Grand Tour des Alpes 2016 – I

The plan for this summer’s big motorcycle tour was set; transport to the Alpes Maritimes with a ride over the Col de Tende, before I meet my wife at the French Riviera for a few days of sun, warm Mediterranean and relaxation, then heading home across the French Alps. The first part is about the trip to the Riviera, including the ride through the Alpes Maritime.

The first glimps of the Mediterranean and still some entertaining roads to ride.

It all starts as planned. I have decided to go for the standard route south through Sweden, Denmark and Germany and in the evening I stop at the usual hotel just south of Kassel. I am at the hotel, Hotel Tann-Eck, in Schellbach at about nine at night. Just in time for a schnitzel and a cold drink before a walk in the woods. Today’s ride had worked out as I had planned; I even got through Hamburg without traffic jams. The RS was in its element on the autobahn, and today’s trip of 1200 kilometres was surprisingly effortless.

I had some rain in Sweden. Here I put away the raingear for this time.

From Shellbach to Vernante

The next morning I wake up with birds singing and a noisy rooster at the neighbouring farm. The low clouds over the forest are blowing away, and when I have finished my breakfast Knüllwald is bathing in sunshine. Today I hope to get to the Piemonte area near Cuneo. After a good breakfast and refuelling, I am on the A7 heading south.

The plan is to follow A7 to Memmingen and then on the A96 towards Lindau and Bregenz. There are roadworks at the junction at Memmingen. I am a bit inattentive and stay on the A7. Stupid! However, it can be corrected, but I do not make U-turns, do I?! No, I do not, and ride to exit 130 and take the cross connection via Woringen, Lautrach and Aichestetten over to the A96 and get a nice and welcome change from the monotonous autobahn ride.

I ride towards Bregenz. At the Austrian border I buy vignettes for both Austria and Switzerland. My plan for a smooth transition from the Austrian to the Swiss motorway network is spoiled by roadworks. I have to stay on the A14 one turnoff longer than planned. I have experienced this on earlier trips, and it has always been a queue at the border crossing. So it is today as well. It takes me half an hour to get into Switzerland and some more to get over to the Swiss A13 that will take me through the Alps.

By Thusis, it is time to refuel. I turn off at Thusis Nord. There is a yellow R1100S behind me. As I enter the roundabout, the R1100S’en is on my left. The rider takes a quick overview of the situation and decides for the first exit. I am going for the second exit and I just avoid hitting the yellow BMW as it passes right in front of me. I hope his luck follows him through the rest of his trip… This was as close to a crash as it can be, and my knees are weak when I stand refuelling.

Soon after Thusis, I pass Via Mala; the eight kilometres long and spectacular road that winds its way through the gorge. I do not have time to enjoy the challenging stretch of road along the Rhine this time. I pass Splügen. I begin to wonder; shall I ride the San Bernardino Pass or shall I stick to my plan and ride the tunnel?

As I approach the tunnel, it starts raining and a glimpse of the mountains says it all. I go for the tunnel; snowy roads are not very tempting today. On the south side, I meet the sun and the heat. It was nice and warm when I stood in the que at the border Austria border, but here it is at least 10 degrees warmer. Val Mesolcina lies before me and now the road goes steeply downhill, wide and nice and with little traffic. Down at Bellinzona I enter A2 and continue south.

In the hills after Bellinzona, I take a break at a rest area, which is at a small loop from the motorway. Here I meet a Swiss guy on a F800GS also on his way south. He has come over the Gottardo Pass and had lots of snow and only 3 degrees. While I take a sip of water and a few crackers, he brews himself a steaming hot cup of coffee, and tells me that he is on his way to Nice where he will ferry over to Corsica. He was there 16 years ago, (Nice coincidence; my wife and I were there the same year on our honeymoon on our 600 Fazers.) and now he wants to run the same way.

The temperature stays around 30 degrees and then some, and it is nice and warm down to Lugano and along Lake Lugano. By Mendrisio, I exit the motorway and head towards Galarate. The traffic is heavy at first, but then A60, A8 and A26 takes me I quite effectively to the A4 towards Torino. I have Turin straight ahead, in what feels like an eternity. The sky is pitch-black and lightning dance up ahead. West of Turin I turn south and the dark clouds are still in front of me. Eventually I get some rain, but then the road turns more and I avoid the rain for a while.

Heading towards Cuneo my luck with the weather ends as I ride into the storm with rain and thunder. As I ride into the storm, it is dark. The ground shakes when the lightning plays up right in front of me. I head towards the centre of Cuneo as I start looking for hotels, unsuccessfully. The main street is closed and the detour is via narrow backstreets. I cannot find any hotels, not in the next villages either.

I stop looking for hotels and concentrate fully on the riding. Fortunately, the BMW has very good light; with the Fazer, I would have ridden blindfolded in these conditions. I stick to the planned route, and hope I will find a hotel on the way up the valley towards Colle di Tenda. At half past nine, I ride into Vernante and finally I see a sign with HOTEL. The place looks quiet, but there are people in the bar downstairs. “Room? Certainly, we have a room! Come here I will take your jacket, is your helmet wet as well, and the gloves? Maybe we should park the bike in the garage first?” This is what I call hospitality. 15 minutes later I sit in the gourmet restaurant on the first floor in Hotel Il Nazionale with a cold beer from the local brewery Troll (has nothing to do with Norwegian trolls) and an order for the veal breast in mountain potato foam with lemon flavour. The food tastes great and is exactly what I need when I shall go directly to a rendezvous with my pillow. I fall asleep to the sound of rain drumming against the shutters outside the window. The notebook says 1030 km.

It was a pleasure to wake up to this view from the hotel room.

From Vernante via Col duTurini to Nice

“Happy birthday Mr. Aalbergsjo”, I am entering the breakfast room when the host greets me from a side door. After a good breakfast, I am ready to celebrate. The day has had a perfect start. When I open the shutters, I have view to snowy mountain peaks under a blue sky, and a fresh and cool mountain air. That is a nice birthday present. The plan is to run the Col de Tende from the French side. The 46 hairpins to the top of the pass begin almost immediately after the exit of the tunnel on the French side.

When I come to the tunnel there is a que and countdown shows that there is 14 minutes until we get the green light. The Colle di Tenda tunnel was originally bidirectional, but now has alternating one-way traffic. With two minutes left to green, I ride up to the front of the queue and join a couple of R1200GS and a couple of T-Max. The GS’s quickly disappear when we come into the tunnel; the 50-zone is out of order!

There was construction work on the new tunnel on the Italian side, and on the French side as well. A barrier with a round white sign with red border tells me that the road up to the Col de Tende is closed. I initiate plan B and ride down to Breil-sur-Roya where I check the map. Col du Turini – that will be a good substitute for the Col de Tende. I have already passed the exit to Sospel, and I do not make U-turns?! I continue along la Roya down to Fanghetto where I take SP73 in direction of Sospel.

Alpes Maritime have some entertaining roads on offer.

The SP73 is very narrow and winding. While riding past Olivetta San Michele, I wonder if it is possible to make the road any steeper and narrower than this – later I get proof that it is! In the first hairpin after Olivetta San Michele, I enter France again and I am now on road D93. I stop at the Col de Vescavo. For a moment, I consider if I should take D193 to Piene Haute. However, I choose to continue in the direction Sospel. A German GS rider passes at a frantic pace and dances light and offensive through corners where I am cautious and reticent. I am not tempted to follow. The road is narrow and demanding, and some of the oncoming cars are not keeping their side of the road.

Take a rest at Notre Dame de la Menour.

The first sign to Col du Turini appears in Sospel and leads me to road D2566. I have just ridden some kilometres when I am on the famous Monte Carlo Rally stage. It follows D2566 on from Sospel over Col du Turini and then M70 to La Bollène-Vésubie and is about 32 km long and with over 30 hairpin bends. I will go to Col du Turini and then stay on D2566 south towards Nice. The road meanders through a narrow gorge to la Menour where I take a break, then to Moulinet, later through the woods before I arrive at Col du Turini at just over 1,600 meters. What a ride! Some of the hairpins are so narrow that cars have trouble getting through without having to reverse once – perhaps mostly due to the driver’s fear of steep drop outside crash barriers. Do you have fear of heights you should are allowed to be sceptical about this route.

At one of the higlights of todays trip, and on my way to the ocen there where some more waiting for me.

After a short break, I start in direction Nice, still on D2566. I agreed with my wife to meet by lunch – the serving stops 2:00 p.m. sharp. The first stretch takes me through the woods, but I am suddenly in the open. To the left I see the Mediterranean for the first time on the trip; to the right are the snowy mountains of Mercantour-Argentera massif with peaks of over 3,000 meters. Now the road becomes twisty. I enter a section of the road where it is evident that there has been a car race recently. The tyre marks in the curves are not to be mistaken, and in a couple of turns the brake marks goes straight ahead and do not stop until the asphalt edge – where the front wheels will stand when the front of the vehicle is smeared in the rock wall.

I am not in a hurry, and keep a comfortable pace. As I approach the valley floor, the heat is rising and passes 34 degrees. Now it starts to get seriously hot in the leather pants and inside the back protector. On the highway west from Nice, I get up to speed and a cooling breeze.

I could not ride the Col de Tende, but I got a fantastic drive in the Alpes Maritimes. This can be recommended – perhaps not for July and August – May or September when the temperature is a little more moderate. I got my lunch – with five minutes margin.

Read about the second leg of the Grand Tour des Alpes 2016 here!


Knüllhotel Tann-Eck, Shellbach, Tyskland
Hotel Il Nazionale di Vernante, Vernante, Italia

My route from Vernante via Col du Turini to Nice:

NB! Google Maps may change a route if it includes a road that is closed (e.g. closed during the winter) at the time you are viewing the route.