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Experiences along the Inn & Adige: By bike from Innsbruck to Bolzano

Saskia and Klaus on tour from Innsbruck to Bolzano

At the end of May – between Ascension Day and Pentecost – my friend Klaus and I finally start our very first cycling adventure through the mountain world. As a mountain enthusiast it quickly became clear to me: it needs to be a cycle tour through the Alps. Varied with not quite as many ascents, since after all we want to attempt the tour without e-bikes and I wanted to experience as many facets of my beloved Alps as possible. The cycle tour from Innsbruck to Bolzano not only met all expectations, but by far exceeded them. It offered impressions which you can only get to know, if you are actively out and about in the landscape powered by your own force and energy. Impressions that really cannot be put into words. I will try anyway – in this very travelogue reporting back to you about my most varied holiday I have ever had so far.

En route in the heart of the Tyrol

Arrival at Innsbruck

Already on the day of arrival, the mighty river Inn is nearly always our constant companion. And it will stay that way for the next two days. Via the Inntal-motorway we head for Innsbruck – the pusating capital of the Alps. In our luggage: lots of anticipation, curiosity and a thirst for adventure. This also helps us overcome the dark rain clouds and the cold temperatures that greet us in Innsbruck. Our Eurobike rental bikes are already waiting for us in front of our Austria Trend Hotel in Innsbruck. The excitement is rising!

But before we finally start pedaling tomorrow morning, we have planned a little tour through Innsbruck today. We stroll through the narrow alleyways of the old town, past the famous Golden Roof ‚Goldenes Dachl‘, take a ride on the ‚Hungerburgbahn‘ funicular and walk a little further along the river Inn, which flows directly past our hotel. Here we can start directly on the cycle path tomorrow morning. At the Eurobike welcome meeting in the evening we find out all the important details about our cycle holiday and get to know our bikes. If the weather now cooperates – then everything is perfect!

Along the Inn cycle path from Innsbruck via Imst to Landeck

On Sunday things really get going. We handed in our suitcases at reception – since we cycle without luggage and only with what we need for the day packed in our saddlebags (marvellous!) – and off to breakfast. There the expectant glance out of the window: what is the weather like? Damn! It is raining. And that is cats and dogs. Not exactly the kind of start we hoped for on our first cycle stage. But we can do it! At some point the sun will come out. What do they say ... ‚When angels travel ...‘

So we cycle the first few kilometres on the Inn cycle path in the rain and what feels like 10 degrees, low clouds hang over the mountain peaks and we concentrate on making headway. There will be time later to marvel at the views and enjoy the scenery, if the sun comes out. Hopefully! My personal highlight on the outskirts of Innsbruck: The cycle path leads directly along the runway of Innsbruck airport. In addition to cycling, you can watch the planes take off and land. This also works in the rain!

And then ... the rain stops, the clouds break up and the sun comes out. Glorious light now spreads out over the Inn river valley. We see the venerable Stams monastery under a blue sky and head for our first well-deserved break. We have tackled almost three quarters of the initial route when the scenery changes and the previously flat river cycle path terrain changes and becomes more mountainous and now leading through beautiful forest, over narrow bridges and lush alpine pastures. The river Inn is turning more and more into a wild mountain river, roaring its way through the Tyrolean mountains. We always cycle within sight and earshot of the river and after in parts athletic ups and downs we reach our Day Finish Imst – a beautiful mountain village situated on an altitude of around 800 metres. Here the Hotel Zum Hirschen in Oberdorf welcomes us with a wonderful pool, small natural swimming pond, cordeal hospitality, cosy rooms and great cuisine.

On the second stage, the initialy 20 kilometres are in parts flat, in parts hilly leading along the Inntal Cycle Path to Landeck. We are already cycling towards Switzerland, however our Day Finish is Italy. In Landeck am Inn we have to make the transfer bus to Nauders, which takes us in the direction of Reschen pass. Our bikes are conveniently transported by the Eurobike bus including bike trailer, which is waiting for us directly at the bus terminal. Here too the logistics work perfectly!  

Unforgettable: the tour over the Reschen pass

The bus from Landeck to Nauders takes about an hour and climbs an impressive 750 metres in altitude, which luckily we do not have to ascend by bike. We say goodbye to the river Inn and dive deep into the mountain world of the Tyrol. Nauders is a pretty mountain village en route to the Reschen pass, which unfortunately greets us today with very dark clouds, wind, rain and even a few snowflakes. But at an altitude of 1400 metres in the middle of the Alps, this is not unusual in early summer and is somehow part and parcel of this adventure of crossing the Alps by bike. In Nauders we grab our bikes again – and start off with a break in a small café located directly on the cycle path.  We allow the thick rain clouds to pass for now and gather our strength for a very special experience that we cannot even fathom at this point: the ride over the Reschen pass to Italy. I am very surprised how many cyclists are out and about here, mountain bikes, racing bikes, tandems and huge luggage. They all have the same destination: Italy!

The 5 kilometres and 100 metres in altitude from Nauders to the Reschen pass and the ride across the border to Italy are among the absolute highlights of the entire cycle tour for us. The cycle path here is a dream leading through alpine meadows, past mighty rocks, snow-capped peaks and cows with cowbells. However the moment when we cycle over the 1508 metre high pass and the first houses on the Italian side greet us, surpasses everything. How many times have you driven past this place in the car, mindlessly? You hardly notice the wind, air, sun or rain, glances out of the window and in a matter of minutes you are on the other side towards the valley. However crossing the Alpine pass powering your own bike, feeling the scenery, the wind and the sun very intensively and seeing the mighty rock faces in the distance rising on Lake Reschensee, where after a few kilometres the route leads downhill on steep terrain, is a feeling we will treasure forever. Wow! We are in South Tyrol! By bike! We started in Innsbruck yesterday morning and now we cycle downhill to the longed-for destination of Italy.

Oh, stunning South Tyrol

Welcome to the Vinschgau region

Do you feel the same? As soon as you are in Bella Italia, you feel lighter, more exhiliarated, more ‚on holiday‘. With a fresh wind we jet down from the Reschen pass towards Lake Reschensee. We cannot spot the lake yet, but already in the distance we are greeted by the mighty rock faces that drop steeply down to the water. What a mighty sight!

We decide to cycle along the right side of the lake, as the route here runs away from traffic on a beautiful slightly hilly cycle path through the meadows and forests. Unfortunately, we do not have much time to take a break at the lake and look at the famous Graun steeple rising out of the lake, since dark rain clouds are breathing down our necks.

And so we pedal swiftly south, always with the rain and wind in tow. From the Lake Reschensee dam wall, over which the cycle path leads directly, we dare to look back in the direction of Lake Reschensee. Mighty South Tyrolean Alpine peaks and pretty Vinschgau mountain villages such as St. Valentin and Burgeis accompany us to Mals, our next Day Finish. Tired and happy we arrive at our accommodation Hotel B&B Hirschen located in the village centre. And another highlight awaits us: the magnificent view of the Ortler-massif, which is offered to us from the hotel window. Oh, how I love the mountains! And since this evening we do not feel like eating out, we spontaneously unpack our disposable BBQ, which we stowed in the saddle bag, and barbecue delicious traditional Vinschgau sausages purchased from the butcher opposite the hotel.

Adige Cycle Path & Apple plantations

What a day! The sun is shining and in front of us one of the most beautiful stages of our cycle tour. We start in Mals, situated on an altitude of 1000 metres and with every kilometre headed towards Merano it feels more and more Mediterranean. One could say that the Mediterranean flair increases with every drop in altitude.  It is getting warmer, sunnier, the vegetation more lush, the attitude towards life more exuberant. 

We cycle in the direction of Glurns, where we are greeted by the river Adige. She will be our almost constant companion until Auer. At this point she still rushes like a wild mountain river and leads us through dreamlike places, vineyards and orchards, past lush green biotopes and gives us a clear view of the gigantic mountain massif of the Ortler and the Stelvio pass. We were particularly impressed by Glurns with its completely preserved city wall – the medieval old town is definitely worth a visit.

Actually, we would like to take a break everywhere in this beautiful nature scenery, enjoy the marvellous views of the small chapels, castles and mountains that we cannot get enough of, sit forever in the idyllic bike bar at the water lily pond at the foot of Julal castle and enjoy life. But we still have a long way to go to Merano, so we marvel at the fantastic Vinschgau landscape from our bikes and look forward to arriving in the picturesque spa town of Merano. We can admire a first glimpse of the city from the „Trauttmansdorffer Throne“ vantage point in Algund. From here we continue downhill in tight serpentines into the fertile Meraner Land. Shortly before Merano we leave the river Adige and turn onto the banks of the river Passer, which we follow to our hotel directly in the centre of Merano. We end the evening cheerfully in the company of other guests of our cycle holiday in a small cocktail bar directly on the rushing river Passer.

Merano – a picture-perfect Garden of Eden

Although we have been spoiled during our cycle holiday by dreamy mountain scenery, Merano is a real feast for the eyes. Since we do not continue any further today and treat ourselves to a bike-free day in Merano, we have enough time to immerse ourselves in this Garden of Eden. Spending two nights in Merano was one of the many reasons why we chose this cycle route. If you want, you can also take a bike trip to the adjacent Passeier valley, which is described as a suggestion in the travel documents. This tour we will definitely save for next time. But since I had never been to Merano before, I wanted to explore the spa town intensively. After a hearty breakfast in our accommodation Hotel Flora & Suites, we went on a sightseeing stroll through the spa district, strolled along the Passer river and marvelled at the small shops in the old arcaded streets.

Then we took the chairlift up to Dorf Tirol, from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the spa town and the surrounding area of Merano. The flair up here is completely different, much more traditional. We hiked along the beautiful panoramic trail, past castles and churches steeped in history, via the Algunder Waalweg-path and the Tappeiner Path back again into the centre of Merano. Everywhere cosy beer gardens with a fantastic view and delicious South Tyrolean dishes. We are absolutely overwhelmed by the blaze of colour, vegetation and scenic beauty with which Merano welcomes us. I have never experienced such a variety of flowers and plants, parks and benches, views and places to enjoy. A city - an area - as beautiful as a paining. Merano, we will be back!

Through the vines to Auer

If you took the direct cycle path from Merano along the river Adige to Bolzano, you would reach the Capital of South Tyrol after 30 kilometres. But we cycle a nice detour via Auer, situated 20 kilometres south of Bolzano, which leads us through lush green vineyards, past the picturesque Lake Caldaro and along great cycle paths. That way we get to know other facets of South Tyrol, whose image is becoming more and more southern and gentle. If the alpine landscape accompanied us until just before the gates of Merano, we have now finally arrived in the Mediterranean atmosphere.

You can already see the silhouette of Bolzano from the left corner of your eye, but that will not be our final stage until tomorrow. Below Sigmundskron castle, which houses one of six Messner Mountain Museums, we turn off the Adige Cycle Path in the direction of Eppan on the South Tyrolean Wine Route.

You could also continue to follow the Adige and ride directly to Auer, however the detour through the vineyards gives us the most beautiful South Tyrolean impressions. The route is significantly more hilly and more demanding than along the river Adige, but also much more varied and packed with cycling highlights.

It starts with two bike tunnels that lead directly into the vines. Then the cheerful bike station above  Frangarto, where we simply had to take a break and then Lake Caldaro, which, framed by mountains and vineyards, exudes a great deal of Mediterranean flair.

What I only got to now on Italy’s cycle paths are the small friendly bike bars or bike stations that are located directly on the cycle route and seem like an oasis for cyclists. A visit here is really worth it. The one on today’s stage could not have been more idyllic. One was situated in middle of the apple orchards, the other between the vines – both directly on the cycle path. And although they are usually well attended (today was a national holiday in Italy), you can still always find a cosy little free spot.

From Lake Caldaro we cycle back in the direction of the river Adige and finally reach our Bio-Hotel Kaufmann located in the dignified wine village of Auer.

Finale in Bolzano

Auer is the southernmost Day Finish of our holiday, so on the last day of cycling we head North again to Bolzano. Today we cycle the direct route on the Adige Cycle Path to the capital of South Tyrol. Anyone traveling with e-bikes can also choose to make a detour from Auer via the Montiggler Lakes (described in the Route Book). But for us, the sometimes steep ascents on the tour alternative are a bit too strenuous, because we are still on the road with non-motorised bikes. So we cycle leisurely and briskly on flat terrain along the river Adige to Bolzano.

On the final stage there are only about 20 kilometres left and so we reach the first houses in Bolzano around noon. We say goodbye to the river Adige, switch to the cycle path along the river Eisack and hence get directly into the vibrant South Tyrolean metropolis. Only now do I comprehend why Bolzano is called a bicycle city. Well-developed cycle paths and a widely ramified network of paths with cycle signs show the importantce of cycling here. Via Waltherplatz square and the historic centre we reach our stately und die Hotel Stiegl Scala situated at the edge of the centre.

We made it! We are in Bolzano! An incredibly varied, eventful and unique cycle holiday lies behind us. We really have to let that sink in first! Wistfully we park our rental bikes, unpack the saddlebags that have served us so well over the past week and set off on foot through the many colourful, lively alleys and arcades in the heart of Bolzano. Even the sky seems to be crying that our cycle holiday is ov er – it is raining!

We end the evening in the cosy beer garden of the Batzen Brewery situated closely to our hotel with exuberant Tyrolean hospitality. The rustic ‚Batzenhäusl‘ was once a popular meeting place for artists and is now a lively inn with its own brewery, which is particularly popular with locals.

Ciao Italia!

It is finally here – the very last day of the holiday. Since our train back to Innsbruck, where our car is waiting in the underground car park, does not leave until the evening, we still have enough time to explore the surroundings of Bolzano. Whilst cycling was still on the agenda yesterday, we take the cable car today, which starts just a few minutes‘ walk from our hotel and can even be used free of charge with the South Tyrol Card. It takes us to Soprabolazno, where we embark on a wonderful circular route through the mountains of the Eisack river valley and marvel at the view of the peaks of the Dolomites.

After that it is time to say goodbye. When we arrive in Innsbruck in the evening and are back in front of the Hotel am Inn, we have come full circle. We started here a week ago. So many impressions and experiences, so many bike kilometres and challenges lie in between.  

To have cycled by one’s own efforts from Innsbruck to Bolzano is an indescribable feeling, which you only really understand when you return to your starting point. Because then you come full circle. We only did the one-hour transfer from Landeck to Nauders by bus, the rest we cycled the entire distance. Weh ave felt wind and weather up close, stayed every day in a different hotel, experienced changing landscapes, places, vegetation, views and people – an incredible feeling and an incredibly eventful tour. 

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