mainly an agricultural economy. The vines were doing very well and our morning stop was in Multipulciano.
Our hotel was on the hillside above Porto Novo and other than by bike or taxi a bit inaccessible. Our two younger and fitter couples made it to the beach on foot, clambering up and down Mount Shirt and the hotel courtesy car was used but the beach resort was tiny with very few facilities and at the weekend was very crowded. There were however lots of fish restaurants and the adventurous if not famous 4 enjoyed a superb meal there on night 2. Night 3 saw half the party travel to the next town for another superb sea food meal.
On the last night we all went to a Winery where Faye Cardwell had organised a visit which we all enjoyed; eating the grapes, sipping the wine and gorging on Italian meats and sheep’s cheese. The mosquitoes also had a very good night with much bare flesh to dine on. Our guide was apparently a very “dishy” young Italian male who spoke English in a way described as seductive!
Tuesday 15th and we hit the road to Albano Terme near Padua. There were challenging and very twisty roads with a few diversions to confuse the unwary. Roger had an off road experience but fortunately no off bike incident. We all made our way to San Marino, an independent princedom and a tax haven. We very briefly enjoyed good roads, lovely buildings and stunning views across Italy before we descended into the crumbling infrastructure and beautiful countryside once more.
At Albano Terme, situated between Padua and Venice, we found yet another superb hotel. Alan had been there, via Berne, for a couple of days and had warned the management that a party of Millionaires and aristocrats were to join him. The guests were mainly German and a bit dour but matched our age profile and showed interest in the party of crazy English on big bikes. The thermal baths were impressive, even spectacular and most of us enjoyed them briefly before dinner. Almost everyone was turning in about 21;00 so we were asked to leave the dining room but made welcome in the bar. We all agreed another day spent there would have been good but….
On we went to Seefeld in Austria near the German border. The journey is one we will always remember. We had passes to enjoy on both A and B routes. We had rain, cloud, dense mists, hundreds of bends and scores of hairpins. We went through lovely forests and met lorries and coaches in the most surprising places. Arriving at Seefeld everyone was tired but happy to be there in one piece; a memorable day! Alan was the least tired from his run and, given a bit of prompting from David and Edit took to the dance floor to show us some of his moves. He knows his way around the floor if not around his satnav menu!
Seefeld is a lovely alpine resort in the Tyrolean style. It has wonderful facilities for sport, particularly winter sports. It has great infrastructure with railways, funiculars, ski lifts and even horse drawn carriages. It is great for walking in summer and well worth a visit whenever anywhere nearby.
Saturday 19th was our last day together. A long day’s riding through Austria and Germany. The roads were mainly wonderful but with some very long diversions where a bridge or a road had collapsed as they tend to do in mountains. Nettie had a significant birthday with lots of cards and treated us all to apfel strudel at the morning stop-over. The lakes we passed were stunning and the forests deep and dark. The Black Forest roads were as good as ever and when we rolled into our hotel near Baden Baden we understood why they named it twice (so good). Alan showed his independent spirit as he was un-seen from leaving the hotel in Austria until he appeared in the Rebenhof car park clutching a beer.
We left early on the Saturday to go for more DIY in Belgium. We had a fast ride to Liege followed by some jet washing before returning home via Dunkirk on the Sunday, 400 miles on the road and about 30 on the boat.
Once more an Elite Wings tour to remember.
Ian is the organiser supreme, kept on his toes by Denise of course.
Thanks to all for their company, friendship and unfailing good humour. We hope everyone keeps well over the winter and is fit for another experience next year.
Thanks Meg for writing this excellent report more pictures can be found in photos 2015