Book Review: Motorcycle Journeys Through the Alps & Beyond, Fourth Edition

[This Motorcycle Journeys Through the Alps & Beyond, Fourth Edition book review was originally published in the October 2008 issue of Rider magazine]

If you are going to the Alps, bring this book, whether you are taking a group tour or wandering on your own. There may never be another guide to motorcycling in the Alps as complete as those written by John Hermann. If you are on your own it is indispensable, and if you are traveling with a tour, it allows you to go off and have your own adventure.

The Alps, in my opinion, provide the best riding venue in the world–presuming you are not there when the snow starts to fly and the high passes close down. On sunny days from May-September a ride in the Alps can provoke an epiphany, and Hermann’s guide to brilliant motorcycling in these mountains is the almost perfect bible. For more than 30 years he has been gallivanting around these mountains on a motorcycle, and knows them as well as the backs of his own calloused hands.

Fourth edition!? You bet. John Hermann updates his Alps book every five years, as any travel guide requires, making sure that any changes are reported, new restaurants and hotels included, old and no-longer-useful info deleted. And he adds new venues with new editions. This latest book includes both the island of Corsica, and the Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border. But what the book really focuses on is the Alps.

Which is really a collective name for the greatest mountain system in Europe, made up of 18 subdivisions…much as the Rocky Mountains, stretching from Alaska to New Mexico, is in reality a collection of many separate geologic systems. Hermann lists 322 passes in his bagging list, and his highest paved road goes up to La Bonnette at 9,387 feet. For fun I looked up “Alps” in my elderly Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, 1910. That listed more than 500 passes, but many of them were, and are, footpaths…like the 14,515-foot Fuorela Bellavista Pass going from Zermatt in Switzerland to Alagna Valsesia in Italy. That pass is taller than our own Mount Whitney!

Hermann describes 75 different trips in the Alps (plus eight in Corsica and six in the Pyrenees), and gives you advice on where to stay, where to eat. And he knows good places; some years back I was stopping at the charming little Hotel Le Prese in Switzerland, where my parents and grandparents had stayed in times past, and the manager told me that Mr. Hermann had been there the day before.

Each trip is organized so that you can read about it at breakfast; some are loops, bringing you back to the same hotel, others go off in a linear manner. Sensibly he tells you distances in kilometers, pass heights in meters–because that is what you will be dealing with.

I have not ridden his infamous Trip 52, “17 Passes in One Day”–I’m waiting for a fine June day with 18 hours of light. The Passo di San Boldo, part of Trip 53, has long been on my list of passes to bag, but I have yet to get to it…someday. Even if you never thought of riding the Alps, read this book and you will be sorely tempted.

For more information on Motorcycle Journeys Through the Alps & Beyond, Fourth Edition, by John Hermann, contact Whitehorse Press for $29.95; see or call (800) 531-1133


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