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Six Cycling Adventures in the Alps to Try This Year

By Martin Atanasov

Have you ever wondered how you could be more like Hanibal, not the man-eating romanticized psychopath but the Carthaginian general? You probably haven’t, but nevertheless, we will help you relive his golden days when he crossed the Alps with a 100,000-man army and at least two dozen elephants. Well, we will sack the army and the elephants and instead add a bike and a whole lot of fun. In other words, today, we will talk about the most amazing Alpine passes and how to create an entire adventure while passing them with your bike.

Via Claudia Augusta

Let’s start with something easy. Not in the sense that it’s short or not intimidating at first sight, but in the sense that it crosses the easiest Alpine pass. Via Claudia Augusta is Germany’s second most popular international cycling route, right after the Danube cycling route. Moreover, it’s the only one that will take you from Bavaria through the Alps right to the Mediterranean. So, if you feel the urge to conquer the Alps without breaking too much sweat, this is probably the journey for you.

Via Claudia Augusta actually has two finishing lines. The longer one (750 km) finishes in Venice. The shorter route (650 km) ends in Verona. No matter where you plan to finish, you will start from Donauwörth on the Bavarian Danube.

Lake Caldaro
Enjoy the views of Via Claudia Augusta. © Profimedia

The first 220 km is a gradual climb before you enter the mountains. There, you will enjoy steep descends with a touch of torturous climbs. Still, the max elevation is around 2700m, so you won’t break any records on this ride. The best part is that the entire route consists of dedicated cycling tarmac roads and quiet secondary roads once you enter the mountains.

Now, for a seasoned cyclist, this route in its entirety would take between 5 and 7 days. However, we suggest taking at least 12 days to enjoy it fully. Plus, don’t forget to grab your swimsuit. Once you reach Venice, you might want to head over to Lido and enjoy a quick swim in the Adriatic Sea.

Taking your time along the route will allow you to appreciate the breathtaking nature and the historical significance of this route. This is actually the pass ancient Romans used when they expanded their territory north of the Alps.

This route is perfect for a family summer adventure, where your kids will fall in love with cycling just like you did all those years ago.

The Drau Pass

Rarely is there a more picturesque cycling path than the one crossing the Alps through the Drau pass. This breathtaking 510 km journey will take you through some of the most beautiful places in the southern Alps, stretching through four countries. In essence, this magnificent path follows the Drau (or Drava if you ask Slavic people) river from Dobbiaco/Toblach to the Croatian-Slovenian border near Varaždin.

Along the ride, you will see the might of the Austrian southern Alps, enjoy the wild Alpine landscape of Slovenia, and naturally see some ancient forests and even glaciers along the way.

The cycling path is perfect even for beginners. It’s mostly paved and sticks to the banks of the river. You will have the opportunity to enjoy Lienz, Villach Klagenfurt am Worthersee, Maribor, and other coy alpine towns along the way. Don’t forget to have a pizza at the restaurant right at the border between Italy and Austria. It’s quite the treat.

The journey is pretty straightforward and without excessive climbs. Still, you might want to take your time if you haven’t ridden long distances. Usually, 5 days are quite enough to cover the distance. Still, to fully enjoy the surrounding nature and the charming little towns along the way, we suggest giving yourself at least seven days. And don’t worry about accommodations. Along the entire path, countless friendly hotels and huts will welcome you with open arms.

So, if you are up for a breathtaking and picturesque cycling adventure, the Drau Pass will not disappoint.

The Three Lakes Route

The beautiful Bodensee lake © Profimedia

And since we are looking at more leisure adventures, probably the most beautiful one you can do is the Three Lakes route. This is essentially a sightseeing tour of Northern Switzerland with short detours to Germany and Liechtenstein. The tour itself will take you on a 330 km journey along three of the most beautiful Alpine lakes- Bodensee (or Lake Constance), Zurichsee, and Walensee. This route goes around several mighty peaks, opening magnificent views of the world-famous Swiss pastures and the formidable Alpes all around. Not to mention the beauty of the lakes itself.

Of course, Konstanz is a gem of its own, so getting there 2 to 3 days early won’t do you any harm. You can even make a quick one-day 200 km circle around Bodensee to get your blood pumping if you have the urge for a more extreme cycling adventure.

The paths will take you from Konstanz along the mighty Rhein to Schaffhausen and Rheinfall. Next, you will go south to Zurich and southeast to Lachen. The next stop is the capital of the small but extremely beautiful country of Liechtenstein – Vaduz. There you can see the last medieval castle, still used by a monarch – Vaduz Castle. Then, you will go north along the Rhein River and get to the picturesque city of St. Gallen before heading north to Bodensee and back to Konstanz.

The entire ride is 330 km and is genuinely not very formidable. It’s an all-family adventure as it predominantly stays within the valleys surrounding the high mountain tops. Thus, there are rarely any significant climbs. Despite this, give yourself at least 5-7 days to explore the magnificent towns along the road, Zurich and, of course, Vaduz. Moreover, the lakes are quite lovely, and you will lose a lot of time taking those Instagram pictures and TikTok videos, so keep that in mind.

The Alpe Adria Cycle Path

If you are up for a more challenging cross of the Alps, the Alpe Adria Cycling Path is precisely what you were looking for—a 415 km ride from the city of Mozart to the Adriatic Sea. This is the second path crossing the mighty mountain from the north to the south. Though the distance may not sound too formidable – just 415 km it actually requires some stamina and skills. The path will urge you to climb the formidable 5410 m before you descend down to the Adriatic Sea.

The journey begins in Salzburg, where “the hills are alive, with the sound of music…”. Before you even set sail, take your time to appreciate this magnificent city, once a cultural center of the Habsburg empire.

The ride itself can be done in as little as three days. There are no serious climbs along the way, though the first 120 km are entirely climbing. It’s not the steepness that will get you. It’s the distance. After that, you have a long descent with falls flats for another 100 km before you go back to climbing. Thus, the first 230 km can be done in one day easily by a well-rounded cyclist. After the 250th kilometer, the route starts gradually descending to Grado (Italy) at the Adriatic Sea.

If you are for the ride itself and you are well-versed in long-distance rides, you can easily finish this trip in about 30 hours. Still, that’s not the point of the adventure, now, is it? Instead, take your time. Ride 50-60 km. a day and enjoy nature, the coy little towns along the way, and the local cuisine, especially in Italy. Moreover, make sure to finish up by throwing yourself at the Adriatic Sea. Otherwise, what’s the point of going there?

The Alpe Adria Cycling Path is truly a more challenging adventure, and it’s not the perfect place to take your kids if they are not seasoned cyclists. This is more of a challenge, so if you are up to test your stamina, go right ahead.

The Aare Route

Aare river
Interlaken, Switzerland overlooking the Aare River at dusk © Profimedia

Returning to Switzerland, we will follow the crystal clear, mighty, and gorgeous Aare River. It’s one of the symbols of the Alpine country and the only big river that starts and ends in Switzerland. So, what better way to show your appreciation for this mighty river than to follow it from its source to where it flows in the mighty Rhein?

On paper, the route is not too formidable. 2600m of ascension and 4,000 meters of descent. All of this is within the 315 km ride. But before you get started, you will have to climb the marvelous Grimselpass, where you will witness the birth of the mighty Aare. The spring is actually a glacier lake that’s frozen throughout the year. Your best bet is through the train station at Obergoms, which is just 6.8 km away from the start, and you will have to climb just around 400 meters of elevation. The alternative is a 32 km ride with 1500m elevation, so it’s not the best choice if you want to get somewhere on the first day.

Along the route, you will go through some of the most picturesque parts of Switzerland – The Aare Gorge is definitely a must-see, along with Brienzersee, Thunersee, and the beautiful Interlaken. If you have the time, you can even go to Oberhofen am Thunersee and Thun itself. Also, make sure to follow in the locals’ footsteps and enjoy a day of swimming in the Aare in Bern. The capital of Switzerland has a lot more to offer as well.

Along the route, you will also have the opportunity to see Biel/ Bienne and its famous Burgplatz. Don’t miss the Häftli observation tower as well. The view from there will surely make you fall in love with Switzerland.

It’s worth taking at least a week along the Aare, though you can always push yourself and finish it in two days. But this way, you will only pass through this beautiful landscape without having the chance to enjoy its wonders. So, if you are up for this adventure, make sure to take your time and experience the Aare route fully. And, of course, if that route is not formidable enough for you, you can always do it backward. 4000 m of total elevation is genuinely something to look forward to.

La Marmotte cyclosportive

Finally, we have the shortest but toughest route you should consider trying this year. Many professionals will do it in a single day, but if you are up for an adventure and not a challenge, we suggest taking at least four days. We are talking, of course, about the La Marmotte tour. There is even a race along this route, which takes on four of the most challenging climbs in the French Alpes – Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, and, to top it all off, Alpe d’Huez.

The route itself is just 177 km long, but you will have to climb 5887m in total and reach a maximum elevation of 2,642m. So, needless to say, taking this route in a single day is only for the most prepared riders. Still, if you want to try it out, you can always do so on your own terms. Make it in two, three, or four days. After all, each of the four climbs is formidable on its own. Col de la Croix de Fer climb is almost 30 km long with an average gradient of 4.6%. A moderately good rider will take it in about 2,5-3 hours. Col du Telegraphe is relatively shorter, with 11.3km. Unfortunately, it has an average gradient of 7.5%, and right after a short 4km descent, Col du Galibier starts. The 18 km long climb has a 6.87% gradient, which on paper is not that formidable. However, a good section of the climb has a double-digit gradient, making it a genuine nightmare.

Finally, there is the iconic Alpe d’Huez with its 13.2km 8.1% climb. The iconic 21 hairpins await you to finish this adventure in style, just like a Tour de France champion.

So, have you chosen your summer cycling adventure?

Of course, these are just a few Alpine adventures. The world is far and wide, and there is no need to stick to the center of Europe for your summer cycling vacation. Still, if you haven’t done these iconic routes, we highly suggest putting them on your bucket list. They, indeed, are an experience worth your time.