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  • Writer's pictureGareth Owens

Balkans Motorcycle Tour - Day 3

Stelvio Pass - 48 switchbacks on the way down

From: Walenstadburg Lake, Switzerland To: Hotel Elephant - Ara Auer near Leifers, Italy Distance approx: 270 miles

We all woke excited to be on holiday, to be in beautiful mountain scenery and for the most part to have kit that had dried out during the night. After breakfast we walked down to the lake which we had not seen when we arrived in darkness the night before.

Walenstadburg Lake - a tranquil start to a furious day riding alpine passes

After a few photos of the lake we decided on the days journey plan. First would be a visit to the castle at Vaduz in Lichtenstein. After which we would make a decision on which route the the alpine passes we would take. Some of the group were up for a day of riding passes and others wanted to mix it up a a little with some passes and less challenging roads.

In Lichtenstein we soon found the rather disappointing castle at Vaduz. As well as not being the type of castle we all had in mined it turned out to be closed, but it was nice to get off the bikes and get some photos.

The whole group at Castle Vaduz, Lichtenstein

Leaving Lichtenstein we split into two groups both heading towards the Flüela Pass our first official Alpine pass of the trip. Despite the two different routes, as with the day before, we happened to meet up in Davos where we decided to get an early lunch of Tarte Flambie (a Swiss Pizza style dish) at a lodge by the lake.

Pulling over for lunch at Davos Lake

After fuelling ourselves on Swiss Pizza we left the lake and onto Flüela Pass. As an introductory pass for our tour it id not disappoint and one of the team who had lived in Switzerland knew all the best viewing points so we got a guided tour. The pace over this pass was pretty sedate and things would pick up later in the day.

Flüela Pass @2383 meters

Gathering up ready to descend Flüela Pass

From Flüela Pass the team split up heading in the general direction of the fabled switchbacks of Stelvio Pass. The weather was chilly in the mountains and warmer in the valleys and we all started to get into the flow of mountain riding.

We had put Stelvio Pass in the satnav and used TomTom's winding roads option to get us there by an interesting route (though you can't go far wrong in the Alps).

There were lots of great roads on the way to Stelvio, and we ended up turning off a main road at a small village called Santa Maria Val Mustair which led us via a very tight winding back road to the Umbrail Pass Road. I was enjoying the little wooded windy road so much, that I stopped on a switchback to turn my action camera on, only to run out of switchbacks after a couple more bends.

Umbrail Pass road starts it's climb from the village of Santa Maria Val Mustair

Soon after the bend ran out so did the tarmac and those at the front pulled over to wait for the others to catch up. We were all in great spirits. As we prepared to ride the dirt road, we knew we were not too many miles away from Stelvio and I promised to tell Ben when we were at the start of it so he could turn on his action cam. I didn't realise at this point that my satav way point was the village at the other side of the Stelvio pass.

The dirt road soon ran out and we road up Umbrail Pass and then onto Stelvio itself and we only realised we were at our destination at the top. 

Running out of road on Umbrail Pass Road

Stelvio is pretty high at 2757 meters and has 75 hairpin turns. As we rode to the top via another pass we just had to traverse 48 bum clenching hairpins on the way down the northern side.

The switchback on Stelvio Pass are tight; cracked from the harsh conditions and heavy vehicles tearing up the turns; wet from the melt-water still running across the road at the end of summer;  heavily cambered, and full of tourists like us.

Some of the less experienced riders found it daunting at first, but with 48 switchbacks and only one way down, there was plenty of practise to be had. By the time we got to the bottom we all felt like switchback pros and were still high from the ride. If we had the time I'm sure we would have all asked for a do-over.

However, Stelvio was not without its casualties with one of the bikes slipping of its centre stand when parked on a bend. The rider made it all the way don in second gear despite not having a gear change which has snapped off. Thankfully this was not a set back as he had brought spare hand and foot levers! 15 minutes with some tools and we were back on our way.

Carrying spare hand and foot controls is a great idea on tour

After the excitement of Stelvio it was great to reach Italy and as we descended onto the main roads in the valleys the sun came out and the temperature started to rise. We spent the early evening riding through vineyards in the afternoon sunshine to our bed for the night, Hotel Elephant, Ara Auer near Leifers, Italy. We will spend the night here and also a well earned rest day tomorrow.

Our rest stop for tonight and tomorrow - the picturesque village of Auer in Italy

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