This summer, I finally did it: With a friend, I completed my first ride across the Alps, from Munich to Venice.
Note: The Brenner Pass is one of many possible crossings, and I am fairly certain that others are more picturesque. That said, it is a fairly low pass, and possibly the only one by which one could pull off this trip in as little time as five days – especially using modestly priced hybrid rental bikes.
Day 1: Munich to Schwaz, Tyrol via Lenggries, Bavaria (~120km, ~1000m of climbing)
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2562439355
For Day 1, we left Munich heading nearly straight south, loosely following the river Isar through Bad Tölz and Lenggries to the Sylvensteinspeicher reservoir, gradually climbing along the entire way. After this, we crossed into Austria to take the Achensee pass, only to be surprised by a steep ~150m climb on gravel. From there on, you wind your way through villages, round the Achensee lake, and finally descend steeply into Jenbach before hitting the Inntal bike trail, which will take you all the way to Innsbruck if desired.
Sights worth seeing along the way: Bad Tölz, Sylvensteinspeicher.
Optimal lunch stop: Lenggries.
Day 2: Schwaz, Tyrol to Sterzing, South Tyrol (~90km, ~1300m of climbing)
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2564746796
This day turned into a play of five acts:
- A remarkably flat section up the Inn Valley to Innsbruck – somewhat boring to ride, but with gorgeous views of mountains and the option of stopping over in Hall.
- A painful climb out of the Inn Valley to Aldrans and Patsch, grinding up a somewhat busy road. The grade itself isn’t too bad, but it just keeps going for a good 700 meters of elevation gain.
- The calm before the (second) storm: Cruising from Patsch to Gries at a fairly constant elevation with some ups and downs and great views of the valley leading up to Brenner. Mostly side roads, traffic was generally light. My co-rider considered this his favourite part of the entire Transalp, and I have no reason to disagree with him here.
- The climb from Gries to Brenner: Really not as hard as it sounds despite ending at the highest point of our trip – we were surprised by how quickly we had arrived at the top and crossed into Italy.
- Downhill to Sterzing: Past the Italian border, there is a rail trail connecting all the way from the old customs buildings at the top of Brenner to Trento down the river Etsch. For the most part, this is a gradual descent – rewarding the rider for their endurance making their way to the top of the pass.
Sights worth seeing along the way: Hall in Tirol, and Sterzing when you’re done.
Optimal lunch stop: Matrei am Brenner.
Day 3: Sterzing, South Tyrol to Trento, Trentino (~140km, ~800m of climbing)
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2567683812
Day 3 follows the same rail trail we took from Brenner down to Sterzing on Day #2 – descending fairly constantly until Bolzano with extremely good signage along the way. After Bolzano, the route becomes flatter as the river Etsch matures from wild mountain river to a steady flowing body of water meandering its way towards Trento and Rovereto. Resist the temptation to speed on this path – while it is a very good path, the way from Bolzano to the destination for the day is long. You’ll want to conserve energy for exploring Trento as is!
Places worth seeing along the way: Fortalezza, Chiusa – both of which are in the first part of the day.
Optimal lunch stop: Bolzano.
Day 4: Trento, Trentino to Arsie, Belluno (~80km, ~600m of climbing)
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2572968927
Day 4 starts with a somewhat grueling climb out of Trento to enter the Valsugana Valley, after which it turns into a challenge to find the entry point for the Valsugana Valley bike trail that parallels the SS47. This trail takes you to Primolano, where the second climb of the day (~200m) awaits, spitting you out in Arsie.
Sights worth seeing along the way: Since the day is short, give yourself a slow start in Trento, and linger around Borgo Valsugana for lunch.
Day 5: Arsie, Belluno to Venice (~110km, barely any climbing)
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2572968718
After a mild climb from Arsie to Feltre, this day turns into a long gradual downhill along the SR348 to Montebelluna, after which we decided to skip Treviso and use side roads suggested by Google Maps for a more direct route into Venice. Sadly, the interesting scenery ends pretty much the moment you hit Montebelluna – for the remaining couple of hours, the landscape becomes about as interesting as that of California’s Central Valley.
Three things worth noting on the finish:
- Day #5 presented us with the greatest navigational challenge of the entire trip – finding the route that leads up to the bridge into Venice!
- If you plan on staying the night in Venice, be aware that bicycles are banned in most of the city. There are a handful of hotels right by the end of the bridge that you can legally reach by bike, however, bike parking is scarce.
- The only way to reach Venice Santa Lucia station (for returning to Germany by train) is to lift your bike over a rather cumbersome pedestrian staircase bridge, and pushing it the remainder of the way.
We fared just fine using inexpensive hybrid rental bikes, and carried our belongings in pannier bags. I do encourage bringing the following:
- Waterproof pannier bags: The last thing you want is your spare clothes to be
- Plenty of water bottles: Especially compared to North America, options for refilling water bottles are rather limited in this part of the world. I brought three liters, and wouldn’t have minded a fourth.
- A bike GPS with Openstreetmap: My trusty old Garmin helped us figure out where the bike path was hiding – Google Maps is still somewhat behind when it comes to bike paths and trails in Italy or Germany. That said, signage is generally good once you’re out of Germany.
- Card games: Will help you kill time while you wait for clouds to pass. If I can suggest one, try Skip-Bo.
- An extra pair of shoes for exploring after completing the ride of each day.