I undertook a short tour of Austria in early July 2012. I have cycled in Slovenia and the Dolomites before and on both occasions due to poor weather and a lack of fitness did not ride a route I had previously planned. Having ridden more over the last twelve months than ever, I decided to return to tackle two climbs - the Grossglockner in Austria and the Vrsic in Slovenia. It was well worth it, although I made some mistakes in the planning of the trip. Here you will find details of the routes, together with information on the hotels and restaurants I used. Learning the lessons, it could be turned from a very good to great tour.
I travelled from Manchester to Munich on Lufthansa. Lufthansa charged £55 one way for the bike, the most I have ever paid. Having unpacked my bike and stored my box in left luggage, I took the train from the airport to the city centre. An 11 euro ticket gives 24hr travel in the whole of the Munich district.
I stayed at the Arts Hotel, fairly close to the main station. I had a single room, just behind the reception, which I feared would be noisy but was actually well soundproofed. It was hot, however, and I wished I had chosen a hotel with air conditioning.
Only there for the late evening, I didn't get the chance to look around Munich. I wandered out, however, and ate at Zum Augustiner restaurant in the pedestrian area - it was disappointing.
Day 1 - Jenbach to Mittersill 92kms - 1250m ascent
In the morning, after breakfast, I went to the station to take the 0930 to Jenbach. Frusratingly, all the bike spaces had been taken on the intercity train, so I had to take regional trains, involving two changes - I should have booked in advance.
Arriving eventually in Jenbach, after midday, I headed for Zell am Ziller. I took the minor roads to avoid the tunnel but then got back onto the 169. This was a busy and unpleasant road to ride on, with a lot of lorries. It would have been better to follow the L218 until it intersects with the bicycle path R13, which goes alll the way to Zell am Ziller. After about 10kms, I managed to cross to the cycle path, which is a mix of asphalt and gravel. It makes for a pleasant, flat ride, alongside the river.
I had lunch in Zell am Ziller and then tackled the tough part of the day. The road rises 600m over 9kms, before easing off a little but continuing to climb for a further 20kms to a 1630m pass. The first part is really tough but with the extra training I'd done, I felt fine. There are some great views back along the valley. I went through Gerlos, which is quite a big resort, before turning off to Krimml. The scenery is very dramatic.
From the top point there is then a long descent along a very well maintained toll road, which is free to bikes. The road to Krimml gives views of the waterfalls. It was a changeable day and at the time I passed, it was a bit cloudy. Nevertheless, they are impressive. I stopped in Krimml for an appel strudel and a drink and then continued the descent. The road falls around 700m over 16kms from the high point and then flattens out.
It had been my intention to follow the bike path from Krimml to Mittersill but given my late start and the rain that was in the air, I put my head down and road fast along the main road. I did do a couple of short sections of the bike path and it was much more pleasant. If you have the time, it would be better to follow the path as the road is quite busy with trafffic.
To add to my problems with the trains, I arrived in Mittersill 3 minutes after the train to Zell. It had started to rain very heavily, so I popped into a cafe and waited the remaining 57 minutes for the next. A slow train, stopping at every settlement, it took about an hour and half to get to Zell am See.
I stayed at the Hotel Traube. I had a sizeable room but again without air conditioning. It was nearly nine before I had showered and got a look at Zell. It is a very pretty town, in a picturesque setting. I ate at Crazy Daisy and had a very good seafood pasta dish. I couldn't get a seat on the terrace where there were a polished couple of performers entertaining the crowd. I had a drink at the Grand Hotel, overlooking the lake, later.
Day 2 - Zell am see to Lienz via the Grossglockner - 93.4km - 2219m ascent
After breakfast, I set off for the Grossglockner. A cycle path alongside the lake continues onto minor roads, before joining the Grossglockner road at Bruck. The road was not that busy the day I did it. 16kms from Zell, the road rises sharply at an average above 10% for about 3.5kms. At this point there is a flattening off, where the toll booths for cars are. The toll for cycles has been removed. I stocked up on some food and set off on the climb proper. Over the next 14kms, I climbed 1250m. This is the steepest sustained climb I have done. The day was cloudy, so some of the views were obscured but when it cleared from time to time, they were spectacular.
After 12kms I stopped at a visitor centre and had a toasted sandwich and something to drink and then went up to the first summit at 2400m. It began to rain, so I put on some clothes and then descended for a couple of kilometes. There is then a further four kilometers to climb, which all dressed up, was pretty uncomfortable. There is short tunnel at 2500m and then the descent begins.
The road dried, so it was a great descent. After 7kms, I took the road to Lienz, where there is a short rise, before the road begins to descend sharply again for another 9kms. The countryside is gentler on the southern side and the weather was better. The road continues to descend but at a gentler rate until reaching the town of Winklern. I stopped for a cake and coffee, before making the last push. Having concentrated on the Grossglockner, I wasn't prepared for the 5km climb out of the town, which I found the toughest section of the day. I was rewarded, however, by a stunning descent to Lienz. It was a sweeping road and not as steep, so I cruised without having to brake much for 9kms, dropping 500m, hitting a speed of 67km per hour.
I cycled the last few kilometers to the train station in Lienz and unlike the previous day, just made it in time to catch the train to Villach. It was about an hour and a half journey. I stayed at the Holiday Inn, which is a really lovely hotel, overlooking the River Drau, and by far the nicest place I stayed on the trip. I had a good pizza at Travestere, which has a covered courtyard, and then a couple of beers on the terrace of the hotel bar. It was very pleasant evening in a low key but attractive town.
Day 3 - Tarvisio to Villach - 101kms - 1802 ascent
The purpose of going to Villach was to do the Vrsic pass in Slovenia. Doing a round trip, I could ride without my luggage. After breakfast, I caught the only train of the day to Tarvisio Boscoverde in Italy, a half hour journey. From Tarvisio there is a 14km climb to the Passo de Predil, the border with Slovenia. It is very beautiful ride, passing a gorgeous lake and then snaking around hairpin bends.
From the border, there is an 18km descent. The road is a bit rough but it is a very enjoyable.
Taking the road to the Vrsic, the route begins to rise gently from a low of 431m, following the Soca river, which is crystal clear. It was a very hot day, so I stopped to have lunch and take on some more liquid. I had a soup with a blood sausage in it, which was a lot tastier than it sounds.
I had been feeling very strong all day but began to dehydrate in the heat rapidly a few more kilometers in. I had only one bottle left for the climb, so I stopped at a campsite, had a coke and got some more water. As the climb really kicked in, 48kms into the ride, my heart began to race. Glancing at my garmin, I was recording 180bpm. I rested but it remained at 140bpm. I presume the caffeine pushed me into the high heart rate, as it occurred very quickly after drinking the coke. In the middle of nowhere it was quite frightening. I was half the distance into the ride and it was even further to Villach, if I went back, so I decided to press on - another 9kms uphill. Strangely I wasn't out of breath but I could feel my heart pounding. I climbed the Vrsic incredibly slowly trying to put the least pressure on myself and not looking at my heart rate. When I dowloaded the trip when I got home, I topped out at 212bpm, which was pretty dangerous. It's a great climb which I would thorougly recommend - one of the best I've done - but my heart rate prevented me from enjoying it. There is a kiosk at the top, 1617m, where I drank down a litre of water.
The descent is difficult. The road is poorly maintained and the 24 hairpin bends are cobbled, which I'm sure would be treacherous in the wet. Given its fame, I was surprised at the condition. There are, however, some remarkable views. The road runs past Kranjska Gora before then a short section on a main road. The route then goes over the Wurzen pass, which forms the border with Austria. Again I took it very slowly on the way up - it's a 7km climb. The descent again was a bit rough - surprising for Austria. At the bottom, the road joins highway 83 which was the only busy stretch of the whole route. When the road crosses the river, I joined a cycle path which goes all the way into Villach.
Despite the fact that I wasn't expending much energy, my heart rate remained in the 130's for the rest of the evening. I had dinner at the hotel, which was very good, and an early night. Thankfully I got to sleep quickly.
Day 4 - Salzburg - 24km - 495 ascent
In the morning my heart rate had returned to normal. I had a good, if expensive, breakfast at the hotel and then caught the train to Salzburg, which this time I booked in advance.
Arriving at about 1230 at my hotel, I was told I couldn't book in until 2pm. The Hotel Lasserhof was friendly enough but a little scruffy and again, with no air conditioning, hot. I had some lunch, whilst waiting but then unfortunately the heavens opened. There was a strong electrical storm, so I put off my planned ride. Later in the afternoon, the day cleared, so I decided to do a short ride in the early evening. The route showed the perils of planning a ride on bikeroutetoaster without due care and attention. On the outskirts of Salzburg, I took a minor road, the Gerbergweg. It's the steepest road I've ever gone up - 1.6km, with 240m ascent, with parts over 30%. To add to the problems, the road was in poor condition and it was baking hot. Even with all the gears at my disposal and no luggage, I got off and walked a chunk of it. When I finally reached the L108, there were plenty of cyclists who had obviously come up a more sensible way. It was picture post card stuff, very green compared to the rest of the trip.
I was glad I had made the effort to get out of Salzburg and only regretted I didn't have enough time to get out to the lakes. I came off the main road onto another minor road, only to find that my route brought me to a dead end at a farm house. The road on googlemap was in a reality a path. I asked for directions back to Salzburg, which did allow me to complete a loop. It was a great descent. I reached Highway 15, which was busy, using the cycle lane to come back into the city. I eventually found the path which follows the river, which was much more pleasant.
In the evening, I ate at the Restaurant Istria, a Croatian restaurant. I'm not sure whether it had a menu or not but I was offered mussels to start and a nameless but very good fish for a main, accompanied by some excellent Croatian wine - it was the best meal of the week. I took a late night stroll into the old town, which with some of the crowds gone, was a great place to wander. It would be good to return one day.
Return Journey and concluding thoughts
I caught the train the next morning to Munich airport - another two and a half hours on the train, with a change at Munich Ost. I retrieved my box and had a trouble free return.
As with some other trips, I think I could improve this trip if I were to do it again. I spent too much time travelling, didn't give myself enough time to enjoy the places I was staying, and should have spent a bit more on hotels. That said, the two climbs, the Grossglockner and Vrsic, for which I made the trip, were very memorable, all the places interesting and the food very good. It was a shame I couldn't do a full ride on the final day around Salzburg but I think electrical storms are a risk at that time of year and overall I was fairly lucky with the weather. With some adjustments, I would thoroughly recommend the trip.