This trip is for people who want a rider’s ride to the highest of the high. A lot of tour companies refer to their tour as the “High Alps” or the “Extreme Challenge” or some such name but they never really get to the high stuff. This tour does. The whole point of this tour is to ride the top 10 highest passes in the Alps. It is a technically, physically, and mentally challenging tour loaded with as much fun. Book now and save a place in this extreme motorbike tour!
You will be accommodated for 13 nights in various hotel accommodations.
Today, you will pick up the motorcycle. There are many wonderful sites to see in the immediate area, either by motorcycle or public transportation. You can go visit the neat town of Interlaken located between the Thun See (“See” is the German word for lake) and the Brienzer See or take in Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald and gaze upon the Eiger.
Alternatively, you can just hang out in Thun or Steffisburg. You’re welcome to join morning and or afternoon loop ride to get used to the bike, the roads and each other. In the evening, please feel free to join the other tour members for a group dinner or head off on your own for a quiet, private meal. It’s all your choice.
Today, you don’t waste any time heading south for France. In France, the passes are referred to as 'col’s'. You will cross over 3 small cols that flirt just above and below the tree line as you make your way to the Grand Saint Bernard into Italy. This is a major Alpine pass at 2,469 meters, the 12th highest in the Alpines. While you don’t get to see the real dogs, you can feast your eyes on all kinds of stuffed ones at the various souvenir kiosks.
From here, it’s downhill through Aosta before heading to the Italian town of La Thuile, famous for its chocolate. You will continue to the Petite Saint Bernard, “only” 2,188 meters high, well above tree line. Like the Grand Saint Bernard, there is a border here from France into Italy. You will work your way down the pass and just before the bottom you will arrive at the hotel in Seez.
Yesterday was a warm up for some serious pass riding. Today, there will be up to seven passes, maybe more. You will continue to the bottom, near the town of Borg Saint Maurice and then south on the road to the Col de l’Iseran, the number 2 on the TOP 10 list at 2,769 meters. The mountains begin to look more barren, the services get more spread out, and the scenery is spectacular.
Once over the l’Iseran, you will get five more passes. You will end your long day of riding in the village of Saint Veran, where you will stay for 2 nights. If you are riding the highest passes in the Alpines, then you should also stay at the highest village in the Alpines and that’s Saint Veran. Once in the village, you will stay at the highest hotel in the village. You gotta love that altitude.
Last night, before going to bed, you would sacrifice your cappuccino cups and prayed for good weather and no snow because today you will tackle the real, real high stuff, including the number 1, number 4, and number 5 highest passes in the Alpines. You’ll see all kinds of riding from tight gnarly switchbacks to sweepers and varied road conditions from good to rough tar and probably some loose road repair gravel thrown in for good measure. All the major passes are above 2,000 meters and well above the tree line.
After 2 or 3 neat high passes, you will start up the road to la Bonette, the number 1 highest pass in the Alpines at 2,862 meters. It’s really a loop road built off the Col du Restefond road, the main drag in these parts and itself the number 5 highest pass at 2,678 meters. It’s almost like they built the la Bonette loop so they could lay claim to the highest pass in the Alps. You will obviously stop for photo ops, perhaps a group picture, another thing before finishing the Restefond road and 1 other pass on your way back to Saint Veran for a well-deserved rest and dinner.
Now that you’ve accomplished your mission in Southern France, it’s time to head north. Your destination tonight is Chamonix, the internationally recognized ski town of France. To get there, you will get a variety of riding including up to seven passes. By noon, after a couple of high passes, you should be up and over the Col du Galibier at 2,645 meters, the number 6 on the list.
From here, you will enter the area around Mont Blanc, coincidentally the highest mountain in the Alpines. The last few passes on the way to Chamonix include some great back country roads with very pretty Alpine scenery looking down on houses and farms as you descend towards your night’s stay.
One of the reasons you stay in Chamonix is that you can ride the Aiguille du Midi cable car, which carries you to 3,842 meters. It is the closest you can get to the Mont Blanc summit (at 4,810 meters) without climbing it and is considered one of the most spectacular cable car rides in the Alps, if not the world. The round trip takes 2 - 3 hours. If it’s cloudy at the top or the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is always riding and plenty of it.
There are three nice, fairly low passes with good road surface and plenty of sweepers as you work your way back towards Switzerland. In Switzerland, you will check out the Nufenen Pass, the number 11 at 2,478 meters. Of course, you charge over this pass and do so as part of this afternoon’s ride along with the Saint Gotthard pass before ending the day at the Swiss motorcycle heartland, Andermatt.
There are no top 10 passes today but there is great riding on the high passes that Switzerland offers. Almost all of today’s passes will be above the tree line. You will head northeast out of Andermatt over the Oberalp pass, famous to bikers for its smooth tar, wide road, and unbeatable sweepers (not to mention the view). A couple of hours later, after riding a major Swiss valley road you will prepare to ride the Splugen pass.
It is a fantastic pass that crosses over into Italy. The layered switchbacks on this pass make for a great photo-op. At the bottom, you will head back to Switzerland as you pass by (and or stop in) Saint Moritz. All told, you will hit 6 passes before you are finally in Italy for a 2 nights' stay in the neat town of Mals.
Here again, you sacrificed your cappuccino cups to the weather gods the night before because today you will take on 3 of Italy’s highest, including number 3, 7, and 10 on the list. You will start the day by heading back briefly into Switzerland so you can get to the bottom of the Umbrail pass road. This pass is number 10 at 2,501 meters and the highest in Switzerland. It brings you out 3 kilometers below Passo di Stelvio, which will be your last pass of the day.
Before you go there, you will head south to Bormio and then east to Passo di Gavia, number 7 on the list at 2,621 meters. This pass has spectacular views, a sense of remoteness, and excellent espresso at the top. It’s one of the favorite passes. You will then work your way back to the top of the Stelvio pass, perhaps the most famous and photographed pass in the Alpines.
This pass is considered by many riders to be the “must ride” pass of the Alpines. At 2,758 meters, it is number 3 on the list. With close to 40 switchbacks on both sides, year round skiing at the top, and the carnival-like atmosphere at the pass itself, there is nothing else like it in the Alpines. From here, it’s all downhill to Mals, through some orchards and vineyards and back to the hotel.
Today’s route indicates 6 passes including a top 10 pass plus several beautiful high valley roads that cling to the top edge of the valley sides as you look way down onto towns, farms, highways, rivers, and much more. You’ll go over the Reschen pass, the Pillerhoe, a great shortcut that rides high over the valley at 1,558 meters, and the Timmeljoch pass, the key top 10 target today at number 9 and 2,509 meters.
The Austrian side finishes with a series of good quality switchbacks and sweepers that carry you to the top. There’s a toll to be paid before you can proceed down the Italian side, which seems like a completely different road than what you just road up. You will go over 2 more passes and travel high valley roads that give you your first splendid view of the Dolomites. It is just great, great riding. You will end up in the heart of the Dolomites in Corvara, where you will stay for 3 nights.
Here again, you had sacrificed your cappuccino cups to the weather gods the night before because today you will take the Grossglockner High Alpines Road and Austria’s highest pass. Over the years of travel in the Alpines, this road has had the most unpredictable weather. You have to pack accordingly. A couple of small passes and 90 minutes later sees you at the start of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. It is a toll road and runs approximately 30 miles as it goes up and over the spine of the Austrian Alpines.
It is a spectacular high Alpine road and one of the most visited tourist attractions in Austria, frequently ranking in the top 3 Austrian tourist destinations. It is also a major motorcycle Mecca. You can play back and forth along it all day once you pay your toll. It’s got great road surface, unbelievable views, a dead end road with Austria’s largest glacier, and at the very top the Hoch Tor, at 2,575 meters Austria’s highest pass and number 8 on the top 10 list. You will ride it in both directions and then head 2 more fun passes back to your hotel.
If you’re keeping track, you’ll know that you have now completed the top 10 highest passes in the Alpines. It is time to decompress and there is no better riding to do so than in Italy. Today, you’ll do up to 7 plus passes including the Wurtzjoch, a marvelous one lane pass with great Dolomite Massifs, Passo di Giau, one of the favorites where you occasionally come across factory test riders from Ducati, Aprilia, or BMW, and Passo di Fedaia, where a local Refugio serves delicious tiramisu. All in all, it is a fantastic day of Dolomite riding.
You will head south over 5 more passes including a narrow uncrowded gem Passo Manghen. You will then ride some more of the favorite high valley and low pass roads on your way to Lago di Garda. As you do so, you frequently look down onto vineyards and orchids, pass through narrow Italian villages and view castles all around. It’s great riding all the way to tonight’s hotel in Riva del Garda.
Riva is a great example of an Italian lakes region town. There’s a lot to do including shops, cafes, people watching, water sports, and more. You can kick back for the balance of the day and enjoy the town or join for a ride along the shore and up into the adjacent hillside. Don’t worry, you’ll be back in time for dinner.
Today you will start on the road back to Switzerland, but not before a leisurely farewell to Riva and some neat Italian riding, capped off with Passo Croce Domini, a pass that only a biker would love with some parts so tight and twisty that it makes sense to blow your horn when going around corners to let people know you’re coming.
A couple of hours later, you’ll be heading up and over the Bernina pass in Switzerland, the exact opposite of the Domini with rugged vistas, high-speed sweepers, and well tarred, open sight switchbacks. The Alps have it all. After 2 more classic Swiss passes, you will travel through Heide land and spend your final night on the road at Klontal See. It’s a simple hotel at the end of an Alpine lake surrounded by mountains with no one else in sight.
On your final day of riding, you’ll do at least 3 passes with a little bit of every kind of riding included to wind up the tour. There will be single lane and tight, smooth tar, and great lake views and high-speed sweepers. You’ll stop by a lakeside restaurant for a final salute to your tour and then you head back to Thun surrounded by great Swiss mountain scenery. You should get back in time to return the motorcycles to the rental shop. Here again as on the first night, please feel free to join the other tour members for a group dinner or head off on your own for a quiet, private meal. It’s all your choice.
Charlie's goal is to provide tour members with an outstanding tour experience that feels like you’re on your own riding with friends. He keeps the atmosphere informal and easy-going so that the tour just seems to flow naturally from one day to the next. He does that by using his 30+ years of The Alps riding experience to provide some big picture structure by way of securing motorcycles, taking the hassle out of finding good, well-located hotels and providing guidance / opinion on the best roads to ride in the region that people have chosen to tour in.
This tour focuses on the 10 highest passes in the Alps. All these passes are paved (with a couple of minor exceptions) and all go from one place to another, as opposed to dead-ending in some valley. As such, they are the highest paved roads you can ride in the Alps. The passes are spread throughout the Alps in France, Switzerland, and Italy.
Four are in the central and southern Alps of France. One straddles the French and Italian borders. Another sits on the Swiss-Italian border. Three are in the Tyrol section of northwest Italy and one sits on the spine of the Austria Alps southeast of Salzburg. The top 10 are surrounded on all sides by great riding. Many of the passes you will ride are well above the tree line, which gives you a wide open, panoramic view of the mountains and valleys.
However, there are still great views to be had from high on top of a wooded pass looking down into valleys or lakes. The French peaks are generally more barren and bleak but beautiful at the same time. The Swiss and Austrian mountains are the picture perfect vistas that you expect. The Italian mountains are rugged and fun to ride while the Dolomites are more up-close and personal. In short, you will be taken to go through:
You can arrive at Zürich Airport (ZRH) or Bern Airport (BRN). The location is 1 hour and 45 minutes' drive from Zürich Airport (ZRH) and 20-30 minutes' drive from Bern Airport (BRN).
"Although I had ridden the Alps on my own bike 10 years ago, it was a fleeting visit and I always wanted to do it in more depth. While my inclination was to tour independently, advancing age made me decide that something organised might be a more sensible choice and I eventually settled on Charlie’s tour. It turned out to be absolutely the right decision. His knowledge of the Alps, sense of humor and general ability to bring a group together made it a very special couple of weeks. The others in the group were great fun to be with, whether on the road or around the dinner table in the evenings. The routes that Charlie conjures up are brilliant, often taking you down smaller roads to places that you probably wouldn’t otherwise see, the pace was comfortable and the scenery was magnificent. Even the weather was generally cooperative and a ride over the Brenner in snow and 0 (zero) degrees C was all part of the fun. Everything about the trip, the bikes, the hotels, the food, the scenery was the best. I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning on another tour in 2017."
Moto-Charlie Alps Tours website, edited
"For some time we had been talking about riding the Alps. After much research and considering going it alone, we concluded it would be nice to have a guide with knowledge of the roads and accommodations. Riding in large groups has never interested us, but Charlie’s website suggested a different approach that looked like the right fit for us. It was definitely the right decision; we had the trip of a lifetime! Charlie’s experience and thorough interview process in the months leading up to our tour resulted in a group that was well matched in riding style and ability. He led us on roads and to places we would have never found on our own. Each day opened up new vistas that we thought couldn’t get any better! The stops were just right and we enjoyed the espressos, strudel and other goodies along the way. The hotels were charming, comfortable and with meals that always left us happy. It’s clear that Charlie has established great relationships with the owners of the hotels we stayed at and we felt welcomed because of it. We also appreciated his willingness to try new places (for strudel of course!) and his flexibility. We experienced a brake problem mid-tour on our bike which needed immediate attention. Charlie made up a quick route plan to the nearest BMW dealership incorporating a new route he had wanted to try. It turned out to be one of the group’s favorite days of riding! He has the right temperament to handle the different personalities and unexpected things that inevitably come up. We appreciated his great sense of humor and excitement over riding the Alps after all these years. We would HIGHLY recommend Charlie’s tours if you are looking for a great experience."
Moto-Charlie Alps Tours website, edited
"Looking for the trip of a lifetime we couldn’t have chosen better. Charlie provided a quality experience in every way. The accommodations were unique, very comfortable and perfectly situated. The hotels, food, bike hire and routes could not be faulted and everything ran like a Swiss watch. Problems such as mechanical failure and medical attention were seamlessly included. As we were very fortunate with the weather Charlie’s extensive knowledge of the routes and flexibility produced the “wow” factor every day. I could not believe every day was better than the last. Even coming from a country with spectacular scenery the pictures do not do the vistas justice. The tour was run at a leisurely pace with plenty of time for rest stops and photo opportunities (much appreciated by the pillion) yet still covering the distance. Charlie’s good humour and extensive knowledge of routes and history also enhanced the stops and after dinner chats. The riding exceeded expectations and I had a grin from ear to ear most of the time. As first timers to this region (as we were) I could not imagine a less stress-free option. I now have the confidence to do this solo but, as long as Charlie is doing these tours, why would you bother?"
Moto-Charlie Alps Tours website, edited