SBS Mag Destination Guide: East Tyrol, Austria

SBS Mag Destination Guide: East Tyrol, Austria

 FELIX BILLINGTON

Looking for some inspiration on places to visit by bike? SBS Mag’s series of destination guides continues with worldwide motorcycle tour operator Felix Billington, enticing you to visit the alpine roads of East Tyrol, Austria.

Why would I go there?

Any country that spends winters skiing and summers mountain biking is guaranteed to provide decent mountain roads for bike touring. A massive slab of mountains jammed between Germany and Italy means plenty of high passes, and Austrian efficiency means they’re all beautifully surfaced. The valleys are picturesque, smooth as a billiard table with lush green flat bottoms dotted with tiny farming villages, each with its own onion-dome church.

Then towering mountains suddenly rise up on every side, with clear mountain air giving a crisp view (one regular riders said it was like watching life in 3D ultra-HD widescreen!). Up in the mountains there are loads of tiny hill farms where it’s not unusual to see people using scythes in a mountainside meadow.  Brown cows with bells on getting milked one at a time in a mobile milking station pulled behind a car. It’s just wonderfully charming.

Where is it?

Separating Germany from Italy, in the East of Austria. You can approach from the north via Germany, The Black Forest and Bodensee (Lake Constance) and Oberammergau. From the south via the Italian cities of Verona and Venice, or from the east through Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Whichever way you choose it’s mountains, mountains and more mountains!

What is there to do?

The Grossglockner high alpine road shouldn’t be missed. Nestled in the Alps it’s the highest paved road in Europe and one of the most scenic rides anywhere. It’s the motorway of mountain passes – armed with wide, sweeping hairpins and excellent visibility. The safety-to-speed ratio is very good compared to other narrower passes. Edelweissspitze (bikers point) has a great atmosphere at the top of a series of tight cobbled hairpins. Fantastic views and a great photo op of the main road below. The Pasterze glacier is amazing, at 8.4km in length it’s the longest glacier in Austria and the visitors centre here is worth stopping for.

Berchtesgaden is very interesting historically as it was used by Hitler as a summer retreat. There’s a bus that takes you to the top and lockers near the station hold bike gear. You walk along a stone tunnel, then a mirror-polished brass lift takes you to the top, which is really cool. The whole place looks totally impregnable until the last minute when you see the tunnel entrance. The garden provides  beautiful views overlooking the mountains.

All the ski stations convert their lifts to take mountain bikes in the summer, so hiring a bike and doing some downhill would be really easy and great fun for a ‘rest’ day!

Beautiful alpine lakes (like the Walchsee) provide stunning views over bright turquoise water. You can take a swim or simply sit with a beer and take in the scenery.

Know before you go…

Austrian motorways require a vignette (only €5 or so), but worth getting to avoid a fine.

There are lockers for bike gear at Berchtesgaden, the last bus up is 16:00 and down 16:50. You should book your return time as soon as you get to the top.

The Grossglockner high alpine road is about €25 so don’t get caught out by the toll. Many of the local hotels have offers that cover several passes so worth checking depending where you stay. It also shuts at 6pm. Go early or late to avoid the coaches. You also get a sticker!

Weather can be gorgeous in the valley bottoms but quite cold and wet up in the passes and it can change quickly, make sure you’ve got a decent oversuit and a fleece or mid-layer you can put on if necessary.

Best time to go?

Many high alpine passes are shut for a large part of the year. May-September is best. But alpineroads.com is a good website to check if passes are open or passable.

Top Tips…

  1. Don’t miss the Grossglockner.
  2. Get off the beaten track to see charming old-world rural scenes like people scything meadow-grass.
  3. If you’ve got small children a traditional Austrian cow bell makes a brilliant present… one you’ll most probably regret!

Key info…

To see a selection of tours that go through Austria, visit Felix’s tour company’s website.