By mutual consent, yesterday became an impromptu day off. We were both tired, and the weather wasn’t great. So we spent the morning in Graz’s posh new avant garde art museum, with fine views over the town. Ok, mostly in the cafe.
We caught an afternoon train to Bruck, and checked in to a wacky place in a converted 15th century bath house. Bruck is a nice old town that reminded us in many ways of Ripon.
It’s sunny again today, but chilly, and we’ve ridden the 40 miles up the Murz valley. This was a pleasant mix of houses and fields, getting steeper all the way to the summit at 1070m. This place has skiing and downhill biking from the summit, alongside turn of the century spa hotels. The pass is famous for the very looping rail line, with spectacular viaducts, that climbs the steep side from Vienna. It linked the capital to the sea at the height of the AH empire. We hope to take a look as we fly down tomorrow.
This was an easy mornings cycling close beside the Mur. Cloudy weather and cool at 15C, but at least it stayed dry. We had knocked it off by soon after 12, and had a nourishing soup in Graz before checking early into the grandest hotel in the middle of town.
This afternoon we ascended to the remains of the old Schloss by means of a modern lift built deep in the rock and reached by a tunnel. All very James Bond. Tes and apfelstrudel on the terrace cafe.
Revived, we visited one of the best city museums ever, telling the history of Graz in 4 rooms. Very well done indeed. And booked a table at an American restaurant for later this evening. We fancy a change from Austrian cuisine.
Last night in Ptuj we explored the castle and had a good fish dinner at the Anglers Arms by the river.
The Muzicafe provided an excellent vegetarian breakfast, after which we set off for Maribor, the second biggest city in Slovenia. There was rain on the forecast and we could see heavy clouds to the west. But we had a good morning following the Drava valley upstream. The approach to Maribor gave good views of the town.
Maribor was almost destroyed in the war, and only a small amount of the old town remains. We had planned to spend some time exploring, but the heavy rain arrived as we did, so we settled for a long lunch instead!
Luckily, neither of us minds riding in the rain, in fact we seem to quite enjoy it, because this was a wet afternoon. We headed north and fairly soon had crossed some low hills and descended to the Austrian border. There was fencing and there were border guards, but noone was interested in two wet cyclists.
The final section followed our final river, the Mur. For the first time since leaving Austria we were back on purpose made, car free, smooth tarmac bike paths. Slovenia was great, but Austria is so cycle friendly its hard to beat.
Tonight we’re in an immaculate apartment with all mod cons, having just wolfed a meal in the local pub restaurant. The rain has stopped. This was the view from my table.
This was a great day’s cycling, but harder than yesterday at over 50 miles and 3000 feet of ascent. We started early to beat the heat.
The first section was up the valley to Celje – quite a large town with a castle towering above.
Our coffee stop at a cafe with stylish modern furnishings turned into a crèche, with babies being passed around and cooed at.
Then, for the first time on the trip, we left a river valley and headed up across rolling hills. And it rolled pretty seriously! The next 10 miles were very slow indeed. But the countryside was beautiful, a patchwork of meadows and forest.
Finally we crested the last steep climb and cruised down to a river valley – a tributary of the Drava. A minor road led downstream, on the flat valley floor, and a tailwind appeared from nowhere. This was lovely, easy riding.
It was getting seriously hot, 33C on my Garmin. We found a cafe for cold drinks, where the owner told us that this was the last day of summer, with cooler weather forecast from tomorrow. Sounds ok to us, I must say.
One final climb saw us onto the floodplain of the river Drava, the same river we had followed from Obervellach down to Villach. Here in Ptuj it’s very big, and we stopped on the bridge to admire Ptuj castle above the red roofs of the town.
Tonight we’re in the Music Cafe – with an eclectic play list that we are enjoying in the tranquility of their tea garden. We’ll wait for the heat to relent a little before venturing out to explore.
Ljubljana was a great place for a day off yesterday. We went up the funicular to the castle, visited the town museum for a fascinating account of the transition from communism, and had a brilliant seafood platter. A varied and enjoyable day. It’s a very young city, with lots of trendy bars, so we fitted in well. Helen says all the old people have been banished to the outlying villages.
This morning we returned to a great breakfast cafe for English breakfast before hitting the road again. We spent most of the day following the Sava river valley downstream, through small villages, mostly on back roads, sometimes dirt roads. The cycling was fairly easy and we made good progress on rested legs.
We are no longer on a recognised cycling route, so coffee stops in random places mean that we are the centre of attention. We haven’t had this experience since Rumania. The valley grew gradually narrowed until it was a wooded gorge, with eagles passing overhead. At one point a sign announced that the road was closed 2.5 km ahead. (Yes, our Slovenian is improving – Helen can even order two beers) but we pressed on in hope and were rewarded with brand new tarmac just waiting for white lines. A smooth surface and no traffic! Just dodge the road repair trucks.
At Zidani Most we turned north up a side to reach tonight’s destination. This is the best and the most expensive spa resort in Slovenia. So we’ve checked into the cheap and cheerful motel and swimming pool complex just down the road! We’ve just had our chips while watching the kids playing in the water. Our holidays are nothing if not varied.
Lake Bled was very peaceful first thing in the morning, and we had a quiet breakfast at the hotel next door. We were a bit sad to leave – it’s a ridiculously beautiful spot!
But we were off to Ljubljana, some 40 miles away. The route was through small villages, on back roads in attractive countryside. There were old fashioned farms, one with the full gamut of eye-spy farm animals in the farmyard.
No touring cyclists here, but many locals on bikes. A coffee stop emerged just when required, but this time we shared it with truck drivers rather than holiday makers. It reminded us of cycling in Romania.
The highlight of the day was the medieval town of Skofja Loka, with its 600 year old stone arched bridge and ancient buildings.
We sat drinking tea at a cafe, under a huge old linden tree.
The final leg into the city was also good, finishing on a good cycle path beside the main road into town. We have settled into a lovely flat, just under the castle, and we’re here for two nights. Tomorrow is the first official rest day of the trip, and we’re looking forward to exploring Ljubljana.
Okay, so we were pretty tired after 6 days riding, and so we decided to cut today’s planned 55 miles down to size by judicious use of a train. But first we had a lazy Sunday morning in Villach. It felt pretty much like a holiday.
Then it was back into adventure travel mode as we boarded an ancient Slovakian train for a (very slow) trip through an enormous tunnel to Jesenice in Slovenia – a new country for us.
The valley where we got off the train is lined with old steel works, but the woods above are beautiful. A steep climb through the trees led to prettier alpine country, and then to Lake Bled.
This is the ultimate tourist hotspot, and it took us a while to find a quiet place for a drink. The place seems to attract English girls on interrail, and plenty of Americans. But it really is a stunningly beautiful lake, with its wooded hills, castle on a cliff, romantics island with church, and distant views of the high alps.
Our guesthouse by the lake means we’ve been able to wander round after the crowds have left. Lovely!
This should have been a straightforward descent of the Drau valley. It started ok, and the 20 miles to Spital am der Drau went ok, with a good coffee stop en route.
Then Helen’s chain broke again. We had offers of help from the 6 young women from the day before (we had been leapfrogging each other) but I had the link extracor out and went to work. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the link to close properly, because the tool is too broad. And I suspect the same happened when I mended it two days ago. We needed a new chain, professionally fitted. We were just on the edge of town but Google maps showed no bike shops. Worse still, it was 12:10 on Saturday, and Saturday pm closing is the norm, as well as Sunday. In an inspired moment Helen asked some young kids who were passing, and one very confidently pulled out his phone and showed us where it was. We pedalled there as furiously as we dared on a dodgy chain, arrived just as it was closing at 12:30 and talked the mechanic into fitting a new chain – very quickly! Phew! That was close.
Bike shop staff are the salt of the earth.
The rest of the ride to Villach was fairly gentle, and now we’re in a huge old 4* hotel in the centre of town.
This was the first time that we’ve ever cycled over any of the same ground as on a previous trip. So for an hour or so we descended the Salzach valley, as we had in 2014. But this time we turned south, climbing steeply up the valley side to reach a high alpine valley with an entrance gorge that was so narrow that the road was tunneled for nesrly 2 miles. Luckily the tunnel had a segregated cycle lane, but it was noisy.
Now we were on the Alpe-Adria cycle path, from Salzburg to the sea. We were expecting it to be busy, but not so – just one party of young women.
Bad Gastein is the spa town at the head of the valley. It has seen better days – huge faded hotels. The road climbs very steeply up through the town, which is built right across a spectacular waterfall.
A stop for Coca Cola part way up saved the day. At Bockstein we reached our highest point for this trip at 4133 feet. Here we boarded the car (and bike) shuttle train that ducks under the Alps for just 3 miles or so, linking two blind ended valleys. It’s like a miniature Channel Tunnel train, but it’s been here since 1920. 10 minutes later we were south of the main Alpine chain and swooping down a switchback road to Obervellach.
This is a wonderful, old fashioned guesthouse in this tiny, rural village, looked after by a very kind older woman.
We were sad to leave our immaculate apartment above Kitzbuhel, but breakfast called, and we found a great cafe down in the town.
Then it was on to St Johann for coffee, before the biggest climb so far, over the pass to Zell am See. It was hot this afternoon, and blue skies all the way. Fantastic!
Helen broke her chain towards the end of the ride, but we got it mended, and will hope it doesn’t recur.
The hotel gave us free tickets for a boat tour of the lake – so we had a relaxing hour drinking beer and watching the fabulous scenery. Huge glaciers on the mountains to the south.
For the second night in a row we had dinner on a terrace beside a lake, with trains passing close by!