Sometimes, the journey is the destination. And this is good, for the route can be breathtaking. This is especially – and literally – so on many mountain roads in the Alps.
Here are eight that will especially appeal to cyclists and mountain bikers.
1. Col d’Izoard, France: Winding switchbacks, panoramas
At 2,360m elevation, this mountain pass is the third-highest along the famous Route des Grande Alpes that lead through the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. It has bicycle lanes that are marked throughout and leads through an ever-changing landscape of villages, forests and high mountain valleys. The pass has been on the Tour de France route more than 30 times.
At the top, there is a small museum devoted to the history of bicycling on the Col d’Isoard. The road is closed between October and June.
2. L’Alpe d’Huez, France: The ‘mountain of suffering’
A further fateful mountain of the Tour de France leads to the high plateau of the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez, elevation 1,860m. The road that is open year-round has 21 serpentine curves. Dubbed the “mountain of suffering,” it is a classic challenge for cyclists.
The climb from the village of Le Bourg-d’Oisans is 14km, with the average gradient at 8% and at one point, 14.8%.
Hundreds of cyclists come here every year to test their limits.
3. Monte Grappa, Italy: A climb to get grand views
Grand panoramic views await in the Italian peak of Monte Grappa. From up there, one looks out over the Italian flatlands to the south.
Due to its exposed location the 1,775m-high mountain is also a mecca for paragliders and hang gliders. The climb is no less interesting for cylists and motorcyclists. Monte Grappa is also a historic site.
A monumental memorial recalls the tens of thousands killed in fighting there between Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers during World War I.
4. Passo dello Stelvio, Italy: 87 serpentine high-altitude curves
Likewise in Italy there is the imposing Passo dello Stelvio. At 2,760m it is the highest mountain pass in Italy and a magnet for cycling enthusiasts. A total of 87 serpentine switchbacks on both sides of the pass promise a lot of fun – but also lots of sweat. The 48 serpentine curves on the eastern side, starting from Prad at 910m, are especially popular with cyclists.
Starting out in forest areas, after half of the switchbacks the view opens up into the distance. The road leads past farmsteads, hairpin curves, and views of mountain peaks and glaciers at over 3,000m. The air gets increasingly thin on this road that only opens up at the end of May.
5. Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse, Austria: El Dorado for cyclists
Many people in Austria wish that the Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse (high alpine road) would be made off-limits to cars. Those who want to cycle up it should start before 9am or after 3pm. A particular joy is the 32km stretch, a climb of some 1,900m, from Bruck to the Edelweiss peak, the highest point on the pass road at 2,571m.
The panoramic road is usually open between early May and late October.
6. Timmelsjoch, Italy: A seemingly never-ending climb
Also very popular with cyclists of all kinds is the Timmeljoch pass at 2,509m which connects the Oetztal valley of Austria with the South Tyrol region of northern Italy. It offers one of the longest climbs in the Alps. The eastern climb, starting at St Leonhard in Italy, rises 1,821m over a stretch of 29km. The
northern route, starting from Soelden in Austria, is 22.3km long, for a climb of 1,269m.
At Hochgurgel, to the background of the majestic Oeztal range, there is Europe’s highest-elevation motorcycle museum.
7. Ammersattel, Germany: Gentle route past a royal castle
One route from Austria into the Alps of southern Germany offers a beauteous landscape and gentler terrain. Via the Ammersattel pass at 1,118m the route leads past the picturesque Plansee lake, the second-largest natural lake of Austria’s Tyrol region.
Along the way, once in Germany, travellers might stop at Schloss Linderhof, one of the mountain castle retreats of Bavarian King Ludwig II, located in the Ettal valley near Oberammergau. The pass road is open year-round.
8. Col du Jandri, Fance: Pass of extremes
A treat for extreme mountainbikers is in France. Those who like snow in the summer can head to the Col du Jandri at 3,150m, the highest-elevation mountain road in the Alps. From Les Deux Alps (1,650m), an unpaved road leads up to the glacier Mont de Lans, one which at around 3,000m lures skiers even in the summer.
After a climb of some 1,500m and at times having to push the bike up extremely steep slopes, it takes some real enthusiasm for a mountainbiker to want to go skiing. What is spectacular are the towering walls of ice and snow on either side of the road. – dpa/Larissa Loges