Alpine Adventures – Day Five (Austria)
Our last day of cycling in Austria started with a drive of just over an hour to the all year round resort of Solden – skiing in winter (it regularly hosts a round of the Downhill World Cup) as well as cycling & hiking in the summer. The Ice Q restaurant was used as a location in the James Bond film Spectre & there’s also a ‘007 Elements’ cinematic experience way above the town.
Solden is a bustling tourist resort, with all the usual trappings – hotels, bars, restaurants, outdoor adventure clothing shops & gift shops which may have robbed the town of some of its original charm. However, we were only parking the car here, so would soon be heading upwards on the main road which serves as a link between Austria & Italy.
Our plan was to tackle a 15 mile ascent of the Timmelsjoch & drop 6 miles or so into Italy. At which point we would ascent the Passo del Rombo (same mountain, but now climbing the Italian side) & then drop back into Solden – an out & back route.
There were quite a few lorries & coaches on the lower slopes, serving a couple of ski resorts slightly higher up the mountain. The first mile or so rose steeply, but then the gradient evened out to a fairly consistent 6% – 8% for about 6 miles. As we reached the resort of Obergurgl, we crossed the valley floor & started climbing in earnest, as the next 2 miles zig-zagged their way through forest, up towards Hochgurgl – at this point there’s a toll booth (similar to our ride up to Kaunertal), so the traffic would thin out after this point.
Hochgurgl is also home to a motorcycle museum & it has over 230 motorbikes from 100 plus manufacturers, including some early Harleys. Our reason for stopping was that it also does great food & coffee, so after about 90 minutes of riding we were ready for some refreshments – today’s treat was cherry tart & cappuccino!
After a brief stop were on our way again & although we weren’t anywhere near the summit of the Timmelsjoch, the road descended for a mile & we gave away 450 feet of hard earned altitude! The final 3 miles to the summit were the most wild & rugged, as the only vegetation was grass which was being grazed by wild cows & sheep. They roam freely & as we were climbing, a convoy of Porsches were forced to stop their descent as the cows chose that moment to cross the road.
By now, the weather was closing in, the sun was a distant memory & cold rain was starting to fall. We were also above the snow line & the final couple of corners still had decent sized snow walls on them.
After a brief stop at the summit for a few photos & to don our rain jackets, we headed down the Italian side, where the Timmelsjoch becomes the Passo del Rombo.
The first mile of the descent is a very gentle gradient, as the road follows a cliff face before passing through a long tunnel & exiting to an enormous view of the valley below. We would descend 6 miles in total & the road took hairpin after hairpin as it hugged a valley wall on the way down. It took us less than 15 minutes to plummet 2,000 feet in just under 5 miles, so we were in from a long climb back to the summit!
The ascent to the summit took about 90 minutes & was superb – the sun had come out again & we were just a few feet from a cliff edge with drops of over 2,500 feet to the valley floor below. There hadn’t really been time to take this in as we descended – there were too many tight turns to keep us focussed.
We stopped for a warming minestrone soup at a restaurant on the Italian / Austrian border, before descending back to Solden. It was raining again at the summit, so once we’d put our rain jackets on, we set off back down the Timmelsjoch – after a few hairpins near the summit, the road opened out & in no time I had hit 43mph & was still accelerating when I remembered the cattle & sheep crossing the road earlier, so I started to reduce my speed, just as well as there were now sheep where the cattle had been!!!
After negotiating our way around the sheep, we had a small descent left, before that nasty climb back up to the Motorbike Museum. My legs were so cold from the rapid descent, that it was quite a struggle to get them turning again for the short, sharp climb. Once we reached the plateau at Hochgurgl, the final 9 miles was a fast & flowing descent & before we knew it, we were back to Solden.
This was another epic day in the high mountains & although this was our last day of cycling in Austria, the adventure isn’t yet over. After taking in a final view from my hotel window, we spent the evening carb loading in preparation for 5 more days of riding, this time in the high Italian Alps above Bormio!