Day One - Munich to Bad Tolz
We left Munich on a Monday morning under gun metal grey skies. A fine soaking mist of rain was falling and the streets were rapidly filling with morning commuters. A planned side trip to ride around the famous English Gardens and a departure photo under the iconic Rathaus Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz were promptly abandoned and we made haste from our hotel to the Deutsches Museum on the banks of the river Isar, which marks the official start of the Munich to Venice cycle path.
The stuff coming out of the sky aside, it was good to be along side water again. For Jo and I, water courses through our veins. We live next to the ocean on a small Island in the Atlantic, have sometimes lived aboard our boat, and find it both life affirming and calming to be close to H20. Indeed, water turned out to be our constant companion on this journey, as for much of its duration the M2V cycle path takes you along river banks, round lakes and finally deposits you in Venice, the “the floating city”.
Straight out of the blocks the city river cycle path takes you into bucolic countryside. Slightly haphazard signposting, for Germany at least, had us crossing old bridges and rolling along quiet paths. Fields gave way to pine forests and after a brief section through a tram-served leafy suburb, providing an opportunity for a very welcome coffee break, the forest enveloped us and we found ourselves on gravel logging tracks. With the rain, the surface had become paste-like and the decision to increase the widths of our tires proved to be wise.
We rode past sleepy farms and emerald green fields dotted with cows when we broke clear of the enchanting mossy forests.
Day 2 - Bad Tolz to Pertisau
60 km. 500m.
After a restful evening in our guesthouse, a hearty Bavarian supper and an equally hearty breakfast, we tooled up in our, now thankfully dried out, kit and headed back to banks of the river Isar. We passed the heart of the old medieval town to our left, on the other bank from us, and felt the first tinge of many regrets we were to experience on the trip. We were passing through areas rich in culture and beauty, but had insufficient time to stop and linger.
So we left Bad Tolz, complete with its fine example of a late gothic church, in our wake, and entered an area of open heathland. The river became clearer and stonier, tinged with a minty blue and took on an Alpine quality that hinted at its source. We were heading into the foothills of high country.
As we bashed on, slowly gaining altitude all the time, the skies finally cleared, and the pasty wet gravel river path deviated off into Alpine forests with smooth luxuriant black top. Double celebration! We began to see other cyclists around us. They were mainly day-tripping mountain bikers enjoying the solitude and beauty of the pine forests. We were yet to see any touring bikes laden with panniers and bike packing gear, as we were, that would point to a fellow M2V rider.
We climbed higher into the forest, sometimes seeing the river Isar through a clearing, now many meters below us. We burst through the forested section via a pedestrian tunnel and a series of large lakes came into view, actually dammed reservoirs in the mountains. The path normally circumnavigates them, but due to maintenance, we were redirected via a road to the Acherkirch valley and left the Isar behind us.
The cycle path neatly bypassed by Germany/Austria border and we celebrated our second country with a coffee, which the eccentric café owner insisted should also include a shot of local schnapps. Who were we to disagree?
Day 3 - Pertisau to Innsbruck
55km. 130 km.
We were reluctant to leave our fancy digs, but the road called and besides we had an “easy” day ahead, all downhill… or so we thought. We cycled through the beautiful Alpine town of Maurach at the head of the lake and were promptly directed onto what can best be described as a gravel ski run. We dropped down precipitously some 500m in 4.5 km, Jo sometimes dismounting during the hairiest of hairpins. Our touring tires were doing a stellar job in the circumstances but this was well into MTB territory.
Through the trees to one side of us there was a prehistoric snorting and clouds of billowing smoke. It turned out to be the Aschensee steam train grinding its way up the impossible slope using the riggenbach cog system.
Thankfully at Jenbach the slope levelled out, the gravel became black-top cycle path once again and we were able to hoof along the wide open Inn valley floor to our rest stop of the day, Innsbruck. We pulled into the beautiful medieval city in good time under a glorious sun and had a riverside Aperol spritz, a nod to the approaching Italian border.
Day 4 -Innsbruck to Muhlbach
After taking the opportunity to wander around the beautiful, bustling and touristic town of Innsbruck, we made our way to the railway station. We had previously read that the ride up the Brenner Pass to the Italian border was the one section of the M2V cycle path that involved, aside from a difficult climb, the use of busy roads. To that end, we had decided to take the train the few stations up the pass and enjoy the free ride down the other side.
It’s a stunning train ride, with incredible Alpine views. We were able to look down on much of the road route and I must say that, aside from negotiating out of Innsbruck, the old road seemed to be very rideable. Next time!
Alighting at the very top of the pass in Brenner we found ourselves in our third country, Italy, so promptly sat down at a cafe to check the quality of the espresso to see if this was indeed the case. Yes it was, but we ordered another to double check.
We were treated to a wild ride down the pass, free wheeling for miles on our own exclusive cycle path. At one point we zipped by a heavily laden tourer inching his way up the mountain with 4 bulging panniers and a large stuffed tiger wrapped around his handlebars. At the bottom of the pass we rode through the gorgeous and bustling ski town of Vipiteno.
For anyone planning to ride the Brenner Pass from Innsbruck this would make a great stop. We cracked on, enjoying the beautiful scenery and largely easy riding (aside from one detour that we decided had inadvertently put us on a cyclocross course) and made our way to the cute ski village of Muhlbach. We had a case of deja vous as we neared the end of the ride, as a year previously we had ridden through the same village on an organized cycling tour.
Day 5 - Muhlbach to Dobbiacco
Cycle touring doesn’t get much better than this. An idyllic valley, cool autumn weather, a babbling mountain river for company. Past ancient ruined castles, pastoral farms glistening emerald green with the morning dew, exclusive cycle paths winding gently through this stunning corner of Northern Italy. Sleepy villages drifted by and we are accompanied by bird song. The gradient kicks up a little and the river runs quicker, then there, rounding a corner, under an intense cobalt blue sky are the jagged peaks of the high Dolomiti.
We rode into the old walled town of Brunico and stopped for cappucini at one of the many buzzing cafes in the sun. With more miles and some climbing to come, we resisted the temptation to have lunch and picked up a picnic to eat on route instead.
Sometimes we were directed onto country roads, but much of the time we were still on our own exclusive cycle path. The mixed surface, occasionally white gravel, was always rideable. We passed a sign for a recent Strade Bianche Eroica event that had used the same route. Good choice!
The Dolomites loom ever closer, beckoning as our legs begin to tire and we arrived at our destination, the tidy mountain town of Dobbiacco, in time for sundown Aperol spritzi.
Day 6 - Dobbiacco to Cortina d’Ampezzo
36 km. 400m.
The gravel path begins straight out of town at an agreeable 3% gradient. The scenery is breathtaking. A mile out of the village we were met head-on with the sight of hundreds of cows being driven down from the high pastures. It’s an annual festival and the cows are decorated with garlands, each with a different bell. The sounds and the vision are surreal.
We move on, the trees thinning and shrinking in stature. The great rose colored walls of the Dolomites tower around us. There are sections of the rocky path that have been washed out by what must have been raging torrents of water cascading down the mountains. One particular section has left a chasm four foot deep and six across - portage time!
At the top of the pass we make contact with the road again. It’s the weekend and there are plenty of motorcyclists chilling at the mountainside cafe. We continue on down the other side of the pass and as we approach the swanky ski town of Cortina we are finally treated to tarmac once again.
While Jo took well-earned rest, I stripped some of the excess weight off my Firefly, nicknamed "Mud Puppy," and got my grimping head on. I had been closely following an iconic cycling event a few weeks prior; the Trans-Continental Race. One of the check-points for the event had been at the top of the Giau pass close to Cortina so I was intrigued to take a ride up the pass and take a look for myself at the terrain the racers had been subjected to.
It was, once again, fabulous weather and I set off up the climb with the panniers removed but leaving the frame bags on board out of respect for the TCR riders who would have been carrying all their belongings with them for the entire whacky 3,500 km race. Mud Puppy felt spritely, slimmed down from 65lb to 35lb. I got into a rhythm and clicked off the vertical meters while enjoying the fabulous views. Cortina disappeared behind me and the mountain tops loomed closer. A little over an hour later I had scaled the summit of Passo…Valparola. Oops, I’d missed the turn off for the Giau. I headed over the pass to take a peek at the other side, then caught up in the moment, I whizzed down to the little ski town of San Ciasian on valley floor below, about turned, rode up over the pass and down to Cortina again. I was delighted to find that my Firefly was a capable climbing machine as well as being able to gobble up gravel and carry a load. A true all road bike.
Day 7 - Cortina d'Ampezzo to Pieve di Cadore
35 km 200m.
The profile showed a drop of 400m along the route, the air was autumn cool and the sun was out yet again. Yes please! A slight detour onto the main drag aside, caused by a huge washout from the mountains above, the entire descent was on an old reclaimed railway line with a top class surface. We were able to sit aboard the bikes and let the gradient do the work for us while we enjoyed the stunning mountain vistas around us. The valley widened as we dropped in altitude and the wild flower mountain pastures gave way to forests and canyons. There were immense views, off into the distance, of interlocking valleys and multi-coloured hill towns perched precipitously above bottomless gorges.
30 plus km later, with barely a pedal stroke needed, we arrived at the left hand turn to reach our destination, the ancient town of Pieve Di Cadore, the birthplace of Titian. Then came the kicker. An 11% 1km ramp up to the town. It was at this stage we gave the M2V path a second nickname - “The Scorpion” - as it always seemed to have a sting in the tail.
Day 8 - Pieve di Cadore to Conegliano
We broke with tradition and got up early to get a start on the “big” day. We immediately torpedoed any advantage from the early start by taking a wrong turn and descending into an adjoining valley that had its own marked cycle route. An extra 10km and a 150m climb out of the valley was our “warm up”. It was a pretty detour.
We dropped out of the mountains and into the vineyards of prosecco. We were directed onto a big "old” road that was virtually empty of traffic, as a newer, elevated bypass had been ambitiously constructed down the entire immense canyon. It twisted and turned above us like some space age fantasy while we peddled through the now empty villages.
After the less than welcoming lead in to the city in the traffic, Conegliano turned out to be a gem. A beautifully preserved walled city replete with a 10th century castle and home of the Institute of Experimental Viniculture. Cafes and enotecas abound selling variants of the delicious local wines, prosecco in particular.
Day 9 - Conegliano to Treviso
Our latest start to date (was it all the wine?). But with the prospect of a flat, short route it was no biggie. Wrong again! Through a combination of gravel path deviations and an under-estimation of the distance, it turned out to be a chunky old day in the saddle. There were beautiful sections of the day’s ride, but life is certainly busier down here and there were tricky sections through town that had to be negotiated alongside the pastoral beauty we had started to take for granted.
Treviso was a revelation. It’s another old walled town, but larger than our previous stops. It’s thriving and buzzing with life, built around canals and rivers, not unlike its more famous close neighbor, Venice. Once again that desire to stay and linger a couple of days longer returned.
Day 10 - Treviso to Venice
For our final day of the trip the weather once again remained perfect. Fearing the negotiation of suburbs in this busier part of the world, we were delighted to find ourselves shepherded immediately onto the banks of the beautiful river Sile. The leisurely, winding journey was accompanied by water birds and greenery. The ghosts of long dead industry were hidden amongst the trees; an old Victorian factory covered in ivy here; the bones of semi-submerged wooden barges there.
We stopped for a leisurely lunch in a hamlet for the ridiculously low price of $12 a head (salads, entree, wine, coffee) then remounted our bikes for the final push into Venice. We left the river behind and found ourselves riding atop a dike. We were in marsh country.
The M2V guides recommend stopping the journey short of the causeway across the lagoon to Venice because of the heavy traffic, and catching a train into the city. As an alternative, we had decided to head for the airport in order to catch one of the taxi boats, so that we could be dropped right at our hotel on the Grand Canal, rather than negotiating the many small bridges from the railway station in Venice. There followed an amusing episode of footpaths petering out into maize fields and closed airport perimeter gates, before we eventually found our way via a busy road to the airport entrance. Airports are not designed to be walked or cycled to!
We found the ferry dock, the bikes were loaded aboard a beautiful mahogany launch and all 4 of us were whisked across the lagoon to Venice and a well earned rest.