Vespa World Days Croatia
2500 miles, ten countries and the trip of a lifetime by Vespa
Ten countries, two weeks and close to three thousand miles by scooter. It sounded like the perfect way to spend a summer holiday with a few friends and would be much more fun than lying on a boring beach for a fortnight. Like most good ideas this trip originated in the pub. Some of my regular scooter-riding friends were discussing their plans for a summer ride to Croatia for the Vespa World Days event.
My other half was with me and we both decided we couldn’t miss out, even though I’d recently sold my Vespa GTS and would need to buy a new scooter for the trip. Of course, being a classic scooter enthusiast I’ve also got a few geared two-strokes but this was going to be a mile munching ride without any back-up so we needed something quick, reliable and comfortable enough for covering up to 300 miles a day. The Vespa GTS 300 is the perfect tool for the job.
I picked my new scooter up on March the 1st and I’d had a few touring accessories added, gel pads were fitted into the standard seat, a screen was added, front and rear carriers, a TomTom Rider, mirrors with integrated indicators (because the standard front ones would be hidden by luggage). I also had some invisible clear vinyl fitted to protect the paintwork from luggage scuffs and I got a set of excellent soft luggage and panniers from Oxford. I also had a Datatool TRAKKING tracker fitted. Aside from tracking the scooter if it were to get stolen, it also allowed friends and family back home to track our trip in real time; a great way to make them jealous.
With feverish planning and high excitement, June soon came around and last minute checks were made. Dummy luggage was loaded to see if we’d got space for everything and to see how the scooter would handle the weight. It seemed fine on a quick blast locally and my pillion was comfortable enough. Cornering was one of my concerns though; especially with some Alpine passes to cross, so a few roundabouts were used to check ground clearance. Good job I did because the panniers were grounding easily enough without a passenger.
A moving first night in Ypres at the Last Post Ceremony.
The riders: Our group was lead by Taff (the route planner and organiser). We also had Sid (the comedian and chief liability). Planning isn’t Sid’s strong point. He realised he needed to renew his passport the week before we were leaving, it arrived just two days before we left. He also had to borrow a scooter from a mate because his own GTS was condemned during a last minute service. Just getting Sid to the meeting point was a result in itself.
The rest of the team was made up of the following, Dangerous Dave Gould. He’d also bought a new GTS just for this trip and wasn’t as comfortable on it as he is on his Lambretta, as we’d find out on the Stelvio Pass. The fourth rider was Steve Foster, riskily spending his first wedding anniversary on the road with us. Finally there was my fearless pillion, Linsey and myself, plus a few friends we met along the way…
“They were quite impressed at our little tour on scooters!”
Scooters can be fantastic touring machines; they’re comfortable and fairly easy to load. The GTS 300 is usually capable of just over 80mph; so long distances aren’t a problem. Having said that though, the first leg of our journey to meet the others was a bit of a shock. Being two-up meant we had twice as many clothes as everybody else so my panniers were very wide. We also had camping equipment and you could hardly see the scooter beneath our luggage. The head-wind knocked about 12mph off my usual top speed so I felt that this was going to be a very long and slow ride. Thankfully, once we rode off the Eurotunnel in Calais and headed to our first campsite at Ypres in Belgium the headwind had died down and I was able to keep up with the others.
305 miles since leaving home we arrived at our first campsite and quickly chucked our Kyham Biker tents up (fantastic for trips like this, two minutes and you’re in), set up camp and had a lovely shower. We met a load of British Legion bikers at the site. They were quite impressed at our little tour on scooters!
Ypres has a Last Post ceremony at 8pm every night at the Menin Gate and the sound of a lively marching band dragged us out of the first bar. The Irish regimental band was a fantastic sight with drums and flutes playing as the orange order passed. The ceremony itself was quite moving, as the lone bugler played the crowds remained silent; we stood heads bowed and remembered the British soldiers who had died in the area.
Day two, Luxembourg: From Belgium we headed to Luxembourg, a 205-mile boring motorway ride to get through the featureless parts of Belgium as quickly as possible, dodging deep ruts and potholes along the way. A common trait in Belgium.
En route, and by chance, we bumped into two friends from Leeds in a garage, a nice surprise and amazing coincidence. They were on a trip to the Euro rally in Austria by Lambretta.
We arrived on site for 3.30pm and relaxed around the tents in the sunshine. Nine Euros to camp for the night, bargain.
We ended up staying on the campsite with a few cold cans from the shop. We also ordered two cooked chickens. Taff carved/butchered the chickens and shredded the salad Edward Scissorhands style with his trusty knife, which we later found out doubles as his nail clippers, nice. Over a basket of chips and a few baguettes we made friends with a lonesome motorcycling cabbie called Jim and an Aussie cyclist called Michael. It’s always easy to make friends if you’re on two wheels. In proper scooterist style we managed to get Jim drunk and he fell over a few times as we helped him back to his tent.
Day three, Friedrichshafen, Germany:
Sunday morning arrived and we decamped and headed off to Friedrichshafen, leaving before 9.30am. We had a 275-mile ride today through the featureless parts of Luxembourg and France then on into the instant splendour of Germany.
Just over five hours of very hot riding with a maximum speed of 78mph according to my TomTom Rider. As we entered Germany we rode through a police border control (without needing to stop) and spotted a couple of British scooterists on classic scooters who were also heading to Croatia.
We’d arranged to meet up with a few friends (Trev, Ali & Smudger) at the campsite and bumped into them just as we arrived in town. Great timing. The site itself was great; right on the banks of Lake Constance, with the Alps in the distance. We enjoyed a steady few drinks and a Thai curry whilst watching a distant electrical storm over Switzerland. We were disturbed by the storm during the night, a fantastic commotion of overhead thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Thankfully our tent stayed dry and by morning the heavy rain had cleared.
“It’s always easy to make friends if you’re on two wheels”
Day four, Bormio, Italy: For me this is where the holiday really started and is probably one of the best two wheeled experiences I’ve ever had. Setting off in drizzle we did a few miles of motorway, rode through a seven-mile long tunnel, passed through Lichtenstein and into Switzerland.
Overland travel means you often don’t know what country you’re in so we had to ask a puzzled looking cashier at a garage just outside Davos. The scenery is breathtaking, distant glaciers, lush forests, mountain waterfalls, snow, pretty villages and stunning roads.
We only had a relatively short day, (145 miles) but the last 40 miles on the sat nav screen look like a child’s crayon squiggle. If you enjoy cornering then the Umbrail Pass is the place to be. It rises 2501 metres and at times my scooter was down to 25mph flat out. Every couple of miles we had to stop for photo opportunities; beautiful to the extreme.
The road surface is good, apart from the odd part where it turns into a dirt track as road workers repair a section after winter has destroyed the surface. Dave’s scooter boiled-over as we got close to the top and the Italian border. We stopped to let it cool for a few minutes and shared the apricots offered by a couple of jolly Swiss bikers who were amazed to see scooters all the way from England.
We got caught in a rainstorm an hour before Stelvio but out-ran it. The storm trailed us until we reached our overnight stop, no camping tonight. Hotel Folgore is perched amongst the snowfields just 150 metres from the top of Stelvio. Although it was mid June, deep snow drifts still lined the edge of roads that had only opened for the summer two weeks previously. We arrived at the hotel just in time. No sooner had we unpacked and parked the scooters in the underground garage than the cloud arrived, enveloping everything around in a thick fog. The rain followed, then hail and it turned to snow but thankfully didn’t last for too long. Once it cleared we were left with breath-taking views of an Alpine sunset.
“We were left with breathtaking views of an Alpine sunset”
We all had a very restless night in the hotel though. Altitude affects how you sleep and this is the highest place any of us had ever slept, I tossed and turned all night. We had all noticed the air quality had improved as we entered Switzerland but as you get higher things get harder and walking up four flights of stairs with two weeks worth of gear soon makes you breathless.
None of that mattered though the following morning. The sun was shining and the mountain views were immense. Although it seemed strange to see skiers outside the hotel windows as we ate breakfast. Our scooters were soon packed up and we were away from the hotel by 9.30, as usual, excited for the day ahead and finally being able to ride the Stelvio Pass. A place I’d dreamt of riding to.
Day five, Spittal an der Drau, Austria:
Stelvio is an awe-inspiring place, the views are better than you can imagine, scenery is out of this world and the corners are endless. If this place is on your bucket list then make sure you ride it.
You will have ridden faster, better corners but you won’t ride as many in one go, ever. In the words of Dave Gould, a man who barely worries the knobbles on his tyres, “you’ll talk about riding Stelvio for a lot longer than you’ll spend riding it.”
It’s true, you’ll bore friends forever with tales of heroics. Stelvio was busy, with loads of bikes, sports cars, crazy cyclists and a few scooters. This was on a Tuesday in early June so summer weekends must be hectic. We stopped quite a few times on the way down to take riding shots of each other, you’d ride around a hairpin and one of our group would be lying on the floor with cameraphone in hand, there’s also an official Stelvio photographer if you want to buy an action shot.
We had a 200 mile day again today so had to press on, but still weren’t sure what country we were in and even though the Italian houses and road signs had changed to what we thought were Austrian we were still surprised to find out we’d not crossed the border when we stopped for lunch. The scenery got better and better as the day went on, the Dolomites towered on all sides, imposing and dramatic, snow tipped peaks, pine forests, wooden chalets, ski villages…
“You’ll talk about riding Stelvio for a lot longer than you’ll spend riding it”
Italy morphed into Austria somewhere along the way and it was just as pretty as you’d imagine. Our campsite in Spittal an der Drau was nestling on the banks of an ocean sized Austrian lake. With people swimming, hiring boats and having fun it was just like an inland seaside resort.
Despite being hot the wind started to get up during the evening and the heavens opened, turning torrential for a couple of hours whilst we sheltered in a bar with a few beers. So far we’d been lucky enough to miss most of the rain whilst riding and our tents had all stayed dry.
Tomorrow we’ll be arriving in sunny Croatia. Tune in to the second part of this feature to find out if our epic riders finally need to use a passport, and whether Croatian Pan beer is really worth £1 a bottle.