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If you feel the call of the wind, your right wrist is reflexively twitching and you find yourself gazing at your black leather biking gear, then you know the time has come. It’s time to hit the road Jack! A motorbike journey through the back street of Southern Europe is most definitely an experience for the bucket list. Discover the most beautiful scenery of wildlife and little towns and villages that dot the way. Stop in at a local tavern and enjoy a beer off the tap that’s pouring, as welcoming folks are more than eager to share a good yarn or two. I’m planning the epic motorbike trip through France and Italy. This is going to be all about me and the road and the big wide open.
What is it that makes riding a bike so unique from driving a car? To begin with, there is no screen between you and the outside world. You have this sense that you are one with the universe and it’s all too easy to get intoxicated with that feeling. There is something rugged, raw and extremely sexy about it, as you power through dirt and mud with the brute force of a machine like the Ducati Monster or the BMW K1600 GTL. But then, there is also this crazy ability to get wherever you want, weave through narrow gauges and up steep angles. It’s not just driving off road, but off track, getting you to reach the pinnacle of a world’s edge.
If you can relate to this sentiment we can assure you you’re not alone. The idea of a great motorcycle trip appeals to a lot of people from all walks of life; from tech geeks, to daggy health professionals, men and women, young’ens and the oldies. While the typical association of motorcyclists is of big guys covered in tattoos and bouldering beer guts, the truth is everyone and anyone can get swept up in the romance and sense of freedom that comes with seeing the world on the seat of a motorbike.
For a trip that we are planning from Italy into France, we spoke to a couple of experts who were able to lend us some tips and suggestions to see us safely and comfortably through our journey. Our contact in Italy was Laura from HP Motorrad and in France it was Gilles from France-On-Wheels.
Starting in Italy, Laura reassures us that Italy has some absolutely fantastic scenic routes for riders. The most famous is the Passo dello Stelvio perhaps because it is the highest paved mountain pass in Northern Italy. The Passo dello Stelvio is located in the Eastern Alps, sitting on the Switzerland border and it’s about a 4 hour ride from Milan. She claims that “these roads have a magical nature amidst the clean crisp air. This is a fundamental destination for every rider!” The Dolomites and Valtrebbia are also very popular for the great views that they offer and roads that are full of twists and turns. Further down south, Lake Garda and Lake Como are also obligatory stops for their curvy roads that are great fun to pass through, not to mention the spectacular views of little Italian villages perched on the edge of the lake.
Riding across Italy you can discover Cinque Terre and reach Costiera Amalfitana known for its dramatic coastal scenery. Hire for example a Multistrada 1200 or a BMW S1000XR and enjoy a stunning combination of captivating seaside villages, dotted with colorful houses that cling onto steep cliffs down to the deep-blue sea, where fishing boats sway to the rhythm of the ocean.
From sunrise to sunset, Laura insists that it is possible for riders to start their trip in the Dolomite mountains, then ride through curvy and non stop scenic roads for 200km, cross the Apennine hills and finally settle down to a scrumptious dinner and a glass of fine Chianti red as you enjoy all the beauty of a seaside view. The number of good roads with beautiful scenery to travel is endless in Italy. Combining that with the opportunity to end each day with a different glass of wine that Italy is so well known for, makes the experience an all round winning combination.
For the center and the south of Italy the best time of year to go is from March to October, while if you’re planning to do the northern regions of the Dolomites and the Alps, you’re more restricted to the warmer months of the summer time which is generally between June to September. Laura assures that for a long distance haul, where you would like to bring as much with you as possible, the bikes can be equipped with top and side cases that can be extended. Or better yet, go with a group; a) because it is generally safer and b) a truck can be provided for transporting luggage which follows the riders for the entire trip.
As I try to co-ordinate our touring arrangements, Gilles assures me that France possesses a cultural heritage known throughout the world, but also abounds in small unsuspected marvels. Whether by the sea or through hinterland, France-on-Wheels seeks to capture the magic of rural France for their riders to experience. They select routes that are well off the beaten track and yet remarkably beautiful, include visits to famous hostelries and the finest restaurants, so that riders can enjoy all of France’s charms.
One of the most popular destinations tends to be the Provence-Côte d'Azur, chosen time and again for its exceptionally beautiful landscapes that entirely fill a panorama. Along with the sensual and luxurious quality of the lifestyle to be found in Provence, the region unceasingly attracts tourists from all over the world. Provence brims with wild and lush natural landscapes and clear azure skies that meet a turquoise sea in a far off horizon. It is home to an enchanting and mysterious historical heritage, characterised by artists, poets and philosophers who have flocked to its seaside haven. Visit charming little villages that are perched into the mountainside, listen to a cicada song and take in the smell of lavender. You don’t visit Provence-Côte d'Azur just to see it, but to immerse yourself into it.
For our trip to France Gilles recommends a guided tour, supervised by a team of professionals that ensure the safety and comfort of their riders. Families have been known to take this trip all together, with mum, dad, a few kids and a grandma thrown in there too for good measure. In these circumstances the guided trip is really recommended, not just for safety but also to transport luggage and provide a translation service if that’s needed.
However, riders can choose to go their own way too if they want. It is possible to request a self-drive formula that includes a detailed road book, location suggestions and on call assistance. With motorcycles that include a powerful GoldWing Honda, the mighty BMW K1600 or a monster Harley-Davidson, they’re guaranteed satisfying moments.
The nostalgia of motorbike racing is well documented even before “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Being on the road for hours somehow manages to induce you into a more contemplative approach to life. Maybe it’s because for a time you’re on society’s outskirts, never anywhere for very long or that sense of being at one with the elements. Either way, it’s an experience to get hooked on, and certainly one that’s not easily forgotten.
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