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Dolomites

The Douro Valley, Portugal, and the Northern Coast of Spain

Rio Douro in the morning

Rio Douro in the early morning

The morning is clear and cool with a fog hanging out in the valleys between the green, grapevine terraced hillsides making a brilliant contrast to the bright blue sky above the layer of fog. We will ride to the northern coast of Spain today spending a couple hours riding the N-222 in the Douro valley, ranked one of the top driving roads in the world, (  http://www.avisbestroad.com/uk/the-top-25-roads/ ). The road was a perfect blend of curves and straight sections, elevation changes and perfect scenery that had us in slow-mode riding style as this was perhaps the most beautiful scenery we had encountered. The terraced hillsides of grapevines set in a patchwork quilt style. some rows facing this way, others at 90 degree angles to it’s perfect neighbor and then other just there. All of this was broken with occasional chalets and towns with the layered fog burning off slowly to reveal the beauty of the Rio Douro, cutting a ribbons path of flowing blue through the valley to the town of Pinhao.

Douro Valley, Portugal

Douro Valley, Portugal

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As we were coming to the village of Pinhao we pulled over on the side of road, got of the bike and sat on the moss covered stone wall bordering the Rio Douro looking toward town and, just looked. We sat at that spot in the shade of a couple large, green leafy trees not talking while we munched on an apple, just taking in one of the most beautiful sights we had seen. Villagers would pass us, walking or biking, and smile and wave on their way toward town, stopping at the bakery and market to buy fresh baked breads and fresh fish to prepare for the evening meal and visiting with friends all doing the same. The life here is simple, relaxed and refreshing. If I happen to just up and disappear some random day, look here for me first, as we will be riding, relaxing and drinking Spanish wine and Portuguese port.

Little did we know that the ride from this point north to the coast of Spain would be just as brilliant.

Rio Douro and Pinhão

Rio Douro and Pinhão

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Pinhao, Portugal

Pinhao, Portugal

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OK, time to go and we cross the bridge into town, riding slowly down the main street enjoying the village ambiance. We rode north out of town headed to the Spain border and jumped on the A-52, like an interstate highway, to make up some time. It was a beautiful ride twisting at fast speeds in and out of curves with not much traffic and we stayed on these roads for about 200 Kms. We finally got to slow back down and get on small two-lane road as we headed up toward a1400 meters pass. Almost to the top we crossed an arm of an alpine lake/ski resort and another unexpected pass following the Rio Vejo as it fought its way down through yet another canyon. The road weaved back and forth, gaining elevation with rock walls jutting out forming one side of the road, while on the other side a small river wove its way among pocket of grassy areas and old homesteads. As we came to the top of the pass we met several bikers on holiday from the Netherlands. We exchanged routes as we were both headed in different directions of things that shouldn’t be missed ahead.

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The Vojo valley below

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Top of the pass

DSCF1676 The road in front of us beckoned us as the curves were tight, unpredictable and unprotected. We pressed on, not so fast as to miss the beauty in front of us but not so slow as to miss some of the thrill associated with this kind of riding. We rode into the town of Potes and were treated with a beautiful village, cafes on the water near a bridge crossing a small river and horses with riders making their way through town.DSCF1679We headed back out of town while looking for a place to camp, finding one about 2 kms down the road. Pulling in to the camp we found a few Dutch sitting around having happy hour, drinking wine and sharing camp space. We set up camp, washed out our riding gear and headed down to the small restaurant on the stream, for Paella, just as dusk was starting to cast its long shadows across the campground. IMG_20150617_074014385

A fantastic blue skied morning greeted us as we packed up camp in anticipation of a ride to the northern coast of Spain. The road toward the coast remained fantastic all the way to the beach. We rode through a tight canyon following a stream that had cut through the rock for eons while my GPS was showing about 5 minutes to the Atlantic Ocean. We came down to the beach through the community of Lekeitio. This beautiful town surrounded a tidal bay filled with boats stuck in the sand as the tide was low with only pockets of water surrounding islands of soft muck. As we were riding across the bridge we pulled over just to take in the views and smells of the ocean, watching the people riding bike and jogging along the waterfront. I’ll say it again, the past two days have shown some of the most inspiring scenery of the ride. DSCF1684We continued on the the beach, stopping to enjoy the view and weather along the Atlantic coast on the northern coast of Spain. Yep, we said to each other, we are really here. How about a selfie.IMG_20150617_132631765 IMG_20150617_112312582_HDRWe continued our coastal drive which reminded us of the Pacific Coast Highway on the western coast of California, looking for a perfect campground to drink some wine, have dinner and watch a sunset. Along the way we passed through a town that had a suspended ferry croosing across the river. Very cool.DSCF1695 IMG_20150617_174247121_HDR

Coming around a corner we found the Camp Itxaspe. It was absolutely perfect, high on a terraced bluff overlooking the ocean. While we were eating dinner and chatting the sun started to set and I realized that from that point, high on the bluff, I would be able to watch the sun set and again rise in the morning over the Atlantic Ocean from the same spot.IMG_20150617_193902816_HDR IMG_20150617_215317598 IMG_20150617_140629474_HDR

Back at the camp after sunset our neighbor invited me over for a cigar and a drink of very rare scotch. Some people just know how to travel.

Cheers, from 2WANDRRs…

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Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, BMW, Dolomites, Douro Valley, Europe, France, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, Portugal, Pyrenees, Spain, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

The Dolomites and Beautiful Lakes

Today and the next few days will be what bikers dream about. We will be riding first through the Dolomites then the Alps of northern Italy, Switzerland and southeastern France. Crisscrossing passes on tarmac ranging from perfect, with many bikes and famous names, to tarmac that is broken, worn from severe winters with pass names not so well known, and very few bikes. Those not so well known passes end up being the most memorable to us.

Waking up to another wonderful day, the sky a flawless blue, we pack the bike and enjoy a breakfast of croissants, fruit, homemade jelly and butter, one of our new favorites, Nutella, and fresh orange juice and coffee.

As we ride north the roads continue to improve, meaning straight to curves, gaining in altitude and scenery as the mountains go from blips on the horizon to taking the whole forward view. The skies cloud up with the tips of the ragged, craggy Dolomites thrusting skyward.

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Working our way north through the incredible Parco Nazionale delle Dolomite Bellunesi we wound our way to the scenic town of Arabba before climbing to the Funivia del Sass Pordoi and Passo di Sellajoch.

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The views from the top were breathtaking and we just stood in awe.

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We found a busy campground at Camping St. Josef am Kalterer See on a pretty little lake.I grabbed a bottle of $2 wine to drink, opened it, and before I could get the tent setup our German neighbors had already invited us over for several beers. Of course we went over as this is what traveling is all about, meeting new people.

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They wanted to hear about our adventures, so we drank and talked and almost missed dinner. The campground had a small restaurant with really good food at inexpensive rates. We split a salad and spaghetti, took a walk and headed back to the campsite where I had to finish my bottle of wine.

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Another beautiful blue sky greeted us in the morning on our walk to the lake. Several people showed up and stripped to their birthday suits, (Europe, ya know), and jumped into the lake for their morning swim. We headed back to break camp and our German neighbors invited us over for croissants and coffee, (if you read this, contact me. I lost your names).

Such nice people.

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As we rode out of town Melanie all off a sudden said “Look up”. Just ahead of us, straight up, was a castle on a massive rock ledge. It was so impressive that we pulled over and took a picture.


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As Lake Garda comes into view we ride right into a massive traffic jam. Choosing to ride down the east side of the lake to the ferry, we hit solid, very slow moving traffic as far as we could see. Several sport bikes zipped by us, lane filtering, into oncoming traffic so we jumped lanes and followed. Having spent some time in California I am used to people being pissed at motorcycles and cutting them off. As we came down the hill the cars moved over, on both sides to let us all go and all was OK. Not one angry person was overtaken as we could see. Brilliant! It actually works here.

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We stopped at a local deli and bought some crackers, salami and cheese (for me, not Melanie), and found a great place midway down the lake to have lunch by the water.

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Continuing south to the tourist town of Torri del Benaco was enough for us so we hopped on the ferry for a nice ride across the lake. The views from the lake were great of all the estates on the west coast.

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Catching a quick nap

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Riding off the ferry we headed west looking for a waterfront camping spot for the night. The town of Pisogne filled the bill within walking distance of downtown. The view from the campsite was incredible giving us a great show when the sun set and into the evening as the light of town reflected off the lake and a full moon rose over the mountains above town.

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We walked into town to discover the only thing available to eat at the several restaurants open until 8pm was, PIZZA, again. Past the outside tables in the square was a giant old church in the square with music playing behind it. Following the cobblestone walk toward the 60’s style, American music brought us to an outside party which looked crashable, but we resisted and wandered back to the square for a delightful evening watching children play in the square while we munched our pizza and drank our carafe of red wine.DSCF1366 DSCF1365 IMG_20150601_204627075 IMG_20150601_193002133

Tomorrow, the iconic motorcycle passes, Passo di Gavia and Passo di Stelvio.

Cheers

Greg “WANDRR” and Melanie

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, Austria, BMW, Dolomites, Europe, Italy, motorcycle travel, Slovenia, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

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