Alpe-Adria and Parenzana Bike Trails
Journal

16th to 25th May, 2022

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Note: This is David/s private journal, which you are welcome to read. It was not written with literary merit in mind, but simply as an aide mémoire for the future.


David's Odometer at start = 14'204 km
David's Odometer at end = 14'819 km
Total distance = 615 km


Introduction

Our intention was to travel to Salzburg by train, follow the Alpe-Adria cycle track to its end in Grado on the Adriatic coast, cycle on around the coast to Trieste, and then attempt to follow the so-called Parenzana cycle trail through Slovenia and Croatia ending up in Poreč on the Istrian peninsula coast. Georg had cycled the Alpe-Adria route with a group last year on his e-bike, so was familiar with the first part of our planned route. The second part was expected to be more of an adventure. We had no trustworthy description of the route, and all accounts that we could find on the Internet recommended it as a mountain bike trail.


Monday, 16th May     Riniken - Zurich - Salzburg - Golling 43 km in 2:30 h cycling time

As half expected, but not as planned, Georg turned up in Riniken on his e-bike rather than his normal bike at 8:30 am. The plan was for Kari to drive us to Altstetten to get us on our way. I told him to go by train because of his bike's weight.

Kari took me to Altstetten from where it was a simple 5 km ride to Zurich main station. Georg turned up in due course. It was tight getting the bikes on the train, but we managed, and had a comfortable journey to Salzburg arriving on time at 4 pm.

The cycle ride to the pre-booked hotel in Golling was straightforward but wet. The rain started gently soon after leaving Salzburg following the River Salzach upstream, but got gradually heavier. We left the station at about 4:20 pm and were at the hotel by about 6:30 pm, quite damp and mucky (wet gravel tracks) after cycling 38 km. We were forcing the pace a bit, which probably encouraged the threat of saddle sores.

We heard a cuckoo on the way.


Tuesday, 17th May     Golling - Werfen - Dorfgastein - Bad Gastein - Mallnitz 86 km in 6:03 h

This was a long, brutal day. The weather was good, progress was good, the scenery was excellent, the cycle track was also excellent, but the final climb up to and through Bad Gastein was absolutely brutal.

I had to push quite a lot of it, taking frequent rests for breath. After 70 km of mainly uphill cycling, I was naturally tired and probably in need of food. But I also had the feeling that the altitude, even though the elevation of the town is only a modest 1000 m, was getting to me.

We had left Kolling at about 8:30 am and finally reached the Taufenschleuse railway station and its vehicle transport a few km beyond Bad Gastein at about 5:30 pm. We took the 6:20 pm train through the Tauern massif to the Austrian state of Kärnten and the tourist town of Mallnitz.

The first hotel that we tried, the Kärntnerhof, had room for us, and the only restaurant that was open in the village served us its standard fare of pizza. It wasn't the best pizza that we have had, but was welcome all the same.

We heard quite a few cuckoos during the day.


Wednesday, 18th May     Mallnitz - Spittal - Millstatt 63 km in 4:00 h

This was supposed to have been a rest day, namely a simple 45 km mainly downhill to the Millstättersee near Spittal-an-der-Drau and a guest house where Georg had stayed last year.

It started well, zooming down the hill for 8 km to Obervellach on the main road. There is an alternative route via Dösental, but this is closed for the present due to road construction. From there we simply followed the cycle track down Mölltal towards Spittal. It was more up and down than expected with occasional rather rough gravel, but it was a very pleasant ride. At Möllbrücke the River Möll runs into the River Drau, which is followed to Spittal.

The trouble started in Spittal with only a few km to go off the trail and up to the Millstättersee. Georg, with his e-bike, had apparently not done enough for the day and wanted to go on to Villach and the Ossiachersee instead. We had already done some 45 km or so and Villach was going to be another 40 km plus whatever extra was needed to get to the Ossiachersee.

I was tired from yesterday's exertions and was also nursing some threatening saddle soreness as a result of ignoring symptoms on Monday's ride up to Golling. So I vetoed this suggestion. We went up to the Millstättersee as originally planned. It's about 5 km from Spittal, gently uphill to Seeboden. The road is rather busy, following the river that drains the lake and flows into the Drau in Spittal.

Of course, when we got to the town Georg couldn't remember where the guest house was. With help from the tourist office we eventually found it, and also found that it had not yet opened for the summer season. We returned to the tourist office to find an alternative. The alternative turned out to be a long way out of town up a steep hill. Given that we were going to have to return to the town for evening meal I rebelled half way there and cancelled the reservation.

We decided to continue around the lake clockwise in the direction that Georg thought that they had cycled last year, looking for accommodation in our price range and nearer to the lake. After 3 km or so Georg called a stop. He was no longer sure if he had really cycled in this direction last year. We had to decide between continuing or returning to Spittal. The decision was made more difficult because our Bikeline guide didn't have any information on this deviation from the Alpe-Adria Trail, and I feared a serious climb at the top end of the lake to get back to the Trail in Villach.

We decided to continue clockwise anyway, and ended up in the tourist office of Millstatt, the town giving the lake its name. We were lucky. They directed us to the Gasthouse Sonne just a bit further along the lake in the suburb of Pesenthein. It's a very comfortable, affordable hotel, but our 40 km rest day had turned into a long 60+ km day by this time.

There was a bistro across the road on the lakeside. We went to it for evening meal and had a very good schnitzel with good wine and a grappa. The patron of the bistro was extremely friendly, offering us a schnaps concoction that he had created during the Covid-lockdown. He had made it by distilling beer! Interesting though its taste was, I don't think it's likely to catch on. He also said that continuing along the lake was a good way of getting to Villach by bike. That was very reassuring.


Thursday, 19th May     Millstatt - Villach - Arnoldstein - Tarvisio 79 km in 5:00 h

The hotel breakfast was a feast - the biggest buffet breakfast that I have ever seen. We fed well, including freshly made scrambled eggs.

The goals for the day were first to reach Villach and then to cross into Italy to spend the night just over the border in Tarvisio. We set off at about 9 am in beautiful weather. My fears of having a big climb to get from the top end of the lake to Villach proved to be unfounded. There was a steady climb through Radenthein up to the Feldsee, but nothing that bottom gear couldn't cope with. After that, the going became quite easy.

From the Feldsee lake there was a lovely valley to follow and the Afritzer See to pass until we reached the plain at the end of the Ossiacher See. Crossing the plain to reach Villach was complicated due to the main roads and autostrade that crossed our way. The sign posting was also rather unclear to us, since we had no map with the cycle route numbers on them. This cost us an extra km or three. After stopping at a cycle workshop to enquire the way, we eventually found the way into Villach for about 12:30 pm. We had stopped along the way for a big ice cream and now it was time for a welcome shandy on the banks of the Drau.

Finding the continuation of the Alpe-Adria trail out of the city proved to be difficult. This was not helped by the fact that I was expecting it to continue along the Drau. In fact it makes a loop in the town, turning off to follow a tributary of the Drau, the River Gail, up towards the 3-country border of Italy, Austria and Slovenia. Of course we found the way in the end with the help of a bit of map studying and sense of direction.

By this time Georg had already phoned a hotel in Tarvisio to book a room. It remained to peddle the remaining 20 km and climb 300 m or so of elevation gain to get there. It wasn't too difficult. From the border we were on a disused railway track that had been transformed into a very good cycle track. We were at the hotel for about 5 pm. The evening meal in the hotel (mixed salad + wine + gnocchi for EUR 23 each) was super. Afterwards we strolled around the town for a bit to find a bar for a digestif before turning in.


Friday, 20th May     Tarvisio - Moggio Udinese - Gemona - Udine 107 km in 5:50 h

Presumably because we are now in Italy, breakfast isn't as regal as we have become accustomed to. But it wasn't that bad. There was even some ham and scrambled eggs to be had. It was a stone's throw from the hotel back onto the disused railway track. It started by climbing for a few km up to its highest point from where it was a simple downward glide for ages and ages.

At one point things went a bit awry for a while. I had got way ahead of Georg and we had lost touch. I stopped at Chiusaforte, a marked feature on the trail with an imposing girder bridge, to wait for him. Alas there were a lot of other cyclists milling around so neither of us spotted the other as Georg sailed by.

I waited for ages and ages, tried texting and phoning him, all to no avail. Finally I decided to go on slowly hoping that he was by now somewhere in front of me and not behind with a puncture. Finally Georg phoned me (his phone had been set to mute!!!) and we made contact again.

Eventually the railway track came to an end and we were plodding through the coastal plain with hills to climb up and run back down again for each village. It got hotter and hotter and Udine didn't seem to get much closer. The trail in this region seems to go around 3 sides of every field. From Tarvisio we had estimated 92 km to get to Udine. It turned out to be 108!

On the way into Udine Georg realised that we were near to the hotel where he had stayed last year. The price was EUR 95 including breakfast, which seemed very reasonable for a hotel in a big city. It was getting on for 6 pm by this time, and we had started to get a bit anxious about finding reasonable accommodation.

We went into the old town to find a restaurant for evening meal. Finding anything other than pizza in such a tourist oriented part of town was difficult, but the pizza turned out to be excellent. By the time we had finished it was pitch dark. It was difficult to find the way back to the hotel, having lost our sense of direction, but Google Maps got us there in the end.


Saturday, 21st May     Udine - Palmanova - Aquileia - Grado 55 km in 3:00 h

The day started well with another very good breakfast. But it then turned very sour as we were picking our way through the old town to find our way out of Udine and onto the trail to Grado. On a not-all-that-rough bit of cobbled street there was a clunk from the back of my bike. We couldn't see anything wrong, but on continuing Georg noticed that my back wheel had a wobble. A spoke had broken.

Fortunately our Bikeline Alpe-Adria guidebook had the addresses of some bicycle shops in Udine, and one was on our intended way out of town. It turned out to be really way out of town, but when we got there it was thankfully open and, even more thankfully, it had a workshop. Within an hour I had a new spoke for the very modest price of EUR 15. There remains, of course, the nagging worry about the state of all the other spokes, and will they be able to cope with the rough Parenzana trail in Croatia.

The rest of the way to Grado was very easy, if rather on the hot side. We stopped in Palmanova for a shandy, and in Aquileia, a town of Roman remains, to share an apple, and were in Grado for about 1:30 pm.

We had fun and games finding the tourist office. It had been relocated and no one had yet had the idea of putting up new signs. When we eventually found it, it was closed! Our main need for the tourist office was to get directions to the hotel, the Hotel Este, that Georg had booked, though we did want information on cycle tracks to Trieste for tomorrow as well. We used Google Maps to find the hotel in the end - much simpler.

The weather was sunny and warm with the balcony of our room in full sun. So I did a lot of washing and hung it all out to dry. It had all dried by evening, even the padded cycle shorts. Georg is having real saddle sore problems so he stayed in the hotel nursing himself whilst I went out to get cycle track information from the tourist office. I took the opportunity to have an aperol-spritz whilst I was about it.

It was still too early to eat when I got back to the hotel, so we put on bathing costumes and walked to the nearest beach for a dip in the Adriatic. It was very pleasant and warm. In an attempt to have a more traditional Italian meal, I had booked our evening meal in the restaurant of a hotel nearby. It turned out very well, though a bit more expensive than usual.


Sunday, 22nd May     Grado - Monfalcone - Trieste - Muggia 35 km in ?:?? h

Breakfast in the hotel would have cost us EUR 12 each, so we set off for once without breakfast. It was about 8 am. In retrospect it was a mistake.

The day's goal was Trieste or possibly a bit further around the bay from Trieste to Muggia on the Italian/Slovanian border. We made good time, but kept to the main road since the winding cycle track along the coast would have added some 40% to the distance. The traffic was not too heavy, but its speed made things uncomfortable.

After 24 km we were in Monfalcone where we had coffee and cake for breakfast. The continuing route looked as though it was a choice between more main road or a hilly cycle track along the coastal foothills. Since neither looked really attractive and Georg's saddle sores really are giving him some trouble, we opted for the train instead. It only cost us EUR 7 each, including the bikes.

We spent a long time finding the tourist office in Trieste - we really must do more practice with our mobile phone route finding capabilities. Once we got there, they were able to find us a room a few km outside Muggia and also advised us to take the ferry across the bay rather than cycling it. We took it and were in Muggia by about 2:15 pm. There were lots of horrible looking jelly fish in the water - quite put me off further dips in the sea!

The hotel was in Aquilinia, a few km from Muggia back along the main road towards Trieste. Again we had a route finding problem due to our map not being detailed enough, and again, there was only one restaurant open in the village. It was pizza again, but it was very good.

Tomorrow Slovenia, and maybe Croatia too.


Monday, 23rd May     Muggia - Koper - Isola - Portoroz - Secovije - Buje 65 km in 4:30 h

Considering the low price of the room (EUR 60) and the rather laid-back attitude of the landlord, I was expecting a very poor breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't up to Austrian standards, but quite acceptable.

Georg had asked the landlord how to get onto the Parenzana cycle route. This question has been bothering me every time I study my 1:100'000 scale map of the Istrian peninsula. The Parenzana trail is marked, but so poorly that it is hard to know what to expect when you get there. His description was to follow the coastal road (not the newer one going up a hill and through a tunnel) to Muggia, which also starts off by going up a hill as it leaves Aquilinia. As one reaches Muggia, the road goes over a river and gets to a roundabout. Turn left here and after a short while bear right and you are there.

This didn't tie up with my map, which indicated getting onto the trail from the centre of Muggia. So we started by tootling into the centre of Muggia on the coastal road, only 3 or 4 km from the hotel, to see what we might find. We didn't find any signposts at all so we went back to the roundabout and followed the road as described by the landlord.

After a few hundred metres we found a road branching off to the right, but no signpost. We went up it anyway, and Lo!, after 50 m or so there was the sign as clear as day. There was a steep, short ramp to get onto the old railway track coming somehow or other from Trieste, and life was wonderful. Subsequent signposting was perfect, the surface was smooth asphalt, and the hills were gentle.

We were soon in Slovenia and everything continued smoothly. We had a shandy in a shopping centre on the way into Koper and reached the resort of Portoroz at about 12:30 pm after cycling 36 km. We found a restaurant, consumed a huge mixed salad, and continued on to the Croatian border, which we reached some 40 minutes later. There was a manned passport control post at the border.

All the reports that we had seen before coming on this trip had led us to expect the worst regarding trail quality and signposting in Croatia. Our map, despite its respectable scale of 1:100'000 could also be clearer, making the mistake of trying to cram too much information into too little space. It indicated that we should turn right after the border, go out along the edge of the salt flats to a hairpin bend. I assumed that the trail would start to climb the hill on our left at this point.

There was a signpost as we left the border control post pointing in the expected direction, so we set off. After a short while we came to a road off to the left with some big sign. There was what seemed to be a big, new hotel up the hill from the border control post, and I assumed the sign was informing us that this was the way up to the hotel. In fact, it was the hairpin bend that we were seeking. O me miserum!

Rather than turning up the road, we continued along the sandy, grassy track along the edge of the salt flats. The track got narrower and narrower and less and less like an official cycle track. In the end, it disappeared into a thicket. We gave up and retraced our tracks. On getting to the turn off that we had ignored, we decided to go up it to see what we might find. And inside a few tens of metres it was clear that we had found the longed for hairpin bend and the true Parenzana cycle track.

The trail really is quite rough gravel, but quite passable. The uphills are moderate, if endless, but by no means as bad as many of the descriptions that I had found on the Internet. A mountain bike with fat tyres would have been very welcome, but my conventional touring bike with 28 inch 700c tyres managed quite all right.

From here on the signposting was really quite good. There's a problem of knowing where exactly one is. The trail goes through the centre of hardly any villages and the topology of the landscape is so complicated that it is hard to find where one is on the map. Despite that, we finally reached the town of Buje by about 3 pm, which is where we were intending to spend the night.

The town is situated on a significant hill giving us the steepest climb of the day. The town is rather run down so finding accommodation was not easy. Fortunately Georg's knowledge of Italian and several difficult phone calls on his mobile phone saved the day so that we ended up at Sergio's Trattoria in a very pleasant room. The evening meal of mushroom soup and calamari was also excellent.


Tuesday, 24th May     Buje - Levade - Vižinada - Poreč 77 km in 5:30 h

Breakfast was, for the first time on this trip, not a buffet. We had to order what we wanted. I forgot to ask for cereal and orange juice, but the ham and eggs, bread, butter, jam and coffee were enough.

Finding the trail again was easy so we were soon slowly climbing the rough gravel track towards Grosnjan, the highest point on the Paranzana trail. The views were superb and the track very green with the occasional tunnel or viaduct. All the tunnels had lighting which turned on automatically as one cycled through. The track surface in the tunnels was also generally good. The viaducts, however, were usually the roughest parts of the whole trail. Fortunately they were short, so pushing over them was not a problem. In fact, it enabled one to enjoy the view better.

After Grosnjan the trail was essentially downhill all the way to the village of Livade on the River Mirna. By this time we had covered nearly 30 km and were feeling rather punch-drunk from the shaking that we were getting from the rough gravel. It was time for a rest and a shandy. The rather posh restaurant in the village was not open yet, and they informed us of the fact in a rather unfriendly way. Fortunately there was also a bistro that was open, and also a small store where we could buy some fruit.

The next town on the route is Motovun, perched prominently on top of a hill just like Buje. The trail climbed steadily, bypassing the town. We resisted the temptation to make a detour and visit it. It looked as though some serious hill climbing would be involved.

Eventually we reached the village of Vižinada. According to most reports that we had seen before coming, and from all the notice boards along the route, the Paranzana trail should end here. But it doesn't. At least the signposting doesn't stop. It continued, and could be easily followed, all the way through Višnjan and on to the outskirts of Poreč. Here route finding got difficult because of the urban sprawl and bypasses around Poreč.

We ended up on a bypass and expended quite a bit of energy following signs to Poreč centre. In our opinion the signposting was incomplete, if not simply misleading. We found the way into the centre of Poreč in the end after asking the way at a petrol station.

At this point, Georg wanted to prolong the tour by cycling down the west coast of Istria to Pula at its southern tip. This did not appeal to me. I'm sure it's a busy road with a lot of tourist traffic. I was also not interested in continuing to keep pace with an e-bike, now that there was no longer any route-finding challenge. I insisted on heading home from here. We're booked into Hotel Poreč on the waterfront for the night and have reserved a place on a fast ferry to Venice in the morning. From there, we're hoping to be able to catch a train to Zurich.

We had the worst evening meal of the trip this evening. It was grilled meat on skewers, and was very dry. It needed a lot of wine to wash it down.


Wednesday, 25th May     Poreč - Venice - Zurich - Riniken 5 km in 0:25 h

Georg had done a tour of the harbour last night to find the best offer for getting to Venice by boat. We had considered a bike-taxi to Trieste but ended up opting for a boat instead. Apart from the EUR 70 each, the cost of the trip entailed foregoing breakfast at the hotel since we had to be at the harbour for 7 am. As compensation the hotel prepared us a packed lunch each. The boat, a fast catamaran, was scheduled to leave at 7:30 am. It was all a bit stressful. Georg is not at his best in the morning, so I had set the alarm for 5:55 am. It was probably 30 minutes too early in hindsight, but didn't really hurt.

Things were a bit chaotic when we got to the boat. It wasn't clear whether the fare was to be paid in EUR or HKR, and there was a queue for a passport check. The passport office didn't open until about 7:15 am, by which time there must have been well over 100 people waiting, most of them students having an organised day out to Venice.

Despite that, we were only some 5 minutes late setting off and the boat was really fast and quite comfortable. It took about 2 hours to reach the entrance to Venice harbour, and another half hour chugging past many of the Venetian sights to get to the berth. There followed a tedious queue for an immigration check. That seemed really rather bureaucratic since just about all of the passengers except the two of us were on a day-trip guided tour of the city.

For us, the first stop in Venice was Venice St Louis station, luckily only 1 km from the berth, to try to get train tickets to Zurich. We knew that there was a through train at 01:18 pm, about 2:30 hours away, but had been unable to make bicycle reservations on it via the Internet. It turned out that we needed over half of the available time to do it at the ticket office. At the first try, the official said that we had to make the bike reservations via the SBB. After phoning the SBB with great difficulty because of the background noise, they told us that was not the case. On trying the ticket office a second time we got a more helpful official, who was able to sell us the tickets. Total price per person, including bicycle and reservations, was EUR 100.00, which we found very reasonable.

Given the time and energy expended in getting the tickets, we passed on going to see the sights and had a coffee and ice cream instead. The train journey was very comfortable. We were in Zurich for 7:30 pm and home for 9.


Hotel/Guesthouse List

Town Hotel Name Breakfast
included?
Price (incl. Tax) per Night for
2 People, 1 Room
Telephone
Golling Hotel Goldener Ochs Yes € 93.25 +43 6244 4372
Mallnitz Hotel Kärntnerhof Yes € 91.60 +43 4784 413
Pesenthein
(2 km east of Millstatt)
Appartementhaus Sonne Yes € 85.00 +43 676 6740 331
Tarvisio Hotel Haberl Yes € 99.00 +39 0428 2233
Udine Hotel Ramandolo Yes € 95.00 +39 0432 470 994
Grado Hotel Villa d'Este No € 84.20 +39 0431 80702
Aquilinia
(4 km west of Muggia)
Pensione Oasi Yes € 60.00 +39 040 23 17 45
Buje Trattoria Sergio Yes € 74.00 +385 5277 2005
Poreč Hotel Poreč Yes € 99.00 +385 52 451 811