21.07.2016 - 24.07.2016
Our overnight stay in Müster was fun filled with the girls discovering the aperitif Hugo and sampling many over the afternoon evening. The hotel is owned by friends of our Swiss host Urs, and we were treated with great hospitality and delicious traditional dishes from local produce. After a breakfast of the best croissants we had ever eaten we set off to ride to Italy, the town of Tirano on the border via again, those high alpine passes. We were not disappointed! We set off in overcast weather that stayed pretty much like that all day, breaking into sunshine late afternoon.
The riding on Thursday was spectacular yet again. We rode up, up, up out of the little town and just kept going up! We stopped for some photos every so often and then we stopped again so I could put on some layers as by now we were up way above the snowline and the temp was dropping fast. We rode over the Umbrail Pass (2505m) that links to the Passo dello Stelvio (2760m) where we stopped atop the mountain and had a look around the ski village - no skiers insight just loads and loads of motorcyclists and cyclists taking on the challenges of riding those high gorgeous roads.
The weather looked like it was closing in with drops of rain starting to fall so we donned our wets and set off. To ride down we were "forced" to enjoy ourselves taking on 40 hairpin bends (no, I did not count them - they had signs with the turn number) and several single lane tunnels (a tight squeeze for Sharon driving the van), the road fluidly snaking down the mountain to the resort town of Bormio where the sun was shining and the temp was a humid 30+c. Did we get those layers off in a hurry!
Our journey continued, now in Italy, to the town of Grosino where we were welcomed into the hotel Sassella and the Restaurant Jim for lunch. Good story here - the great grandparents of the owners had emigrated to Melbourne in 1901 and opened a fish shop. They made their money and travelled back home and bought a hotel in the 30s where the family has run it ever since. The GGF's name was Giacomo but in Aus they called him Jim (yep that's what we do) hence the name of the restaurant. So you can imagine how excited our hosts became when we told them where we were from. Our younger host told us his son was the 5th generation! Again, yet another wonderful lunch of traditional dishes, this time dishes of Valtellina, local wine and even dessert. How unusual?! Photos of the bikes were taken in front of the hotel at the insistence of the owners and were were even given a bottle of the local wine to celebrate our visit!
A quick lone walk (Lyndel) up to see the ruins of an old 11c castle and some Iron Age rock carvings high above the village and then a short ride on the motorway to our digs in Tirano. Our hotel for the night was De La Tour, on the main drag into the town near the historic quarter. A few local beers to help settle into Italy then a walk around to get our bearings. Jim was feeling quite unwell so he elected to sleep and so only 7 of us strolled through the old part of the town, seeing some very old domestic buildings as well as finding the more elite part of the town where we came across a little drinking hole. Some red wine and beer then back to see how Jim was. Not good so we left him with a kebab (2 bites were eaten...) and walked back to the little restaurant and had a super meal, red wine, prosecco and Limoncello to finish. A hot and noisy night (hotel near main vehicle thoroughfare) for us all making sleep difficult but we awoke next morning fairly refreshed ready to ride back into Switzerland to the lakeside resort of Locarno.
The weather forecast for Friday was for showers so I was determined to try out my new waterproof jeans I had bought in Sweden. We rode through deep valleys for the first part of the morning in cloudy conditions but about 12noon Jim pulled over so we could put on our wets as we were heading into black clouds. Thunder, lightning and sideways rain was upon us in less than 10 minutes! With the rain bucketing down the Scout started to splutter and in no time was rolling to a dead stop. The road was awash with water and visibility was poor so I paddle walked the bike about 5 metres to move it off the road, lost my footing and fell over with the stalled bike on top of me! Jorgen and Jim M were immediately behind me so they lifted it up and I happily decamped to the Mercedes. Bike on trailer and off we went with the weather clearing by the time we were looking for a lunch spot. We found a "very nice restaurant" on a descent into yet another lakeside village and had a fine meal of pasta, pizza, salad, wine and beer. If I remember correctly there was a dessert or two involved in that lunch also...
The town of Locarno, on Lake Maggiore, is very popular and was even more popular on the weekend of July 22-24 as the Midsummer festival “Luci e Ombre” (Lights and Shadows) was happening. We realised something was going on as, driving around and around to find our hotel, several roads had been closed off and parking was at a premium. Garni Rondinella was Friday night's accommodation and once parking was sorted (confusion reigning in the hotel carpark at the front with food vendors and karaoke claiming all the spaces) we finally padlocked the bikes up on the sidewalk and parked the van and trailer in the public parking lot across the park (and not until I did a LOT of sweet talking the parking attendant to even let us in!). Along the lake foreshore were many food stalls selling beer, mojitos and wine, with spareribs cooked on open coals and many varieties of cakes and salads. Several bands were setting up so we settled on a country/rock sound and had a great night listening and dancing till midnight. Around dusk, 8:30 or so, there was an aerial aerobatic display with 5 aircraft over the lake which entertained the crowd. The whole night was fun with me waking up on Saturday morning not that keen to ride the Scout... so it stayed on the trailer for the day.
The route for the day, to get us back to Metmenstetten, was via the town of Altdorf where we were to meet Lan and Urs Speck a few kilometres earlier down the road. The weather started out fine enough but soon it was raining and then really raining! A tunnel, 16.7km long and at a temperature of 36c, acted like a clothes drier and the riders went in one end wet and came out the other dry!! Unfortunately, unbeknown to our tour group, it was the first weekend of the holidays and nearly all of Europe was travelling on that road either going to Italy, France or Germany or going the opposite direction. So we endured a 75 minute traffic jam in the van with the 4 Chiefs leaving us to ride up the outside lane so they could rendezvous on time with the Specks. The jam was caused simply by a set of traffic lights to control the number of cars that could enter a two lane tunnel. It appears this is a regular occurrence for school holidays and celebrations like Easter and Christmas. We were wondering why there were Toi Tois (portaloos) strategically placed along the freeway...
When we all regrouped we took a detour up to see Urs' father at his cabin and then on to Altdorf where the statue of William Tell stands in the market place. We all learnt at school about how William Tell shot the arrow through the apple but what we didn't learn was that he was a true Swiss patriot and is considered the father of the Swiss. Weather still overcast but dry we travelled along side Lake Lucerne where we stopped and Urs showed us some historical sites dating back to the confederation of small independent states, in the 14th century, to become Switzerland.
We arrived back in the late sunny afternoon and, after showers and several loads of washing, went down into the town for a fabulous meal at the local steakhouse, the restaurant having such a good reputation that patrons come from Zurich and all over Switzerland to dine there. It was so much more than a "very nice restaurant".
The end of our Swiss Alps Adventure had arrived. Before we left Jim had a short ride around on the '38 Sport Scout Urs had recently taken ownership of. Quite a special bike this one with an Australian pedigree and a great story of how it came to be once again on the road to go with it. So on a bright and sunny, soon to be very hot, Sunday we said goodbye to Switzerland and headed on the autobahn to Munich for the start of our journey to the rally.
That story will be told very soon.