where to goreturn to home

Obviously, this is a personal question. Everyone has their own holy grail in travel. Since this site is tackling Europe (so far, and let’s specify Western Europe) there are a few places you really, really should go if you can. And plenty worth skipping. Can’t be bothered reading the whole page? Go high to the mountains, skip the windy plains. Read on if you want more detail.

Of all the places we visited, the ones which delivered the best rides were the mountainous ones. Switzerland is stunning by road, as is Austria. Where it’s flat, the roads are straighter, windier, and generally less fun, if swifter. The Grossglockner Alpine Highway in Austria was a magnificent highlight, though it’s only open in summer, and is well travelled by bikers. Many coastal roads in Italy make for fantastic riding too, anything Alpine. The Perigord region of France is peppered with castle-topped hills, and other areas near Cahors and Languedoc-Roussillon offered a varied and interesting landscape. The Gorges du Verdon in southern France, north of Cannes and Nice, were spectacular.

In general terms, though, the feel of driving in a country will govern the time you have riding there. Here, a few broad strokes will provide a few generalisations about various countries’ driving styles. They’re not meant to offend anyone, and are just a few random observations about the experience we had as foreigners on a scooter.

First off the ranks has to be France, where the aggressive, fast driving style tends to get in the way of a leisurely cruise. Prepare to be overtaken at high speed. In Italy, though the driving is as fast, it’s more fluid, and more importantly, two wheeled vehicles are given much greater respect than in France. The centre of the road is reserved almost exclusively for scooters and the occasional motorbike, and cars get out of your way. Prepare to overtake at every opportunity. It is expected of you. Italy is a dream for bike touring, but don’t amble.

Germanic countries are slower and more polite. Speed limits are observed, and pedestrian crossings are not target areas. Of course, in Germany, the autobahn is limit free, but in practice, you’ll be in a queue of vehicles in the fast lane overtaking a queue of trucks in the slow. Off the autobahns, riding is pleasant and fast enough for a scooter tourist. Beware: through Switzerland, only the German-speaking parts show a truly Germanic driving style, and the French-speaking parts are... faster. You’ll notice a more obvious difference when you cross a national border.

The Netherlands (Holland) and Belgium are somewhat in between, not as demanding as driving in France can be, not as ordered as Germany. Belgium has a bad reputation internationally for driving skill, and licenses have been compulsory only for the last few decades. The “nutbag ratio” (lunatics to normal, safe drivers) was maybe slightly higher in Belgium than The Netherlands. Oh, while we’re on nutbags, I should probably say while I can that the “low-level-nutbag” ratio in France was sometimes as high as one in ten, very high, the “high-level-nutbag” ratio was highest in Italy, at maybe one in twenty-five. What does that mean? If we’re broadly generalising, without meaning to cause offence, etc., the nutters in France aren’t as crazy as the nutters in Italy, but there are more of them.

And of course, there are plenty of safe drivers everywhere. Only the nutbags are memorable.