“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is a saying I have heard many times. Occasionally, I agree with this and at others times, a road trip has a specific destination, or a specific event to attend. The road trip two of us did to go to the 20th Harley-Davidson European HOG Rally in Biograd, Croatia, had both a great journey and a great destination. It was some of the best riding I have ever done, on some fantastic roads across much of Europe. We did 1,600 miles to do across France, Italy and Croatia to get there. I was riding my main touring bike, The Leading Ladies and my friend Ian Solley of 7Ages Custom Motorcycles was on one of his wonderful custom bikes, a 1970 H-D called Richard II.
I met Ian in Folkestone, at the Channel Tunnel rail terminal, where our bikes and us were loaded onto one of the high-speed trains that travel under the sea to get to France.
Day 1 saw us riding 495 miles through the least interesting flat, northern half of France as quickly as possible in order to get to the much more interesting, twisty and mountainous southern half. On our second day we rode 365 across the Alps to Turin, in Italy. It didn’t take long for us to see the first snow on the Alps. We thought it looked pretty high up and we didn’t even think that it might affect our journey, but we were wrong. We were due to ride the L’Iseran Pass across the Alps as we wanted to see a ski resort called Val-D’Isere on the way. Unfortunately, it was closed and we had to do about a hundred mile detour via the St Bernard Pass to get into Italy. That night we stayed at a hotel in Turin that was the old Fiat factory and used as one of the locations in the film, the Italian Job.
After hitting the traffic around Milan, we rode along the eastern shore of the stunningly beautiful Lake Como before heading to one of the highlights of the tour – we were due to ride the famous Stelvio Pass, is said to be one of the best, if not THE best driving / riding road in the world. This is a winding, twisting road with long sweeping bends and a number of tight hairpin bends, all set in glorious scenery. Set high in the Alps, the road is a must-do for any petrol-head and in planning the route through Italy, this was the one road that we just had to do. We got to the start of the road, ready to test our riding skills on this road of roads, to find the pass….. SHUT. Shit, we had travelled well out of our way just to ride this road and in truth, had probably added a whole day to our route just to ride this road. A seventy mile diversion into Switzerland soon had us heading in the right direction again and we stopped for the night in the Italian city of Bolzano. Having to re-plan our journey, we rode on day 4 not to Venice as anticipated, but we headed instead to the Dolomites, in the eastern Alps. Located to the east of Bolzano, this mountain range is in north east Italy and, well, it surprised both Ian and myself. What a stunning mountain range the Dolomites are. On spectacular roads, we passed tall peaks, fast flowing rivers and still lakes. We saw magnificent trees and glorious vistas. In the morning, the high elevations we rode at lowered the temperature, only to be beaten back up as the sun triumphed in the afternoon and the mercury rose to just under 90F. It was simply fantastic!
We stayed that night in Trieste, on the eastern border of Italy, and the next day we crossed the border into Slovenia and then into Croatia. As part of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav wars took place between 1991 and 1995. These were complex and involved many different peoples, but especially the Serbs and the Croats. The conflict was extremely bitter and resulted in many deaths, with some leaders being tried for war crimes since the war ended. As visitors, little evidence can be seen of the war, although talking to some Croatians just 16 years after the war ended, a great deal is remembered about what happened here and it was pointed out to us where shelling took place by hostile forces near to where the HOG rally was we were attending. However, it is easy to forget those conflicts as you ride along such a beautiful coastline. The coast road is narrow and twisty, following the shape of the sea it runs along and it reminded Ian and I of the Pacific Coast Highway in California. It really is that good.
As we got nearer to Biograd, the location for the HOG Festival, we saw more and more Harley-Davidsons on the road, from all over Europe. As we rolled into Biograd after 1611 miles on the road, we reflected on a fantastic ride through some terrific scenery over five days of riding great roads in incredibly good weather. It doesn’t get much better than that. And there was still the HOG Festival to look forward to! Overall, the rally was a tremendous success, with many people saying it was one of the best they had ever been to. Initially I had wondered whether Croatia would be a good location and I was wrong – it was a great place for a H-D rally. There were so many riders from all over Europe attending including the more eastern European countries and this was a great chance to see how the east lives, especially in the motorcycle community.