Great roads on the cheap
13 June 2014 12:13
We all dream of long, empty mountain passes in foreign countries – of the sun on our backs, winding roads and a cool beer at the end of the day – yet many of us are put off by the cost of an adventure in Europe.
The reality is you don’t need specialist touring luggage, kit or an investment banker’s wallet to find Europe’s best roads. Here’s how to do it on the cheap.
Five hundred thousand years ago a great dragon stopped to rest on the high northern ridge, Bühlerhöhe, deep in Germany’s Black Forest. With its mighty tail unravelled and coiling down the mountain, the dragon flared its nostrils and breathed a deep fog over the forest.
When the mist finally lifted the beast had gone. All that remained was a swirling path of fallen trees left by its tail… the B500.
I shift the Honda CBR600RR into third and then fourth gear as my head dips behind its screen. Flashes of flickering yellow light bounce off the screen as the sun finds its way through the overhanging branches and lights the road ahead.
My fingers cover the brake as I pre-empt the imminent left hand sweeper but I simply go down one gear, lean and let the CBR glide round, the snaking Tarmac widening as the trees part to reveal a thick forest below.
Yes, a dragon makes perfect sense. How else can a road so skilfully and perfectly crafted have come to be built deep in this remote woodland? There’s no way a route this beautiful could have been built by man. It is unnaturally flawless.
With the CBR screaming beneath me I spend the entire day chasing the dragon’s tail along the B500: through a finely balanced blend of hairpins, lefts, rights and long, fast sweepers. A two-year-old with a crayon couldn’t have drawn more twists, curls and whirls.
Whether you start north or south, the road etches high up the spine of a green mountain that incites you to ride and ride. You’ve got 40 miles of it, which means you can ride at least four good laps in a single day, practising and perfecting your lines.
And if you remember the simple trick of saving all your pennies for the fuel tank you can have all of this, to here and home again, for just £250.
• Check what your bank charges for using ATMs abroad. It may be cheaper to exchange money before you go.
• The Channel Tunnel is more flexible than the ferry with a two-hour window either side of your booking time and it’s a quicker service.
• Avoid toll roads and anything that tries to snatch precious money away from your fuel kitty. It’s about conserving the petrol pennies.
• ‘Schnapps stations’ with honesty boxes are peppered around the Black Forest. Pay 60p, take a shot, wash your glass and leave it as you found it.
The first day is easy. Have breakfast at home and make an early dash for Folkestone. The Channel Tunnel is quietest mid-afternoon weekdays and if you book far enough in advance you’ll get prices down to £12.
The most cost effective way to the Black Forest is via Belgium and Luxembourg, avoiding all the French tolls. It’s 420 miles and Google Maps says it takes 6hrs 25mins.
If you don’t mind paying the £30 for a French toll route then go through France and knock 12 miles and 40 minutes off your journey. But keep in mind petrol is more expensive in France.
You can save a mini fortune by not spending on motorways. Try pulling off at major junctions and you’ll always find a supermarket with an attached petrol station and cheaper fuel prices.
Everything’s cheaper in Germany than in France, so wait until you cross the border for dinner.
This is what it’s all about; a day riding one of the most beautiful roads in Europe. The B500 runs 40 miles from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt. As the road runs back down the mountain the sun warms the back of your neck, sweet-talking you into another go.
The northern section along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße is the most exhilarating with spectacular views over the Rhine. The weather can be temperamental. In the morning I faced thick, egg white fog but it was nothing a coffee break at one of many local biker huts couldn’t disperse.
Breakfast is included in last night’s hotel bill, so you’ve only got to buy one lunch before you get to the tunnel.
If you don’t fancy the same route back then blast along a French toll road. But if you have time on your side pick a route which veers off the motorway, hugs the Rhine and heads deep into the bucolic Belgian countryside.
Finding a rhythm eases the pressure of big miles so split your day up into 100-mile stints with a quick stop for water, coffee and fuel – it’s smoother than riding as hard as you can for as long as you can. Either way, you’ll be back in time for tea. Easy.
Why stay at an impersonal and expensive hotel when you can stay at a family run pension with beautiful views of the Black Forest?
Pension Williams is run by an English couple in Seebach, along the B500, and it is just £26 a night (including breakfast). The place is a biker magnet and you’ll feel right at home.
Stop at a petrol station on a motorway and find the same old, bland ‘jambon’ baguette for £5, add another £2 for a bottle of water and we’re getting onto dangerous territory.
Instead, pull off the motorway and head into a village for a quaint café or bakery. A jumbo croissant, pizza slice and a bottle of juice will set you back as little as £2.
Petrol in France costs similar to the UK at £1.34/litre. Exit the motorway at a major junction and top up at a supermarket for a 10p/litre discount.
Better yet, go through Belgium and Luxembourg to enjoy fuel at around £1.09/litre. Germany’s not far behind at £1.24. Viamichelin.com is a great site for calculating routes and fuel costs.