Friday, 20 May 2011

Riding the Trans Europe Express - Munich to Venice!

So three years ago now, a motley pair of Adventure Cafe leaders were en route from completing a Paris to Munich ride, to the start of an Alpine trek from the Col de la Bonnette to Nice through the
Alpes Maritimes. Purely by chance we opted for the Brenner Pass, and then into the Adige Valley.
Initially it was the most direct over the Alps that encouraged us through this conduit. Soon however, our eye wandered across the wider area on the page of the map. I certainly for one hadn't realised the proximity of Lake Garda to the Brenner Pass, or indeed just how close Verona and Venice were to Lake Garda. And so as we travelled, the plan came together for this stunning, classic European ride. We jotted down a few details, and excitedly then put the plans together back at Adventure Cafe HQ two weeks later. A further 9 months on, and the trailblazing first team were pushing out from Munich Airport, out into the Bavarian countryside with a keen sense of adventure!

We of course knew about the 'big' highlights on the ride, but what soon became apparent was that this ride is very special. Even between the main 'attractions' there are gems aplenty waiting to be uncovered by riders on this event. Wolratshausen town, nestling beside the tumbling, bubbling Loisach River, and its pretty high street, well provided for with Gelataria and Pattisseries, is our first firm favourite! From here our route continues South towards the mountains, passing through the sparkling Spa town of Bad Tolz before starting to climb up towards the Austrian Border. Well before lunch, and we are at the border, and crossing the first ridge of the pre-Alps, and riding beside deep glacial lakes, in warm sunshine. Then we enjoy our first fast descent down into the Inn Valley, now faced by the full force and grandeur of the Alps proper. We have a brief respite as we ride down the flat valley bottom, working together to cheat the valley wind. At Innsbruck we have a brief flirtation with busier roads, but we also take in the historic city centre, bumping down small flights of steps through romantic medieval stone archways, and down cobbled narrow alleyways.
On the other side of Innsbruck, day 2 has a real sting in the tail, which of course all riders are well aware of; the mighty Brenner Pass!

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 We break the climb into two on this ride - climbing up to the town of Steinach am Brenner, we pause briefly just for some essential fuel (ie cakes and sweets!) in Matrei, to help us up the last few km. Arriving at the Gasthof, we are all well and truly spent, and ready for a cool fresh Austrian Beer, and some hearty mountain fare. Fortunately, our host Herr Klotz is a jolly fellow, and looks after our team magnificently, with a good meal of Wiener Schnitzel and a traditional broth to start! His final offering of a couple of rounds of his local Schnapps / Firewater, is not to my taste, but is gobbled down by the team!
Fit with our energy reserves replenished, the route continues to climb to the top of the Brenner, where we celebrate with photos on the Italian Border. With just over a day in Austria behind us, we wave goodbye, and enter our third country of the trip. Starting with an enormous and joyous descent we ride on down into the Sud Tirol, and down into the wonderful Adige Valley. The scenery builds through the day - and from time to time we are fortunate enough to pick up parts of the Adige Valley Cycle trail. Mid afternoon we ride through the sublime and fascinating Tirol town of Bolzano, or Bosen - the town with a split nationality, part Austrian, part Italian, part Sauerkraut and Wiener Schnitzel, part Chianti and Tortelloni, but topped off with beautiful architecture and stunning mountain views direct from the city centre!

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A hop and a skip outside Bolzano and the towering dolomitic limestone cliffs start towering above us on both sides, as we drop down for the final gentle ride in the glacier scoured valley bottom, bound for the perfect village of Rovereto. Dinner and a couple of Moretti Pilsners later, and it's time to sleep!
Day 4 dawns, and the team think "surely this ride can't keep up the wonders we have witnessed on days one, two and three?", but as we start down the heart of the Adige Valley on another sundrenched clear morning, the anticipation for Lake Garda builds. A smooth fast ride down the valley brings us
down to Mori - where the cycle path helps us up and away from the valley bottom and the Adige River. A short stiff climb ensues, and then we whizz down a winding path and series of small lanes, to behold the most amazing view (probably!) of the whole journey as we crest the hill, and stare in awe, down the entire length of Lake Garda. And even better than this view, and the tasty Italian lunch by the lake, and the swim in the fresh clear water, is that our route now rocks on down beside the lake for an amazing 48km, without doubt, one of the rides of your life!
Wearily the team make the final ride over the small set of hills to reach Verona, and tired but elated, we take the final turns of the pedals into this most amazing of cities, taking in the amazing views of the old city stacked up along the banks of the Adige Valley.

The final morning of the trip starts gently, and at a low tempo. The essence of the first part of this, the final day is making the final stage of the journey over towards the Adriatic Sea, our journey's end. We see the hills tumbling down into the wine town of Soave off to the side of our ride, but we plough on, with the end in sight. The morning is hot work, crossing the plains to reach the wondefully historic city of Padova, where we break for lunch, and ready ourselves for the final hurrah. In the afternoon, we soon start to feel the Venetian influence, and we ride fast and smooth as a team, along one of the feeder Canals that criss-cross the hinterland of the Veneto. The characteristic barbers pole mooring points for the watercraft on the canal start to creep in, and the waterside properties get ever larger, and more extravagant. Just the last few kilometres and we reach our overnight hotel, and it's a big hurrah as we come into Mestre. It's not quite the end of the road though, as this amazing journey has just one last incredible experience to reward us for our perseverence. From Mestre, the last town on the mainland, in the dying embers of a warm sunny evening, we ride out and across the amazing 2.5 mile long manmade causeway that connects the mainland to the historic island of Venice.
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At the end of the road, despite Venice itself being out of bounds for cyclists, we sneek on to the first bridge in the pedestrianised entrance area on to the island. We made it - through Bavaria, over the Alps, down the Adige Valley, beside Lake Garda, through Verona, across the Veneto to the most unusual city in the world - the proud completers of the Trans Europe Express!

The Next Trans Europe Express departs platform 4, Munich Hauptbahnhof on 28th September 2011, Get On Board! Let's Ride!