Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: Expat bikers take to the open road in a Europe without borders

Politicians seem to be keen to create boundaries these days, but recently I was reminded of how refreshing it is to live in a Europe that is borderless and accessible.

Not only was I traveling through various countries with only the ping of a text from my phone provider to remind me I had crossed a border, but I was traveling in a group of expat motorcycle riders from the Netherlands, UK, Israel, Portugal, Spain, Pakistan and India … no borders within our group either!

The group of internationals ride together regularly on day trips but 10 days together created an opportunity to get to know each others culture and country a little better, proving that dialogue offers a means to connect with people.

Friendships were solidified over beer, conversations about “home” and planning sessions for the route. I always marvel that I am talking with a cartographer, a mathematician and a lady that re-enacts life in an Iron Age village, whilst drinking a beer. Would I have had that opportunity if I had not been living this strange expat life?

Our trip had us stop briefly in some beautiful places, leaving us with a desire to return someday.

EXPAT BIKERS IN COLMAR

We covered more than 2,500 kilometers from the Netherlands through Luxembourg, northern France, Switzerland, Bayern, Germany and Austria, ending the trip in Innsbruck on the overnight train to Dusseldorf, Germany.

LA PETITE VENISE

Colmar, France

Colmar is a neighbor of Strasbourg but is a little less touristy. Close to the border with Germany, it has been both German and French several times in the past. It is reputed to be one of the driest cities in France and its microclimate provides the opportunity for vines and hops to flourish, so tasting local beers and Alsace wines is a must.

The medieval buildings provide a colorful backdrop to the canals running through the old town and La Petite Venise is so picturesque you feel as if you are in a fairytale book!

Travel tip:

We had a great meal in Comptoir de Georges in the historic centre.

JULIER PASS, SWITZERLAND

Pontresina, Switzerland

Pontresina (1,805 meters) is close by to the wealthy alpine resort of St. Moritz. But in mid May, between skiing and hiking season, both towns are extremely quiet. The area of the Engadin is a delightful high alpine valley.

Close to the Italian/Austrian border in northeastern Switzerland, this area is surrounded by mountains and alpine passes such as Julier, Albula, Flüela, Maloja, Bernina and Val Müstair and the Stelvio pass is not too far away. Unfortunately for us, due to the heavy late snows, many of the passes were closed leading to some disappointed bikers.

Pontresina is a beautiful old town with local stone houses and hotels from the Belle Époque era. Close by are the Muottas Muragl, a beautiful viewpoint which can be accessed by a funicular railway and Piz Bernina, the highest mountain in the eastern Alps.

POSCHIAVO FROM THE BERNINA RAILWAY

The Bernina railway is the highest railway in Europe and winds around the mountains and towns in the Bernina Pass and has a stop in Pontresina. This train travels all the way into Italy and has the strange claim to fame of travellers being able to see glaciers and palm trees on the same journey. We took the train to Poschiavo, a small town close to the Italian border for a delicious lunch and some breathtaking views.

Travel tip:

We stayed in the super Hotel Schweizerhof. 

Oberammergau, Germany

A small town in the Bavarian Alps that is famous for its history of woodcarving, its artistically painted houses and its 380-year-old Passion Plays (the story of Jesus of Nazareth). The town is a popular tourist destination and provides a base for hiking, skiing and visits to some castles on the Romanantische Strasse tourist route. It is one of my favorite spots in Europe.

Travel tips:

We stayed at the Hotel Arnika, a family run hotel which is small and comfortable.

A good local restaurant and brewery is the Maxbräu, part of the Hotel Maximilian in the town centre.  

Salzburg, Austria

The city of Salzburg has stunning views of the eastern Alps and is famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and the settin for “The Sound Of Music” movie.

The lovely old city is a treat to wander with its flamboyant and medieval buildings, the imposing fortress and the fast running Salz river dividing the old and new town.

There is a lot to see in the city from the birthplace and childhood homes of Mozart including the busy old shopping street of Getriedegasse; the beautiful Mirabell gardens; the cathedral and many of the locations used in “The Sound of Music.”

SCHLOSS LEOPOLDSKRON

As it was our third visit we skipped the busy downtown and took a walk along Monschberg, the ridge running above the city, which gave us fabulous views and also took a bus out to Schloss Leopoldskron, the building used to portray the Von Trapp home.

The castle is a hotel but the lovely lake is nice to wander around and from there you can walk through the leafy suburbs back into the city.

ACHENSEE

Some of the guys made the most of the good weather and visited Hallstatt in Upper Austria. The beautiful town perches on the edge of a lake and offers not only spectacular views but a salt mine to visit and mountains to hike.

The Grossglockner, Austria’s highest paved mountain pass opened up on the last day so there was no stopping the bikers … 48 kilometers and 36 turns on this breathtaking road was calling!

Travel tip:

We were excited to discover this superb Italian restaurant Wasserfall.

Innsbruck, Austria

Our final stop and location of the OBB Nightjet, the overnight train to Dusseldorf. Innsbruck, in the Tirol, is a large city with a small, attractive Baroque centre overlooked by commanding mountains.

It is a popular winter sports centre and has hosted two Winter Olympic Games. The city offers a diverse range of activities in the summer too, whether you have an urge to visit Swarovski’s World of Crystals, a desire to travel to the top of the Nordkette Mountains via the cable car, to survey the city from 2,255 meters, taking in the stunning designs of Zaha Hadid’s stations along the way or taking lunch in the restaurant at the top of Bergisel ski jump.

Travel tip :

We stayed in the lovely Hotel Kapeller on the outskirts of the city but it had easy tram/bus connection to downtown. 

This trip was an appetizer leaving us wanting more. The overnight train, though not particularly restful, is an awesome way to cover the miles to Austria and Switzerland with a motorcycle or car, and the breathtaking countryside they have to offer.

So pack your bags and grab this opportunity to travel without borders!

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