The Ultimate Alps Motorcycle Route Guide

Welcome to the Alps Motorcycle Route Guide! This article is packed with info on touring the Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps by motorcycle. It includes an expert 14-day ride report on the BEST Alps route out there with maps, top alpine passes and everything you need to know for the perfect Alps motorcycle tour!

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By Paul Yarrow

By Paul Yarrow

Over 40 years of motorcycle touring experience in the UK and Europe

Contents

The Alps Motorcycle Route Guide

This Alps route guide is a two-week motorcycle immersion in the beautiful Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps. It covers as many of the top Alpine passes as possible and makes for an unbelievable Alps motorcycle tour. You’ll find everything you need in this guide starting with loads of info on the region, a downloadable Alps Route Map and a day-by-day route guide. If you have any more questions, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom or ask away in the Mad or Nomad Community Forum. 

The Alps Route Map

The Alps route is a 13-night, 2,648-mile loop from the Eurotunnel at Calais. Here are the main destination points: Folkestone – Calais – Alle-sur-Semois – Bad Teinach – Garmisch – Braies – Livigno – Bellinzona – Weggis – Faschina – Turckheim – Soissons – Calais.

day_00_alps overview route

Download the entire route: myrouteapp.com/yarromoto 

When to go?

I travelled in June to ensure that the passes were open. You may find that the extra UK Bank Holiday days in May or August/Sept would be more useful for your planning purposes. If you go in May, bear in mind that some of the higher passes may still be closed or subject to local weather conditions. Check out this handy website for more info on European School Holidays

How much?

My total cost in June 2019 for dinner and hotels was approx £1,130 (£80-£85 per day). If you want to make it a cheaper trip, simply avoid Switzerland’s hotels, plus Eurotunnel, fuel, lunch snacks and bar bills. I prefer quality hotels with secure parking whenever possible. Cheaper accommodation is widely available dependent on your preference or budget.

Accommodation 

Here’s a list of hotels I used on my trip and recommend:

Paperwork

You should take originals of your passport, driver’s licence, insurance certificate, MoT if required, your V5 (logbook) and insurance for your motorcycle. It’s also highly advisable to get UK Motorcycle Travel Insurance.

International Driving Permits (IDP) are available from your local Post Office and will be required once the UK leaves the EU, probably from Jan 2021. Check the Gov website for more information.

Getting there and away

From the UK I always prefer to take the faster Eurotunnel at Folkestone to Calais, as you can usually time your arrival with a short stop in the boarding line before a speedy train ride to France.

Alternatively, there are slower ferry options available such as Direct Ferries from Folkstone to Calais or the DFS Ferry from Dover to Calais. If you are travelling from further north, there is a ferry from Hull via P&O Ferry to Zeebrugge, Belgium.

The Alps Motorcycle Guide

Check out the four Best Alp passes
destination

Top Tips for Motorcycling the Alps

  • Speed Limits: Limits vary between the countries mentioned in this guide, so I recommend that you visit the AA website and check for current limits.
  • Speed limits in France are far more strictly enforced than years gone by and fines can now be routed back to UK riders due to information sharing with the DVLA. This may change once Brexit is finalised, but at the moment you should take extra care.
  • Be especially careful within 20 miles of Calais and close to any service areas with a cash point!
  • Unless you see a sign indicating otherwise, the speed limits are generally 130kmph (80mph) or 110kmph in the rain on motorways. On other roads, the speeds can range from 50kph to 110kph. Some villages now have 30kph limits (18mph) and again, these are often enforced. (Check AA site above).
  • Switzerland: Do not get caught speeding! it can be expensive even if you’re a few kph over limit. 25kph+ over a limit and you will receive a massive fine and be walking home. They can be very covert with their mobile checks, so you probably won’t be aware of an issue until they step into the road and ruin your day.
  • Many European villages/towns also have a flashing traffic light system as you enter. If you are speeding, then you will find another set of traffic lights a short distance later, which may be set to red as your penalty for a few moments.
  • Vignettes are required for Austria and Switzerland and can be purchased via these links or while in transit.
  • Take Care on the mountain passes. They can be full of motorcyclists, cyclists, camper vans, coaches, tractors, car clubs, horses and cows, and they’re all competing for your part of the road. Also, local motorcyclists know these roads intimately and will usually demonstrate their knowledge, so check your mirrors twice before initiating an overtake.
  • When do the Passes open? The Drive Alive website is a great resource for checking the status of Passes. This website specifically covers the alpine passes in Switzerland and it offers a downloadable smart phone app.
  • Check List: Tyre life, travel tickets, passport expiry date and credit/debit cards, euro currency, motorbike insurance/tax/recovery service, travel health insurance, International Driving Permit. Also, download a copy of the official European Accident Statements form before you depart.
16a-top of timmelsjoch pass

Ride Report: The Ultimate Alps Motorcycle Route

Day 1: Calais to Alle

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We arrived in Calais at about 10:30 and headed south-west on the A16/E40 motorway network, followed by the E42/N225 via Mons, then joined the N40/N53 across the flat countryside of northern France. At Chimay we took the N99 to Couvin and then onto the E420 through rolling countryside and woodland to Hiraumont.

The final section was an absolute joy as we joined the D1 to ride through the woods, which flow beside the winding River Meuse and then across the bridge to a refreshment stop in Montherme. The road goes on for a further 18 miles and snakes its way beside the River Semois before arriving at a comfortable hotel with ample parking set close to the village of Alle, Belgium at 17:00. The temperature reached 23.5C.

Day 2: Alle to Bad Teinach

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We looked forward to the longish ride to the next overnight in Bad Teinach among the German mountains. Heading south via Alle, we joined the narrow D6 and rode through more woodland down to Douzy before joining the faster and busier N964 road south all the way to Bras-sur-Meuse. 

The route heads east for a few miles to a coffee shop/restaurant located close to the Ossuaire de Douaumont war cemetery. We paid our respects to the lives lost in 300 days of endless conflict during the Battle of Verdun, which raged between Feb–Dec 1916.  Please read and respect the online rules regarding photography if you intend to look inside this historical monument.

We continue across more rolling countryside before joining the N904 and the open straight roads typical of northern France through the Parc Naturel Regional de Lorraine. From Dieuze continue east on D roads crossing the River Rhine into Germany at Gambsheim and to the well-known spa town of Baden-Baden.

Now we head across the National Park Schwarzwald Nord to join the 462 as it heads south besides the River Murg and then to Seewald. Heading out on the 294 for the last 20 odd miles via some tight, forested bends for our arrival just before 18:30 at an amazing, 4-star spa hotel set within the Black Forest and offering excellent facilities.  Today’s temperature reached 26C.

Day 3: Bad Teinach to Garmisch

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Riding southeast on minor roads to our two nights in Garmisch, Germany. Skirting around the North of Rottenburg on the 28, then after joining the L385 you’ll find a fantastic stretch of fast and winding road between Weiler and Ofterdingen.

We then headed for a morning coffee stop in Zwiefalten and parked beside the water fountains at the front. Beware of village speed cameras along the next stretch. Our next major town is Leutkirch, after which we join the L319 for a glorious 10-mile cross country route on some fast sweeping curves towards Kempten. 

We join a main road to cross the River Iller just outside Hegge and onwards to Reutte in Austria and the L255 that skirts the large lake. Stop near the Hotel Seespitze for afternoon refreshments and photos.  Now it’s just a 30-mile ride around the Ettaler forest to arrive at our hotel on the western outskirts of town at 16:30.  The temperature reached 26C.

Day 4: Eibsee

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This can be a rest day to explore Garmisch town centre or head for a short ride to the Eibsee cable car station for a lift up to the Zugspize mountain (Germany’s highest at 2,600m) and the glacier and igloo hotel. 

However, you can always opt for a loop ride around the roads circling the nearby Zugspitze Mountain, which loom over the Garmisch area instead. 40 miles into the ride and we easily missed the Heckenbach Waterfall beside the hairpin 11 road leading up to a parking/viewing vantage point on the south side of Kochelsee Lake. 

There’s some fantastic photos to be taken here before a short five-mile ride to the lakeside village of Walchensee for a morning coffee stop at the Seestuberl Restaurant/Cafe and more photos. Due to its beauty, this is apparently a favoured area for retirement by wealthy ex-Munich residents. 

We then headed via the wooded river valleys to Mittenwald and the open Leutasch Valley. It’s worth a quick stop for a bike/view photo here.  After a light lunch stop in Oberer Mooswaldweg, which sits at the south of the loop ride, we then headed onto the fast winding valley roads to Lermoos before a short ride back to Garmisch in the shade of the mighty Zugspitse mountain. The temperature reached 27C.

Day 5: Garmisch to Braies

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We left at 09:30 for this 9-hour day to Braies in Italy mainly due to photo stops and filming. Heading south to Telfs before jumping on the A12 motorway for a short distance and picking up the B186 south for 32 miles down a river valley to the toll station for the Timmelsjoch Pass 2,509m. There are many viewing points to enjoy and several café/hotels as you negotiate the splendid bends up and over this well-known road.  

A little further on we find the start of the ride up the San Leonardo Pass SS44 with its multitude of hairpins. We lunched at the Gasthof Schlossborg located on the right some way up. The terraced area offers wonderful views into the valley and you can also watch the low-riders scraping their pegs around the hairpin. Afterwards, we ride the bends on our way further up this pass and over to the Jaufenpass 2,094m, which becomes the Di Giovo (apparently the Italian translation of Jaufen). 

The SS12 and SS49 take us further into Italy and our modern 4-star ski hotel at Braies, which is located about one mile off the SS49 and up a lush, quiet valley, dwarfed by the surrounding Dolomite mountains.  The spacious timber beamed bedrooms are very comfortable and come with large balconies. The temperature reached 25C.

Day 6: Braies to Livigno

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We left the hotel at 09:15 in warm sunshine and returned westward in the anticipation of another 9 hours of riding numerous passes before eventually arriving in Livigno, Italy.

First, we returned on the ribbon of roads leading back over the SS44 via Giovo/Jaufen and San Leonardo passes down to Merano. From there we picked up the SS38 heading further west for about 35 miles to Spondigna.

About 7 miles from the start of the Stelvio Pass, we exited a tunnel to be met with pouring rain and hail stones that forced an early roadside lunch stop further down this road to change out of sodden Gore-Tex gloves.

The SS38 now heads along the approach to the infamous 48 hairpins and steeper side to the Stelvio Pass summit. I strongly suggest that you try to traverse the Stelvio early morning, or much later in the day than myself at 15:30-16:00 otherwise you’ll find it heaving with bikes, car clubs and camper vans. Due to the traffic, we found it quite “challenging” meeting other travellers on the hairpin corners where sometimes one or the other will have to come to a complete stop. You will relish the opportunity of a break at the summit to calm your nerves, take onboard refreshments and buy your Stelvio sticker as proof of passage.

Head over the summit towards Bormio now and steer left at the first junction unless you fancy a pleasant diversion down the Umbrail Pass.  However, we continued down the many bends with spectacular views on our descent of the SS38 to Bormio. There are usually a couple of Stelvio cameramen on this section to snap you for a memento. Perhaps slow to enjoy the cascades of water falling in front of you on one particular downhill section.

Once at the bottom there are about 20 miles to go. It started to rain heavily on us for the remainder of the ride as we ventured over the Foscagno Pass towards central Livigno and our traditional ski hotel with views of ski slopes from the rear bedrooms. The hotel provides a slippery floored underground car park too. The temperature today was variable.

Day 7: Tirano

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A rest day to explore the delights of Livigno, or take my short morning loop ride via Tirano in the south. At 09:30 I led a small group on a clockwise ride to stretch our bike legs. The weather app forecast better weather for the morning before rain would come into the area later.

We headed back over the Foscagno Pass, through the border crossing with its backdrop of peaks and down via Bormio before heading south on the SS38. This is a fairly main road with around six 2km-long tunnels with 70kph limits on our way to our morning stop in Tirano. We had just settled down to our coffees and pastries in the centre of town when out of nowhere a train appeared through the town centre and up the road junction next to us!

Onward on the SS38 in a northerly direction this time, cross the border again, stop at Lake Poschiavo for a photo op, into the town of the same name and watch out for rail tracks that cross the road. The drizzle started as we pushed on up the fast and exciting Bernino Pass. We made progress up and over the border summit where, surprisingly, roads remained fairly dry, before returning to Livigno as the rain really set in. Duty Free fuel in Livigno, so try to fill up here.

Day 8: Livigno to Bellinzona

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A snaking 8-hour south-westerly adventure today via the Fluella, Albula, Julier and San Bernadino Passes to our next location in Bellinzona, Switzerland.

We left the hotel at 09:00 in the rain with a forecast of more during our day. Turning north out of Livigno, we ride past the reservoir and pay 12 euros per bike at the toll booth. It’s for the 3.5km single-bore Munt La Schera tunnel that fires you through the mountain side from Italy into Switzerland once the traffic lights change in your favour. It was well lit and not as claustrophobic as I had expected. As we exited the tunnel into Switzerland, a border guard checked our bikes for visible vignettes as we rode past him. These should only be required for the motorway system at present, so unsure why he checked.

As we turned left onto the 28, I reminded myself of Swiss speed limits as we threaded our way up the tree-lined bends to Zernez before continuing on the 28 along the winding River Inn valley and into the centre of picturesque Susch. Taking a left at the junction signposted for Davos and at the top of the rise, we see the sign that confirms the Fluelapass 2,383m is open. By now it was properly raining and my Gore-Tex gloves were giving up the fight to repel water. We rode the open hairpins up the Fluelapass to a coffee stop for a warm-up at the welcoming Gasthaus zum Tschuggen.

Heading down the open sweepers of the valley beyond into Davos, where we head south-west towards Alvaneu down a ribbon of bends hugging the valley side to the T-junction at the bottom. We turn left, up the valley towards the Albulapass 2,312m and as we ride higher, the mountains on either side start squeezing in on the road as it first narrows before quickly opening into another valley where the roads deteriorated a little down to Preda. Afterwards, we turn right onto the 27 and follow the perimeter road of Engadin airfield on our left before riding through the famous ski town of St Moritz.

At Silvaplana, we turn right on the smooth 3 with its wide and rocky outcrops up to the open Julier Pass 2,284m before the sharpish hairpins on the far side of the summit and switchbacks down the other side to beautiful Lake Marmorera. We then rode north up the 3 to the town of Albula where we continue on the well-maintained sweeping roads signposted towards Chur. At Thusis we head south on the fast A13, pass Nufenen and join the smaller 13 up the valley and through hairpin corners. It leads to the summit of the San Bernandino Pass 2,066m and Moesola lake where the weather eventually started to brighten.

Be warned, Swiss prices can be horrendous…we pulled into a small, family-run refreshment stop mid-afternoon and innocently ordered four coffees with three slices of home-made cake, a bottle of water…and my turn at paying the bill came to 34 euros. Ouch!.  We swiftly moved on following the A13 to our hotel which backs onto views but is part of a less attractive fuel/restaurant/parking complex within the Bellinzona valley. 

Day 9: Bellinzona to Weggis

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Eight hours of warm weather was predicted on our way north via the Lukmanier Pass and Klausenpass to Weggis for two nights overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.

We left in 22C warmth up to Gorduno. Then the 2 running north to Biasco before turning onto the 416 further north and our first climb of the day up the fast and smooth Lukmanier Pass 1,915m, which offers spectacular vistas. At the summit, Lake Sontga Maria provides a great photo opportunity before descending the curves of the open valley to a bend in the road at Pardatsch. Here you can park to look at the stream and the nearby polished boulders formed into evocative forms.

Continuing down via Disentis and the 19 along the elevated roadway of another valley, all the way to Landquart before changing onto the E43 dual carriageway and eventually passing the long Walensee lake on the right-hand side. After the lake we take an exit south onto the 3/17 for about 20 miles and then onto the best part of day: the Klausen Pass 1952m.

I had never ridden the brilliant Klausenpass before, but we fought for road space with the cattle that littered the lower pastures before we negotiated the easy hairpins with stunning views back down the valley. It dramatically rises through myriad of bends, although choked with traffic in places, reaching a small, snowy plateau and the Restaurant Clariden for refreshments and photographs of the valley. The descent on the far side of the summit was challenging for my vertigo. It’s more like a wide balcony road with little in the way of barrier protection other than a few infrequently spaced steel posts and one horizontal rail that optimistically hopes to save you from a flight to the valley floor.

Once we reach the bottom of the 17, we headed onto the 4 dual-carriageway north with the sun bouncing off the surface of Lake Lucerne on our left while heading to our hotel in an semi-elevated location within Weggis. Its exact location is not immediately obvious, but after a few moments we realise that it must be at the top of a single-track residential lane. The location provides a stunning view for miles over Lake Lucerne from the balconies of our spacious rooms in this twin-building hotel arrangement. The evening meal was served on the terrace as we basked in a delightfully warm evening overlooking the lake. The temperature ranged 24-27C today.

Day 10: Furka and Grimsel

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Another fabulously sunny morning for our rest day in Weggis.  However, a small group of riders decided to join me on a five-hour loop ride to tick off the Furka and Grimsel Passes that we had to detour the previous day. 

It was already very warm as we left Weggis on a clockwise route back around the 2B main road on the eastern side of Lake Lucerne. 47 uneventful miles later and we arrive on the smaller roads approaching the Furkha Pass and stop for a morning coffee at the Hotel Post in the charming alpine hamlet of Realp.

Refreshed with caffeine, we headed up the 19 used for a cameo part in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. The roads wind up to the summit of the Furkha 2,431m before traversing to the Rhone Glacier at 2,300m and the Belvedere Hotel, which was built in 1882. In the 1950s the glacier extended about 2km further than in 2019, right down into the valley basin and town of Gletsch. Unfortunately, the glacier has retreated so much over the last 100 years that it’s mostly retreated past the hotel and car park now.

From here, the bends are faster down into the valley floor and along to Gletsch where we turn right off the 19 and head up the many sweepers to the Grimsel Pass 2,165m summit car park and Lake Totensee. Snow still stands tall on either side of the road up here.

We ride downward on the wide hairpins past the Grimelsee and Raterichsbodensee lakes to Guttennen. Beyond these the 6 road to Innertkirchen is particularly enjoyable with fast woodland bends, elevations and well-maintained roads. The 4 road then heads towards the city of Lucerne and past the rich green colour of Lakes Lungernersee and Sardersee before joining the dual-carriageway and a return to Weggis. The temperature today was 26C.

Day 11: Weggis to Faschina

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We enjoyed our last breakfast on the lawn overlooking Lake Lucerne in 20C. Another day in paradise!

We head eight hours east to Faschina in the mountains of Austria via the Klausenpass in reverse direction this time: the toll road, Silvretta Pass and the Hochtannbergpass.

Our route started with another ride of the fantastic Klausenpass on stunning roads. Continue on the 17 road up to Niederurnen before turning further east on the A3 dual-carriageway along to Regitzer Spitz. Join the A13 passing Vaduz in Lichtenstein and up to Feldkirch. We had to stop several times for water because of the 33C heat. Thankfully it was only 24C in the long and frequent tunnels as we headed south east on the A14/188 to Partenen.

Rolling up to the western toll station of the 22km long Silvretta Pass 2037m. It’s known as the “Dream road in the Alps for connoisseurs” containing 34 fantastic hairpins, but bear in mind that it usually remains closed until early June. We experienced traffic lights and road works along the lower Vermuntstausee reservoir section, but I guess you have to expect constant maintenance on any type of toll road.

The road is race-track smooth over the majority of the pass length and can be fully exploited if the traffic is light. The best photo stop is regarded to be high up between bends 22 and 23, but to be honest I’d lost count by then and just chose a point at a section overlooking double hairpins. Pushing onto the summit and past the huge reservoir of Silvretta-Stausee, which perches on the far side with the road threading its way down the hillside to the eastern toll station. 

We then travel towards Pians before hooking onto the S16 road travelling west now and onto the mountain roads via St. Anton, then joining the 198 road north to Warth. Only 20 miles remaining via the 200 road over the Hochtannberg Pass and into the slower riding through the peaks of this ski area to our hotel, which is located on a hairpin bend and proudly stands near the top of a valley in Faschina with stunning views from our balcony rooms. Drained from the heat and glad to finally arrive, we grab a beer on the sunny, elevated terrace and wait to cheer the remainder of our group as they appear over the summit. Temperature reached 33C today.

Day 12: Faschina to Turckheim

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Due to predicted high temperatures today, some of our group chose to leave very early this morning. Two of us left at 08:45 for an eight-hour day to our next hotel in the cobbled centre of Turckheim in France. As we needed to free-up some time to visit the Bugatti Museum in Mulhouse on our way, we chose to navigate a quicker route. You may choose to re-route this day across fewer main roads.

We started with a short ride back to Damuls before heading west on the L51 in the direction of Feldkirch. Only a few short miles from the hotel we unexpectedly found the twists of the Furkajoch Pass, which provided another memorable photo opportunity before pursuing 15 more miles and then riding via Koblach and onto the minor road through the delightful Apfenzellar valley in 27C heat. As we stopped to take more photos of the vista, we both confided that the heat was making us a little lightheaded, so we promised to stop more regularly for water breaks.

Just outside of St Gallen we jumped onto the 1 dual-carriageway for 30 miles to Winterthur before changing onto the 7 travelling further west to Koblenz and crossing the River Rhine onto the 34. Riding north of Basel and into Mulhouse and the car park for the Schlumpf Motor Museum. The entry fee was 13 euros per adult. We would’ve probably paid twice that amount just to sit in the air-conditioned restaurant and cool from the sweltering heat.

The museum is massive. The Schlumpf brothers had to originally take larger collections that included different models just to acquire the Bugatti they really desired, so the variety of vehicles is truly mind boggling. The 1.5 hours we had spare for the collection did not do it any justice. I would also have liked to spend more time within each of the specialist areas that also covered motorsport and the contemporary Bugattis. Guess I’ll have to revisit sometime then! 

Our final destination was located directly north of Mulhouse on the western side of Colmar, and in the central cobbled area of Turckheim old town. Our charming hotel is a Renaissance building built in 15th century and classified as a historic monument since 1930. It has to be the most interesting of this trip with a maze of ground floor rooms, is full of character, has a romantic dining room and warmly decorated bedrooms…but no a/c.  The temperature reached 33C today.

Day 13: Turckheim to Soissons

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The route today is from Turckheim to Soissons via the old Reims motor racing grandstands. Our group left the hotel at 08:30 and it was already a scorching 28.5C.

Due to the predicted 36C at the height of the day, I abandoned my longer, original route for a relatively direct five-hour ride. North west today and a lovely 25 miles through the cooler Vosges switchbacks on the D415 with very little traffic to Arnould.

North on the D415 up to the N59 dual-carriageway starting at Sainte-Marguerite through to the southern outskirts of Nancy and the A31/N4 westward 80 miles to Vitry-le-Francois. We had to stop frequently for refreshment stops along the way.

The N44 took us past Chalons-en-Champagne and the N31 to the Circuit Reims on the D27 for the obligatory photographs. Soaking up the atmosphere while wandering around the old racing pits and grandstand complex in 35C heat.

Having ticked that box, we headed back onto the N31 which took us the 30 miles to our next hotel in Soissons. The hotel was quite a modern contrast from last night. It was very welcome after such a hot day’s ride, however, I was less pleased to hear that the a/c had yet to be installed. Another hard day’s night to look forward to then. The temperature reached 36C today.

Day 14: Soissons to Calais

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An 08:50 start on our last day of the trip for our D roads north-westerly ride across countryside to the Eurotunnel at Calais. We pick up the D6 across the typically flat farmland of this area, up to Blérancourt before taking the D934 via Noyon and more open countryside. We divert around the centre of Roye and back onto the open D934 to then move onto the less busy D23 with a few more sweepers north to Doullens.

The D916 heads across more countryside via Frevent and then the D104 farmland up to Fruges. The sparse traffic on the D191 offered more elevation changes as we glided through long sweepers between little villages and towns, across the lovely Parc Naturel via Coulomby to join the A26/E15 for the last 20 miles to arrive at Eurotunnel check-in at 12:50.

 A quick note: for 2020, the Tour de Suisse cycle race has been cancelled, so you won’t experience the route closures that we had to detour around on one day.

About the Author

Paul Yarrow is based in the UK with 40 plus years’ touring experience of the UK & Europe. Two years ago, he started filming his trips and created a growing YouTube channel, plus social media pages to share his trips, photos and routes with other motorcyclists.

You can follow Paul’s travels here:

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