2022 France Italy

Maritime Alps & Vosges

This is the report of the mountain bike rides (and some hikes) Rudi and I are taking in France and Italy in the summer of 2022. Partly we do so on old military roads, high in the mountains. In seven cycling days we ride some 420 kilometers and ascend 12,300 meters.


The plan was to ride on our mountain bikes in the Maritime Alps for two to three weeks, staying overnight in hotels and mountain huts. But I’ve been recovering from a nasty hip and back injury for over a year now, have occasional wrist problems, and recently a painful bursitis in my elbow. In short, a challenging cycling vacation is unfortunately not feasible. Our plan now is to make day trips from some fixed locations. After a long drive, during which we even reach the Mediterranean coast, we arrive at the municipal campground in Tende.

Day 1: Hike Tende

On this first day we will go for a hike. Through the narrow streets, alleys and tunnels of Tende (815 m) we walk to the cemetery. After this, we will climb further on a steep path to the cliff west of the town. On top is the small Chapelle Saint-Sauveur. From here we have a nice view. We continue uphill until we reach the highest point at about 1,500 meters. This is followed by a rather boring descent through the forest.

Day 2: Tende > Col de Tende > Vallon de Casterino > Tende (61 km)

Today we cycle up the Col de Tende. We fill our backpacks with fresh bread from Boulangerie des Merveilles and set off. We saw it the day before yesterday in the car, and now again: everywhere in the Vallée de la Roya people are doing road construction work. The floods in October 2020 caused a lot of damage to the road infrastructure between Breil-sur-Roya and the Tunnel de Tende. The repair work is expected to take years.

The partly unpaved pass road is easy and, thanks to the many hairpin turns, quite varied. At the top of the Col de Tende (1,871 m) it is crowded with day tourists who have come up by car from the Italian side. We drive around the impressive fortifications. From the pass height, military roads continue east and west into the mountains. We save the eastern one, the Via del Sala, for later this week.

We cycle to the west on the Italian side to the Fort de Giaure: a nice climb with a great view of the Rocca dell’Abisso. We get stranded a few hundred vertical meters below the summit on a steep footpath with loose boulders. We turn around, descend again to the pass height and take a jeep track on the French side toward the Ancienne caserne de Peïrefique. The view of the many hairpin turns of the Col de Tende reminds me of the Portachuelo de Llanganuco in Peru (see report Peru 2017, day 8).

We continue to climb further to the Baisse de Peyrefique (2,040 m) and then descend on a scenic road to the rugged Vallon de Casterino. Meanwhile, we ride through an old tunnel and pass a bridge over a waterfall. Also in this beautiful tributary valley of the Roya, road repairs are underway in several locations. From Saint-Dalmas-de-Tende it is still a few kilometers false flat to Tende, after which we reach the campground.

Day 3: Hike Tende

The weather forecast is not looking good. Therefore, today we will go hiking. We do so from the campground. We first walk a few kilometers on a paved road along the mountain stream Réfréi to an old quarry, and then continue on a jeep track to the hamlet of Granges de la Pia (900 m). Traces of the landslides are still visible in this valley as well.

We climb to a strategically located, old bunker complex located at about 1,350 m in a distinctive mountain. It is accessible through two entrances and it is pitch black. After a short descent, we climb back up on the other side of the stream to a mountainside from where we have a beautiful view of the valley. It starts raining quite hard so we descend as quickly as possible to the campsite.

Day 4: Hike Tende

Due to my physical discomforts, I prefer a hiking day between biking days. Hopefully this will help with my recovery. I stroll a bit down the main valley and through the many alleys and stairways of Tende. Rudi cycles up and down to the Col de Tende.

Day 5: Tende > La Brigue > Via del Sale > Tende (88 km)

Today we are finally going to do what we rode all the way to the south of France for: the Via del Sale. The name refers to one of the salt routes along which, during the 14th and 15th centuries, salt was transported from Nice by mule over the mountain ridges to Turin. Later, military fortifications were built in some places, especially at the Col de Tende.

There are several ways to get to this ridge. We do so from the charming town of La Brigue (750 m), located a few kilometers southeast of Tende. At the Chapelle Notre-Dame-des-Fontaines, we leave the paved road and continue on a jeep track. This approach is quite steep only between 1,300 and 1,500 m altitude, and otherwise perfectly doable. Also, the road is virtually traffic-free; only the occasional jeep or motorcyclist passes by.

After covering an elevation difference of almost a kilometer, we reach the ridge at the Baisse de Sanson (1,700 m). From here on, the road surface suddenly gets a lot worse: we bump over boulders and more boulders for kilometers. This is not funny. At first we cycle mostly on the French side of the ridge, and then whole stretches on the Italian side. After the toll station (Stazione Ingresso Via Del Sale), where motorists have to pay 20 euros and motorcyclists 15 euros, the road surface improves.

Turning around a ridge at the Passo di Framargal (2,200 m), we suddenly arrive in the beautiful Valle dei Maes. All the way to the Col de Tende, the stony landscape has wonderful shapes. Just before the Rifugio Don Barbera (2,070 m) we encounter a flock of sheep, and later we pause when a herd of cows blocks the road. From the famous Tornante della Boaria (2,100 m) we look far into Italy, and see Monviso (3,841 m) in the distance. After a well-deserved descent, we get pizza.

Day 6: Travel day

Since the Tunnel de Tende has been closed for several years, we travel by car on the narrow and partly unpaved pass road to Italy. Each driving direction has 15 minutes every two hours to begin the trip. So you drive up in a caravan. The turns are often steep, and twice I have to take an extra turn to avoid driving into the gutter or abyss. At the top of the Col de Tende, we descend on a narrow, paved road on which many cars with day tourists drive up.

Mid-afternoon we arrive at the Valle Maira campground. This campground is not too large, with flat, unnumbered spots and good grass, spots between trees or in the sun, situated by a mountain stream (nice to sleep by), and with relatively many people with a tent. They bake delicious fresh bread themselves. The toilet, shower and dishwashing facilities are neat. There is a climbing park and large lawn where you can play soccer and frisbee. A top campsite!

Day 7: Camping > San Damiano > Colle Sampeyre > Camping (64 km)

From the campground we first descend quite a while through the Valle Maira to the town of San Damiano. There we turn left into the side valley. After one kilometer there is a junction: on the right is the main road and on the left a narrow road. We go for the narrow road, which goes through the forest and along a stream, and at one point becomes quite steep: 15 to 20%. Fortunately, we cycle in the shade.

After a sharp right turn, the road becomes unpaved. A few kilometers later we reach the hamlet of Fracchie, and continue through a forest on a very bad dirt trail full of boulders. After a few kilometers, the jeep track turns into a trail that is surprisingly good to cycle on. In the village of Serre are houses with slate roofs and a little church. Here we have a nice view through the entire side valley. Because of the bad road surface, we are already quite tired, even though we still have a thousand meters of climbing ahead of us today.

After another two hundred meters of ascent, we finally reach the old military road that runs from the Po Valley all the way past Colle Sampeyre. On the map this track looks easy, but the many boulders make it tough to cycle. Occasionally people on mountain bikes, motorcycles or toy cars pass by. Once we are above the tree line on the ridge, we are rewarded with beautiful views to the south and southeast. Further on, we see beautiful rock formations to the southwest and threatening clouds over the mountains to the west.

On top of the Col de Sampeyre (2,274 m) Rudi takes a picture of a work of art made of steel. Then we descend. It is a narrow, winding road from which we descend a lot faster than the day tourists in their cars. Occasionally there is a very nice view of high, steep cliffs. After a nice descent, we chill out at the campsite.

Day 8: Hike Monte Bert

Today we will go hiking. We drive up towards Marmora and park the car a few kilometers after the village of Preit. We ascend six hundred meters and arrive just before Lago Nero on a kind of plateau. From there we climb another hundred meters to Monte Bert (2,394 m). From the summit we have a beautiful 360-degree view. We descend and reach the car after only eleven kilometers of walking.

Day 9: Villar > Colle di Bellino > Villar (33 km)

First we drive westward by car to Vilar (1,380 m), the first village after Acceglio. From the parking lot we cycle on asphalt for several kilometers steeply up (15%) to the north. At about 1,600 meters altitude the road surface deteriorates. After five kilometers we definitely continue on the unpaved, old military road, which by the way is nowhere steep or difficult until the summit.

From the col, called La Colletta (2,850 m), we cycle a little further to an old military barrack. This used to be a base of operations for the soldiers manning the bunkers in the area. You can walk inside the building, but there is nothing interesting to see. In the background, clouds rise on one side against the mountain ridge; a beautiful sight.

We move on again. The mountain bike trail actually leads from La Colletta to the top of Monte Bellino (2,937 m). However, that trail doesn’t look so rideable. Also, I don’t want to put unnecessary strain on my aching elbow. So we traverse a narrow path to the Colle di Bellino with the bikes on our arms. In the middle of a stony slope, we pass an old bunker whose four walls have fallen outward.

After a short climb, we reach the pass height (2,795 m). The view of the rugged mountains is phenomenal.

The technical descent that follows is doable for experienced mountain bikers, but quite challenging for us. We regularly walk with the bike in hand. It’s not until we reach the cattle gathering site at Grangia Nicolina that we rejoin a jeep track. The Rocca Croce Provenzale (2,402 m) literally and figuratively towers above the mountain pasture here. The descent to the starting point is easy from this point on.

Day 10: Day of rest

The weather is beautiful today, but I nevertheless take a rest day. Yesterday from carrying the bike I got a sore tendon near the right knee and also my right elbow continues to irritate. In that case a day of doing nothing is probably best. Rudi cycles up the Colle Sampeyre again to get some exercise.

Day 11: Camping > Rifugio Gardetta > Colle Valcavera > Camping (55 km)

From the campground we cycle a short distance to Ponte Marmora, and turn left to the south. With gradients of up to 15% it is quite challenging. A tendon in my right knee hurts me and I take it easy. At Marmora we turn right to the Colle del Preit. Now and then we have to push hard. Fortunately, the pain slowly subsides. The narrow road up to the col is open to cars, but it is not busy.

On top of the Colle del Preit (2,080 m) we reach a wide plateau where several jeep tracks run across. We cycle further west on a reasonably good road, on which front-wheel-driven cars sometimes plow. We order Apfelstrudel and coffee at Rifugio Gardetta (2,335 m). No motorized traffic is allowed here. Without the irritating roar of motorcycles, it is pleasant here in the sunshine.

From the rifugio we climb eastward again. We have continuous views of the imposing peak Rocca la Meja (2,832 m). It is very varied cycling here. We see an Italian father on a gravel bike pulling his son on a mountain bike on a steeper section with a rope. This is much cooler than the many cyclists on e-mtb’s being “pushed” uphill.

At one point we arrive at some old military buildings: the Caserma Della Bandia (2,405 m). At the Colle Valcavera (2,416 m) we reach the asphalt and enter yet another valley with patches of clouds. From here a road goes down to Demonte. We turn left to the Colle Fauniera (2,481 m), where a memorial to “pirate” Marco Pantani is located, and then the Colle d’Esischie (2,368 m). After this we descend on an irregular road to the campsite.

Day 12: Hike Celle Macra

Because of the expected bad weather, today we take a short hike in a side valley about a 20-minute drive from the campground. We walk among the tiny villages on the eastern slope of the valley, each with old houses, a church, a water tap and a bulletin board. Meanwhile, we watch a tiny cloud grow into a huge thundercloud. When we return to the campsite at 2 p.m. it begins to rain. We pass the day until we can get pizza at 7 p.m., enjoy the beautiful evening sky for a while and go to bed early.

Day 13-16: Vosges region

The next day we drive to the Vosges region. From the large Camping du Schlossberg (500 m) near Kruth, we will make several bike tours in the immediate area: one to the west (56 km) and one to the east (65 km). After the beautiful Maritime Alps, the Vosges region is quite boring. The highlights are cycling in thunderstorms, having lunch at Les Délices de Cornimont bakery and eating steamy pizza in the car.


– Day 2: Tende > Col de Tende > … > Tende (61 km; 1.700 meters elevation gain)
– Day 5: Tende > La Brigue > Via del Sale > Tende (88 km; 2.300 m)
– Day 7: Camping > San Damiano > … > Camping (64 km; 2.200 m)
– Day 9: Villar > Colle di Bellino > Villar (33 km; 1.460 m)
– Day 11: Camping > Rifugio Gardetta > … > Camping (55 km; 1.700 m)
– Day 14: Vosges trip to the west (56 km; 1.500 m)
– Day 16: Vosges trip to the east (65 km; 1.640 m)

2010 Austria Italy

The Alps #4

In preparation for the Marmotte in the French Alps, in June 2010 I cycle over various mountain passes in Austria and Italy. The trip offers peaks (Klammljoch, views of the Dolomites, enthusiastic Italian cyclists, thirteen peaks) and lows (motorcyclists, flies). In nine days’ time, I cover 800 kilometers and climb about 16,000 meters.

Day 1: Innsbruck > Wald im Pinzgau (108 km)

I travel by night train to Munich and from there I take the super slow Regiobahn to Innsbruck. In Bavaria the view from the window doesn’t bode well: low clouds and drizzle. I arrive in Innsbruck at twelve o’clock. I have to find out where the Innradweg leads to the east. Luckily a nice man, who cycled from Austria to Sicily twenty years ago, points the way. At Wiesing I turn right, into the Zillertal. I don’t have to take the busy main road here all the time, but I can mostly take village and rural roads to Zell am Ziller. The Zillertal is not beautiful by the way: everywhere I see family hotels (with indoor swimming pools – even with a giant slide) and other large chalets for winter sports. It is very commercial here.

The stretch from Zell am Ziller to the Gerlos Pass is wide and super boring. First, I have to climb 400 meters at 7 to 8%, followed by a piece of false flat to Gerlos, and then 8% up to a ski area. It is becoming very cloudy. Not being able to see the surroundings doesn’t really motivate. From 1,300 m there is snow. On top of the pass road (1,620 m) it is only 3 °C and it rains. After an eighteen-kilometer long, ice-cold descent I see a campsite on my left. I am shivering when I arrive at the reception. The friendly camping lady laughs at the pile of misery in front of her. First, I take a shower and warm up. It’s getting dark when I finally sit in my new tent with a plate full of spaghetti. That tent, a Hubba Hubba HP 1, is twice as small as what I am used to, so a bit claustrophobic.

Day 2: Wald im Pinzgau > Lienz (92 km)

Today I first cycle some fifty kilometers on the Tauernradweg to Bruck. According to my plan there I can continue on the Hochalpenstrasse. I have been looking forward to this for a long time: the fourteen kilometers long climb at 10% on average is one of Europe’s most difficult pass roads, harder than, for example, the Tourmalet, Stelvio, Galibier or Timmelsjoch. Unfortunately today it is heavily cloudy and there lies snow from an altitude of 1,400 m. If expect it’s snowing up there; the pass road will probably be closed. But even if the pass is open, I don’t feel like cycling in the freezing cold for hours, let alone the long descent with cold fingers.

In short, I cycle on through the main valley to take the train to the south a bit further on. And that plan works out quite well. The Tauernradweg goes from Bruck over small country roads, which are varied and sometimes very steep. And even I’m cycling downstream today, I’m still climbing more than 600 meters. After a while the wide valley becomes narrow: Bundesstrasse, the local road, the railway and the river are wriggling their way through the canyon. Down in the depths I notice groups of rafters.

At the Schwarzbach train station I try to find information about the train journey to the south. But there is no overview map and ticket offices are closed. How inconvenient! I buy a ticket to Lienz via Spittal, and exchange the bad weather on the north side of the Tauerngebirge for the beautiful weather on the other side. At the campground in Lienz I’m short of money for a camping spot, but the nice lady doesn’t think that’s a problem. On the campground there is a renovated country house with underneath first-class sanitary facilities. I take a shower while listening to German covers of Sky Radio music songs.

Day 3: Lienz > San Lorenzo di Sebato (82 km)

All over Europe, Dutch pensionados are on the road with their caravans. So also here on the Lienz campsite. Most of them are looking a bit bored. Couples have nothing left to tell each other, and boredom is only interrupted by agonizingly slow walks to the toilet block. Pretty sad when you think about it. When you stand between them as a cyclist with your tiny tent, the men (the women stay in the caravan) come by spontaneously for a chat. Well, that’s nice. And to our surprise we even have a common acquaintance, because after all, the Netherlands remains a small country.

Anyway, from Lienz I start to cycle on a well-constructed bike path along Bundesstrasse 108 to the northwest. There I face a very strong headwind. At a beautiful ruin a couple is haying with scythes. The man tells that the wind is always fierce when it is raining on the north side of the Tauern. I can confirm this, because I cycled there yesterday. At Huben I turn left, into the Defereggental. It’s quite demanding with a climbing average of 10% in the first couple of kilometers, followed by several steep parts in tunnels and galleries, and from Mariahilf also 12%, although there are also long stretched of false flat. Luckily I have tail wind from now on. The valley is not so spectacular.

At Erlsbach the bottles are empty and I tap water at a local’s house. I ask if the unpaved Klammjoch pass road can actually be cycled. After a lot of thinking he says “yes”, so I’ll take my chances. Shortly after that I no longer follow the main road to the Stallersattel (2,052 m), but instead turn right towards the higher Klammljoch. The road is quite steep for a few kilometers, on average 10-20%. As soon as I start to wonder if the Klammljoch was such a good decision, a small tractor comes from behind with on it the friendly man who has just given me water. He says he has to transport something, wishes me good luck and drives on. By now the road is unpaved, but it is easy to ride. Near Oberhaus there is a café with a terrace, and there the man with the tractor looks out for me. How thoughtful! I take a picture of him and continue my cycling trip.

The quality of the road becomes a bit poorer, but never becomes really difficult. Only local motorized vehicles are allowed here, and besides a dozen hikers, a couple of mountain bikers and a single car driver, I don’t encounter anyone for the next couple of hours. From now on the valley is very beautiful: highly recommended! There are many green pastures and I can see fresh snow on the mountain sides. The track goes higher and higher along the mountainside, but it’s only during the last few kilometers that I can actually see the pass. It takes until 6 pm before I reach the deserted Klammljoch (2,288 m). From there I enjoy the view of the beautiful mountains and threatening clouds in the evening light on the Italian side.

Descending on the gravel road, with its many hairpin bends, goes unexpectedly well. Only the gutters that they have dug every thirty meters drive me crazy. Near the beautifully situated Knutten-Alm I reach the tarmac again. After Rein in Taufers I plunge into a very steep descent along the wild mountain stream; from this side the climb of the Klammljoch is certainly not a piece of cake. From Campo to Bruneck I descent mostly false flat between the busy traffic. I don’t see a campsite in Bruneck itself, but fortunately Google on the phone offers a solution, and in the nearby town of San Lorenzo I do find a camping spot. Again, I eat my meal in the dusk.

Day 4: San Lorenzo di Sebato > Cortina (94 km)

After a visit to Bruneck’s mega-sized Spar, I cycle through the old town to the east in search of the cycling route. The bike path turns out to be very well constructed, and goes partly unpaved along the river, and partly on narrow agricultural roads. As soon as I cycle from Prags to Platzwiesen, “sweat flies” start to spoil my good mood. It’s warm and windless, and when those little bitches smell a sweating person passing by slowly, they strike without mercy. Dozens of flies try to get a spot on my body, while the rest keeps swarming around me. When I look over my shoulder, I see many more. I quickly find out that can stay ahead of them from fifteen kilometers per hour, but they only stop at 20 kilometers per hour. And this speed is quite a challenge when ascending.

During the last six kilometers from Brücken to Platzwiesen only buses and cyclists are allowed. The last 1.5 kilometers to Platzwiesen are extremely steep. From there (2,040 m), the view of striking Dolomite peaks is extraordinary! I drink a large coke on the terrace of a restaurant and then I start the descent on a mostly bad road. I bounce a lot and get cramps in my hands from constantly squeezing the brake levers.

From Schluderbach (1,430 m) I continue on a wide road to Misurina and enter the Italian-speaking part of the region. I cover the 300 meters’ difference in altitude quite easily, although I sometimes feel cramps developing in my left upper leg. Maybe I’m just nervous for the hard climb to Tre Cime: seven kilometers long, two-thirds of which are between 10 and 15% on average. Normally this is quite difficult, but in this case I have already climbed 1700 meters. At the foot of this climb I leave my front and back bags at a house and start climbing. It is a beautifully constructed toll road, with many wide hairpin bends, which are sometimes extremely steep (up to 20%). At the end of the road (2,333 m) I enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the Alps.

Then back down to the Passo tre Croci. From that’s just 150 meters of climbing, but the cycling doesn’t go very smoothly anymore. The descent to Cortina is simple. In this very touristic city it is difficult to find the campsite; the local hotel lobby has apparently managed to keep all the road signs to campsites outside the town center. Fortunately Google on the phone helps me out to locate the campsite. Camping Rocchetta is a really nice location, with plenty of shelter, lots of tents and few caravans, nice music (blues, Bruce Springsteen) in the sanitary building and a very friendly camping boss. I can be satisfied about today: I have cycled a beautiful route with beautiful views and have broken my cycling holiday climbing day record.

Day 5: Cortina > Bellamonte (84 km)

I take the busy R48 to the west and ride to the exit to the Passo di Giau. On the Michelin map this pass road looks attractively narrow, but in reality the road is wide. The road is quite steep, with an elevation 640 meters in the last 7.5 kilometers. Unfortunately, the many trees prevent me from seeing much of the surroundings. The relatively low summits are the disadvantage of the pass roads in the Dolomites. For those who prefer the wide views I recommend the high cols in the French Alps.

On top of the Passo di Giau (2,233 m) I end up on a Sammelplatz for the many German, Austrian and Italian motorcyclists. I’m waiting for a while on a half empty terrace, but the waiters neglect me. So I change my routine and descent without a coke. And what a super descent this is! Up to Caprile I count more than 35 hairpin bends. The part down to Cancenighe Agordino (773 m) turns out difficult because of the strong south wind. I even get hungry and next to the beautiful lake near Alleghe I eat my last sandwiches.

I get a can of coke in a café and turn right into the road to Falcade. This valley is not so special, apart from a single view of a beautiful side valley. At Cavida the road becomes very steep, just like the part after Falcade. The road to the Passo di Valles I also have to climb quite a bit, with the gradient quite constantly at around 10%Added to this the long straight stretches, the wind, the still high temperature, and the lack of view make this not very easy. Therefore I am relieved to arrive at the Passo di Valles (2,033 m). Should I mention that spectacular views are absent here as well? Anyway, according to plan I would now take a détour to the Passo di Rolle, where the road leads along one of the most beautiful mountains (Pale di San Martino) of the Dolomites. But it has become simply too late to climb another 300 meters on an unpaved road. Too bad. I quickly descend to the beautifully situated and mosquito-filled campsite of Bellamonte.

Day 6: Bellamonte > Weissenbach (111 km)

After shopping at the local Coop I descend further to Predazzo (1,018 m). Here a man comes approaches me, points at the bike and asks if it is a car. I answer “Neither, it’s a tank.” He can’t imagine that I’m travelling through the mountains with all these bags. From Predazzo I take an excellently constructed cycle path to Moena, where I continue on the regular road. A group of friendly Italian road cyclists from Naples comes alongside and I can keep up with them for quite a while.

At Pozza I turn left onto the Karerpass. This is a very boring road, with sometimes steep stretches, but all in all the climb is not that hard. On top of the pass (1,745 m) there are many hotels – it is a ski area here. I turn right to the Nigerpass (1,688 m). From there I see beautiful mountain walls on my right (Rosengarten), while on the left there are sometimes beautiful views of the Austrian Alps. The descent of the Nigerpass is quite demanding: it starts with 15%, halfway through the village of Tiers 20% and from Blumeau to the main valley the remaining 500 meters down are steep as well.

In the valley from Brixen to Bolzano the river, highway, regional road, railway and bike path squeeze themselves through the sometimes quite narrow valley. At a certain moment, I ride through a 500-meter long tunnel exclusively for the bike lane. In the suburbs of Bolzano numerous works of art by children are standing and hanging next to the cycle lane. What makes me less happy is the temperature: over 30 °C. In the picturesque Bolzano city center I acquire liters of water and a few bananas at the Spar. From the Rathausplatz I take a narrow and winding road to the Valle Sarentina. The first half of the long valley is uninhabited and peculiarly narrow, with lots of nets on the rocky walls to prevent stones falling on the road. During the first ten kilometers I count no less than twenty tunnels – nice and cool in this hot weather!

After the last tunnel the Valle Sarentina transforms into the wide Val di Pennes. Everywhere the farmers take the hay from the land – apparently there is a thunderstorm coming. Fortunately, it stays dry today. There is no campsite in the entire valley, and after more than 100 kilometers of cycling I don’t feel like camping in the wild. That’s why I get a cheap mountain hotel in Weissenbach (1,330 m) and cook pasta and tea in my room. Tomorrow I will finish the Penserjoch.

Day 7: Weissenbach > Salthaus (79 km)

The Penserjoch has a nice elevation profile: the higher you get, the steeper it becomes. The first six kilometers only 4% (gentle cycling), then three kilometers 7.5% (no worries), and finally five kilometers at almost 10% (ouch!). The pass road draws long, perfectly straight lines through the wide green walls, similar to the southern approach of the Cime de la Bonette. The numerous motorcyclists are really disturbing. The early ones among them ride quietly and enjoy the landscape, while the late risers race as if there is a competition going on. At the top of the Penserjoch (2215 m), a local road cyclist (and former motorcyclist) explains: “Vor allem die Österreichischer Motorfahrer sind schlimm”.

The descent is long, curvy and fun. Unfortunately, for a long time I cycle behind a badly driving Italian in a BMW who cuts corners rather sharply, and several times almost collides with oncoming traffic. But he doesn’t seem to learn from it: the driver has the memory of a goldfish, and as we know goldfish can’t drive.

After this I go to the Jaufenpass. With an 7.5% gradient on average over fifteen kilometers, in theory this road is not so difficult. But it’s going to be a small drama. It is very hot and there is no wind >>> sweat flies time! For a couple of hours I cycle with a swarm of these bitches on and around me. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I spontaneously feel sorry for the poor children in Africa who suffer from them every day. The Jaufenpass leads almost to the top through the forest, so there are no beautiful views that could soften the suffering.

On top of the Jaufenpass (2,099 m) I get a coke and enjoy the much nicer view on the other side. The descent goes well until I see a sign “Bad road surface”, and before I know it, I ride into a hole and my right front bag falls off. As there is a car just behind me this could have ended very badly. The damned Ortlieb bag hooks … these also gave me problems on Iceland. I wonder why the local road authorities put effort in erecting such a sign but fail to repair the road. My mood deteriorates further when I arrive at the campsite in Saltaus (335 m): contrary to the pictures on their website it is just an unimaginative stretch of strips of grass and gravel road offering little shade.

Day 8: Salthaus > Umhausen (86 km)

After the bad experience with the heat on the Jaufenpass it seems better to me to go to the Timmelsjoch early. At 7.15 am I leave and an hour later I have breakfast in St. Leonhard. From the village of Moos the actual climb starts. Through a series of hairpin bends and steep stretches of road (sometimes 10 to 15%) I quickly climb a few hundred meters. After that the road becomes lees steep for five kilometers (7 to 8%) and goes through a number of tunnels to the north. The beautiful valley below me is almost uninhabited. In the distance I can already see the pass height, but to get there I still have to cycle more than fifteen kilometers.

Italian cyclists regularly overtake me, point to the panniers and shout ‘Ciao’ or even ‘Complimenti’. At a certain moment one cyclist even wants to be photographed with me. I like that so much! They are so much more friendly than those grumpy Swiss and Austrians. About eight kilometers from the summit the main road bends to the left and becomes steep: 11% for two kilometers, and after a stretch of false flat another three kilometers 10% on average. The narrow road climbs via numerous “genuine” hairpin bends, a bit similar to the classic eastern side of the Stelvio. A lady on a racing bike comes alongside (“Respect!”) and chats with me. From the dark and wet 500 meters’ long tunnel at the top of the rock face the road continues to the pass height (2,474 m) which is right on the border with Austria.

I continue immediately. The first part of the descent is fine, but then the road climbs another 150 meters to Hochgurgl. I would have liked to camp in Sölden, but the campsite in this terrible ski resort is rubbish. Anyway, for me the upper part of the Ötztal is one big horror show with all those ski villages, lifts and roads. I cycle on through the much more beautiful middle part of the valley. This goes down false flat, but the strong north wind prevents me from make progress quickly. Finally, 25 kilometers after Sölden, I can pitch my tent in on the campsite in Umhausen. After today’s ride, I allow myself not to cook, and order Wiener Schnitzel with fries and a large glass of beer.