Touring the Saarland region of Germany

Tour 2 of our 2019 season saw us heading out to Germany for our Saarland & Moselle tour over the early May bank holiday weekend.ย  This was a new tour on our programme and having done our research over a couple of trips we knew we would have beautiful scenery and great riding roads but we had not counted on there being snow in May!ย  Admittedly this was on one of the higher roads in the Saar region but very unexpected given the time of year.ย  However, as you can see it did not stop us riding out for the day, we started the ride-out later than planned having let the worst of it pass which gave our clients time to indulge in some “kaffee and kuchen” in the hotel and as we arrived in Bernkastel-Kues in time for lunch the sun came out to play ๐Ÿ™‚ย  We had arranged for our group to enjoy an hour’s river cruise along the Mosel (or Moselle if you are from France or Luxembourg!) which turned out to be a game of two halves with the first half hour sat on the top deck soaking up the sunshine and the second leg being indoors escaping the thunder storm…..ย  crazy weather ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

The Saar region is home to some fantastic riding roads, where there is a river there are curves and these together with the smooth road surfaces give any motorcyclist a lot to smile about.ย  Following the rivers Saar and Moselle you are rewarded with stunning vistas as you ride through the valleys and vineyards.ย  The vines are obviously in their first stages of growth during Mayand no doubt riding here in late August just before the grapes are ready for picking this road and the surrounding landscape will look very different.

The hospitality and welcome we received from our hotels on this tour was superb and the majority of cafes we visited on our ride-outs could not have been more welcoming with the exception of one in France who reluctantly served us coffee one morning – clearly a group of 22 thirsty motorcyclists was not going to make their tills ring enough!!ย  Having said that it gave us all a giggle and plenty to talk about in the bar that evening together with discussions on the price of fuel in France now, it used to be that we went over to France for the cheaper fuel but those days are long gone and they now run on a par with UK motorway!!

If you want high mountain passes and technical twists and hairpins, then the Saarland region is maybe not for you, however, if you want an early shortish break into Europe where you can enjoy traffic free roads, open scenery, great smooth road surfaces and rolling hillsides then this is the area you should visit.ย  It’s within a stone’s throw of Luxembourg where we tour regularly due to the great riding roads and if you plan your route well you can take the forest roads through the Belgian Ardennes on the way out and the open french countryside on the way back to the UK.ย  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this tour and look forward to riding through the region later this year on our way to the Dolomites and returning here again in 2020 ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Further into Spain we ride…..

Having spent nearly 4 days riding south along the Spanish / Portguese border we turned the bikes east and over the last couple of days have ridden through Andalucia and the Provinces of Murcia and Valencia.

Where to start?ย  There have been three constant themes on this trip so far – great roads, stunning scenery and good weather…..ย  time will tell on the latter ๐Ÿ™‚ย  Jan achieved a bit of a milestone on Monday’s ride in Andalucia with her 2017 Versys clocking over 50,000 miles in 2 years.ย  The bike has proved to be an excellent touring machine, but then so have all of our Versys 1000’s.ย  The new 2019 SE GT of Geraint’s is also living up to all expectations, from when we first saw it at MotorcycleLive in November 2018 on the Kawasaki UK stand we were keen to try it out on excellent riding roads and bringing it to Spain and Portugal has certainly achieved that goal!ย ย 

Any bike would seem to handle better on pothole / traffic free roads we are sure you will agree and the SE GT is no exception.ย  There are though other minor changes over previous models which are noticeable as we cover the miles on this trip – the hand grips for example are very slightly smaller than the 2017 /18 model, not a major change but it does give for good feel when riding, this is together with bonus of the improved shaping of the handguards which have worked a treat when the temperatures have been cooler first thing in a morning.ย  The screen on the higher setting on the SE GT provides good protection from some of the cross winds we have had on the open roads, for a short distance a couple of days ago we swapped bikes so Jan could try out the new model and it took a bit of getting used to for Geraint riding the 2017 model with the smaller screen again with the wind noise being something he noticed straight away.

As we have crossed through Spain, we have never seen as many olive groves as we encountered riding in Andalucia and then as we headed to the coast we rode through both cherry orchards and orange groves, the country is diverse in so many ways!

Each place we have stopped off at for either coffees or a bite to eat have been both welcoming and entertaining – the chatter which goes on in the bars is on a whole different level, not only do they “put the world to rights” over coffee they also do it at a very loud volume!!ย  We have caused something of a stir too, we guess they don’t see many people from the UK turning up on two green bikes in some of the remote areas we have been to with no english being spoken (good for testing out our language skills!)ย  Many of the bars and cafes are long established such as this one in Valencia Province, looks like someone’s house to be fair on the road side, but go through the doors and the place was buzzing, we were greeted with a warm smile and a great tasting coffee.

It would have been “rude” not to have visited the coast whilst on this trip, so we booked into a hotel about 50km’s north of Benidorm in a quieter but never the less bustling resort for a night.ย  We even took the Versys slightly off-road to get this photo ๐Ÿ™‚

We head north today back into the mountains, making our way eventually to watch some of the World Superbike racing at Aragon and to support the Kawasaki Racing team riders Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam, as the saying goes….. “bring it on” !

 

 

Riding in Portugal

Since setting up DragonMotoTours in 2012 it has been a goal of ours to run a motorcycle tour riding in Portugal and on this research trip we are one step closer to achieving it.ย  Our route saw us leave the UK on the 25th of March, ride through France and Spain and we crossed the border 4 days later.ย  It was as if they knew we were coming as the weather could not have been more welcoming with temperatures at a very balmy 18 degrees and the sun shining for the entire day,ย  they had also cleared the roads of traffic in fact it felt like we had the place to ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚

Our first route took us into the Douro River valley through some of the most beautiful scenery with rolling hillsides covered in olive groves.ย  The nature of a river, of course,ย  is to meander and this resulted in a road which mirrored it’s path giving us fantastic twists, turns, curves and bends to enjoy as we descended from the high plateau down to the the valley floor and beyond.

The only real signs of life we saw on our first day (apart from the grazing cattle and sheep!) was as one of the river cruise boats docked, a beautiful day for “messing about on the river” as they say but as relaxing as it looked we much preferred our modes of transport and given the nature of the roads we were just as chilled out ๐Ÿ™‚

As we headed south yesterday we rode through Spain staying for two nights in one location giving us an opportunity to do a second ride-out into Portugal, this time to a very different region to the Douro valley with more open, flowing riding roads (as opposed to the twists of the river route on Friday), although similar themes carried through 1) no traffic ๐Ÿ™‚ 2) beautiful scenery and 3) olive groves and vineyards.

We have only managed to ride a small part of a truly beautiful country, a very different feel to the usual tourist parts of Portugal such as the Algarve, Lisbon and Porto and we are very much looking forward to sharing the routes we have selected when we tour here in 2020 ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Riding our Versys 1000 SE GT in Spain

Having ridden through France we crossed into Spain yesterday and our first stop was a motorway services….. we have to say not typical of those found in the UK – a three course lunch would set you back โ‚ฌ10 and the place was spotless and the staff friendly (probably because one of the waiters rode a Kawasaki Ninja 650 and was admiring our bikes !!)ย  We left there well fed and raring to go on the open roads under azure blue skies into the province of Burgos for an overnight stay.

Today we headed west with ever changing landscapes but one static theme…. no traffic!!!ย  Mind you one thing you don’t expect to see is a jet fighter in the middle of nowhere but that is exactly what we came across ๐Ÿ™‚ย ย  Both are awesome machines but we know which one we prefer!!

Our Versys 1000 SE GT has now passed its first 1,000 miles and is proving a treat to ride on the Spanish roads.ย  Admittedly the smooth surface helps and there have been plenty of curves to enjoy, the cornering of the machine is like going round on rails and the electronic suspension setting has been perfect given that we are fully luggaged up.

As this is a research trip we do sometimes go off the beaten track to either rule in or out certain roads and routes and today was no exception.ย  We headed up a mountain road in the Province of Zamora, looked spectacular on the map and yes the views from 1,800 metres were superb but it proved not to be such a great road surface, however, both bikes handled the rather bumpy route no problem and again the suspension on the SE GT came into its own.ย  (Sadly as good as the views were we shall not be including this in any future tours!).

More blue skies are promised for tomorrow when we head across the border to try out some of the roads in Portugal – watch this space to see how we get on ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

First time abroad for our Versys SE GT

Having picked up our new Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT on the 1st of March and done the obligatory 600 miles run in and service, we have headed out to Spain and Portugal undertaking research for tours in 2020 and 2021 (nothing like planning ahead!!!)ย  This is the first big trip on the new bike and if the first two days are anything to go on the rest of the miles are going to be cracking ๐Ÿ™‚

We took a long way round to get to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth on Monday, calling in at Blade Kawasaki Swindon for a meet up with Jez great welcome as always and a fantastic array of bikes, we could have stopped longer but then we did have a ferry to catch!

We took the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen and it was unsurprising that we were the only bikes on the boat (it is March after all ….) The only other two wheels were to be found on a pushbike – rather him than us as we arrived into Caen to a very foggy and cold morning for the first 40 minutes or so.ย  However, once the early morning mist had disappeared and the temperature started to creep up from the -3 degrees (!!) our ride for the rest of the day through France on the Tuesday was fantastic with blue, cloudless skies and very little traffic – as most of you know we tend to avoid motorways where possible and this ride was no exception.ย  The open roads are something we actively seek out as you can see from this photo of Geraint – now that is a long road ahead….. but can you see any traffic???ย  ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ย  The Versys SE GT came into its own on these roads, plenty of curves through the forests of the Loire region to try out the cornering management system which works like a dream, (there will be more to come on the technical aspects of the bike over the next couple of weeks so, as the saying goes – “stay tuned”).

Although our intended tours to Spain and Portugal will not include a ride through France we still like to seek out quirky coffee stops and some of the artwork in this particular one near Alencon kept us amused :-

why is it that a pain au chocolat and a cup of coffee always tastes so much better in a french boulangerie?ย  It could be the fact that their pastries only cost โ‚ฌ1 each ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Our research trip continues now after a stop off near Bordeaux we head across the border into Northern Spain – we will keep you posted…..

The 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT

So here’s the thing, we go away for a week of winter sun and see from social media platforms that Kawasaki UK are having their Official European Media launch for the new 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura ๐Ÿ™‚

We set off on the Wednesday for a visit to the south of the island of Fuerteventura and on our return through the mountains that afternoon we see one of the new bikes riding towards us!ย  The roads they had chosen for the ride were superb, technical tight turns in some places opening out to sweeping bends all with spectacular scenery and under pure blue skies – they could not have had a better day for testing the new bikes.

Fortunately for us we were at one of the stunning view points on the Betancuria road when a few more Versys could be seen approaching and

one in particular being tested by John Westlake of Bike magazine pulled in to the same car park giving us a superb opportunity to see the bike not only in action but to ask him how he was finding it.ย ย  He was clearly enjoying the performance of the bike especially on the roads of Fuerteventura.

Whilst on the stand with Kawasaki UK at MotorcycleLive last November we were able to see the SE GT version on the stand but seeing it out on the road was something else.ย  We already have one on order to be collected ahead of our 2019 touring season and having been able to see this machine on the roads it was designed for has left us in no doubt it was the right decision ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

 

 

Another Touring Season over…..

With today being the shortest day of the year it seems like a good time to reflect on our 2018 Touring season whilst also thinking about next year…….. of course there is the little matter of Christmas to take in over the coming week but it never hurts to reiminisce ๐Ÿ™‚

The last three months have been full on for us which is why our last blog was back in September after our tour of the South West of Ireland.ย  Since then we had a 5 day research trip in Northern France, a tour of Luxembourg, an On & Off-Road tour and the last tour of the year was our Flavour of Spain which ran 7th to the 19th of October.

Returning from Spain we were straight into updating our website with details of our 2019 tours, had brochures to print up and then attended the NEC in Birmingham on the Kawasaki UK stand for 9 days – it was great to see how well attended the show was once again and in particular a thanks to all of you who called by to say hello and have a coffee.ย  Sometimes the winter months can seem very long when you are a motorcyclist but having MotorcycleLive gives everyone a boost and with so many new bikes to look at, plenty to think about over the months before Spring…!

The last few tours of 2018 seemed to go by in something of a blur, on the whole the weather was good for us, some “rain in Spain” but nothing of any significance but then having the ferry home cancelled the day before sailing was enough to make everything else pale into insignificance!!!ย  We have to say that everyone on the tour rallied well when we had to break the news to them that they had a choice of an extra week in Spain as that was when the next availability for us all would be to sail back, or we could all ride north through France to get one of the sailings from either Caen or Le Harve.ย  It was not an ideal way to end the tour having to add on an extra 700+ miles but everyone agreed that as nice as it would be to spend an extra 7 days riding through the Spanish countryside it was not the best option and so we all set off north.ย  The weather was kind to us which was a huge bonus and we found a great hotel on the outskirts of Bordeaux to accommodate all 24 of us in 17 rooms and provide an excellent 3 course dinner and good breakfast.ย  The route to Bordeaux gave us an opportunity to ride the spectacular valley route through to Logrono in Northern Spain, as can be seen from this photo the red mountains provided spectacular scenery, it felt very much like some of the canyon roads in Utah and Colorado at times.ย  We had researched this route in the past in the winter months one year, albeit in a car, so to experience the route on two wheels was better than expected and whilst not planned for on our Flavour of Spain tour it certainly helped with the long ride to Bordeaux ๐Ÿ™‚ย  It isn’t an ideal way to end a touring season, but what can you do when a ferry develops a technical fault – you certainly would not want to be in the Bay of Biscay if a fault happened out there!

Each of our bikes have travelled over 22,500 miles during 2018, we’ve toured through 12 countries, ascended many mountain passes including the Stelvio with its 48 hairpin / switchback turns, experienced snow in June in northern Spain, ridden through monsoon type rains on our way back from Luxembourg through Belgium in September and splashed in a lot of muddy puddles on our On & Off-Road tour with Mick Extance in Wales in early October.ย  There have been a lot of laughs, thousands of miles of terrific roads, stunning scenery and we have been able to enjoy all of this with our fantastic clients.ย  We shall take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and we look forward to riding again with everyone in 2019.

Our South West of Ireland Tour September 2018

This was the second tour of the 2018 touring season for us in Ireland and as with our April visit to County Donegal the country delivered on many levels, we were not as lucky with the weather on this visit having blue skies for only a couple of days but even when there are grey clouds around the dramatic scenery of the Emerald Isle simply takes on another “face”.

Yes we had some rain, it is very unusual to visit Ireland and not encounter some of the wet stuff but as we keep being reminded by the locals – “oh! you don’t come here for the beep,beep, weather” ๐Ÿ™‚ย  How true, what we do go for is the rugged feel to the countryside, the drama of the Wild Atlantic Way and the warm welcomes received at every coffee stop and at our hotels.ย  Joe at Ballyrafter House gave us wonderful hospitality when we called for morning coffee and freshly baked scones on day 2 of the tour and this was equalled by the Roadhouse cafe where we called on our way back to Dublin on the last day – they had laid up a long table for us for brunch and nothing was too much trouble for them ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s hard to say which was our favourite ride during this particular tour given the change in scenery encountered each day.ย  We rode through the Wicklows on day 1, along the south coast of County Cork on day 2, visited Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point on day 3, followed the Wild Atlantic Way on the Ring of Kerry on day 4, crossed the Shannon by ferry on day 5, were blown away by the sparse openness of Connemara on day 6 and marvelled at the beauty of Ballycroy National Park on day 7 – we would have equally been amazed by Achill Island on that particular ride-out but the rain decided to scupper our plans but as it turned out not our spirits….. there is something comforting turning up at your lunch stop to a roaring fire when you have been riding through a downpour ๐Ÿ™‚

For many of our clients this was their first visit to Ireland and the majority felt that Connemara was “up there” as being one of their favourite places on the tour.ย  It is probably due to the fact that we are all so used to lots of traffic and the hustle and bustle of towns and cities but when you visit this West Coast county you feel like you are stepping out of the “rat race” and riding through a wilderness which is packed with beautiful scenery, small hamlets, the rugged coastline and the mountains of the National Park known as the “Twelve Bens or Pins”.ย  Whilst we did not have blue skies for this particular day we did have dry weather and all 12 of the Bens could be seen – unlike a visit there back in 2013 when our group were lucky to see 2 of them!

No matter the weather we always look forward to returning to Ireland and will be visiting the counties of Donegal and Mayo in May 2019 – it may seem a long way off as we sit here writing this but we are sure it will come around before we know it ๐Ÿ™‚

 

A summer tour motorcycling in Eastern France

Early August is traditionally the time of year when the french people take their summer holidays, understandable given the weather is usually good and with such a vast country there are many destinations for them to choose from should they wish to stay within their own country.ย  It was during this time this summer that we chose to have a tour into Eastern France and whilst some of the major tourist locations such as Lake Annecy were busy, in the main, we were lucky to enjoy quiet roads and places to visit.

We started our tour ridingย  through Northern France and the wine regions of Champagne and Bourgogne.ย  Many a motorcyclist avoids the north of the country due to the lack of mountains – but as can be seen from this photo it is not only other riders – it is also more importantly for us cars which seem to be thin on the ground – and yes we agree there are not many mountains but the curves of the roads through the open countryside provided us with many grin inducing miles ๐Ÿ™‚

The speed limit reduction introduced in July 2018 in France on country routes from 90kph to 80kph did not impact significantly, it allows for more scenery to be taken in and when it comes to the more technical roads in the mountains it is highly unlikely that you would be at 90kph anyway so yes it can add to the length of a journey but best to give it a “gallic shrug” and enjoy the ride.

The main destinations for this particular tour were the Eastern Alps and Bauges Mountains near Annecy and Chambery and also the Vosges Mountains both South and North which run through the Alsace bordering the Rhine Valley.ย  The Col de la Madeleine is a fantastic road to ride and we had near perfect conditions for the day, warm temperatures, very little traffic and spectacular views from the summit which peaks at 2,000 metres.ย  This photo is taken from the summit and sees our group heading down towards the Bourg St Maurice side before we rode the Cormet de Roselend, another favourite road of ours in this region.ย  The weather was just right as we approached our chosen auberge for lunch in the glacial valley but inevitably in the heat of the summer in the mountains storms gather and we had a doozy of one for about 10 minutes.ย  As we reached the summit of the pass the blue skies opened up again and dry roads before us – we pitied the poor riders going in the opposite direction to us though!!

The Vosges Mountains were out next destination – the Ballons D’Alsace and Routes des Cretes being some of our favourite riding roads in that particular part of France.ย  The ridge road of the Routes des Cretes goes on for a total of 55 miles and at an elevation of over 3,000 ft there are some beautiful views over the surrounding forest clad mountains and valleys.

As you can see from these images we were not joking above when we said the roads were quiet ๐Ÿ™‚ย  While crowds can be found on the french beaches and near main tourist locations (our planned lunch at Lake Annecy had to be abandoned as there was simply no room to park!), we will never be concerned about running a tour in France when it is their peak holiday season – it was clear to us that no matter what the french roads are to be enjoyed no matter when and we are looking forward to touring their again in 2019 ๐Ÿ™‚

Riding the Stelvio Pass

There are many iconic motorcycling roads in Europe and The Stelvio Pass is one of them.ย  At over 9,000 ft high this Italian road is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and is only marginally lower than the Col D’Iseran which at 9,088 ft is the highest pass in the Alps.

We recently rode the Stelvio on our Austrian tour and chose a week day to run the ride-out from our base in Austria passed Resia Lake crossing into Italy before the ascent.ย  The weather conditions were near perfect with temperatures in the mid to high 20’s and blue skies and “fluffy” white clouds present in the sky to provide a very clear day for riding.ย  It would seem though that these great conditions also brought out practically every other type of vehicle who seemed, on the face of it, to be ascending the Pass all at the same time.ย  It was very busy both ways with hundreds of cyclists, many camper vans, cars galore and a vast array of motorcycles of all marques and from many different countries – it made for an interesting ride to the top that’s for sure. There are 48 hairpins on the ascent from the Prato side of the pass and the road varies in width with some of the narrower turns near the base with some steep inclines – these in particular can cause “mini traffic jams” particularly as we experienced, where camper vans are travelling in both directions and trying to overtake cyclists!!

Ascent from Prato side of the Stelvio

Once you have a clear road ahead of you though it is a spectacular pass to ride, technical and challenging but well worth it when you reach the summit.ย  The views are stunning (perhaps best not to take them in on the way up!) but there are a couple of places you can pull into to take in the scenery and near the top there is a section of parking where you can stop for a limited time to take photographs if you wish to.

The souvenir shops and cafes at the summit were very busy when we arrived but we turned left at the summit where there is an alternative car park and also the Tibet hutte cafe which provides a very good lunch, (try their apple strudel if you need to boost your energy levels!) and the view from the cafe is breathtaking.

On leaving the summit we crossed into Switzerland descending via the Umbrail Pass still technical but definitely not as challenging as the ride from the Prato side of the Stelvio.ย  The views will not disappoint on this section of the ride and the road surface is excellent not only on the Umbrail Pass but on the Stelvio itself as well – you have to consider that the pass is closed for many months over the winter due to the snow and yet the condition of the tarmac remains very good.

All in all would we ride the Stelvio again?ย  Yes we would, despite it being busy in parts, the road itself presents any keen motorcyclist with breathtaking vistas, clear air, hairpins galore and a challenging ride.ย  We are looking forward to our next visit there……. but when?ย  ๐Ÿ™‚