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Alpe-Adria Bike Route: A ride from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea

Sunday 11 February
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The Alpe-Adria bike route is one of Europe's most beautiful and popular cycling paths. In Austria, it's known as the Alpe-Adria Radweg, and in Italy, it's called the Ciclovia Alpe-Adria. The route is famous for crossing the Alps, going from Austria's northern Alps to the Adriatic Sea in Italy. What makes the Alpe-Adria stand out among European bike trails is a special 60-kilometer section that was once a railway in the Alps but is now a bike path. This part has many kilometers of paths that follow the old railway, including tunnels now used only by bikes, as well as beautiful old bridges and train stations that have been brought back to life thanks to bike riders.

The Alpe-Adria bike route's appeal comes from its safe and comfortable riding conditions, with many parts far from car traffic. One section, considered among Europe's best bike paths, follows an old railway from Tarvisio to Udine. The route's varied landscapes add to its charm, starting from the East Alpine scenery, moving through picturesque Carinthia, and ending in the warm Mediterranean climate of the Adriatic. The journey's difficulty changes daily - it begins with two days of easy climbing, followed by a smooth descent into the Villach basin, then another climb, and ends with two days on a gently sloping path to the finish. Along the way, riders can enjoy diverse sights, taste the distinct cuisines of Austria and Italy, and benefit from a bike-friendly tourism setup, including places to stay. All these factors make it an ideal setting for a cycling vacation.

The beginning of the Alpe-Adria bike route is easier to ride than expected, thanks to its path along the Salzach and Gasteiner Ache valleys, which gently slope up towards the High Tauern mountains. In the first two days, cyclists cover around 120 kilometers with just two main climbs - one shortly after passing Schwarzach im Pongau and the other approaching and within Bad Gastein. The first climb has steep parts between 10-15%, and near the Church of Saints Primus and Felician in Bad Gastein, the slope exceeds 16%. However, these climbs are relatively short, about 2-3 kilometers, meaning that cyclists who aren't as experienced can easily walk these sections without losing much time.

We got off the train that passed through a tunnel under the High Tauern mountains and found ourselves in Carinthia for the third year in a row. This beautiful part of Austria is a hub for cycling tourism, attracting riders from all over Europe. Our first trip here was the Great Carinthia Lake Loop, a journey connecting the biggest lakes in Carinthia, starting from Villach. The following year, we took on the Drava bicycle route, celebrated as one of Europe's top cycling paths, with its central and longest stretch cutting through Carinthia. This year, on the Alpe-Adria route, we explored new areas of bike-friendly Carinthia. We started with a ride along the Möll River valley, which flows from the well-known Grossglockner mountain group, and then covered several kilometers in the southern part of Carinthia, facing the initial ascents towards the Julian Alps.

Before reaching Tarvisio, we joined a bike path that follows the route of the old Pontebbana Railway, named after the town of Pontebba, near the former Austro-Italian border. The railway was last used at the end of the 20th century, and between 1985 and 2000, a new, modern, double-track railway was constructed with parallel tunnels through the Alps. After the old railway was abandoned, the tracks were transformed into a bike path by removing the old ties and laying down smooth asphalt. This has attracted cyclists who appreciate the mild incline of no more than 2.2%, offering an easy ride away from road traffic, amidst stunning river and Alpine landscapes. This scenic path stretches for about 60 kilometers between Tarvisio and Gemona del Friuli.

As you leave the charming town of Gemona del Friuli on the Alpe-Adria route, the Alpine scenery comes to an abrupt end, as if sliced away. The landscape flattens, offering a peaceful ambiance. After a few kilometers of gentle slopes, you'll find you need to put in more effort as you head towards the Adriatic Sea. The route passes through fields, meadows, and protected green areas. Noteworthy sights before reaching Udine include the stunning church in Vendoglio, within the larger area of Treppo Grande; the delightful town of Cassacco with its 13th-century palace, which is private and closed to the public; and the increasingly warm breezes that hint at the nearby Adriatic. The paths vary along this section, ranging from asphalt bike paths and local gravel roads to almost field paths and brief stretches on quiet public roads.

The Alpe-Adria bike route exemplifies the best of cycling tourism by transforming old, unused infrastructure into a vibrant cycling path, alongside providing a network of bike-friendly accommodations, eateries, and even special transport services for cyclists. Set against the backdrop of Europe's stunning landscapes, this route not only offers breathtaking views but also introduces riders to a rich mix of cultural, historical, and natural sights. These elements come together perfectly, creating picturesque cycling scenes like those at the old station in Chiusaforte. While it might be a stretch, the Alpe-Adria can be compared to the Velo Dunajec in Poland, which also leads the way in its region. Velo Dunajec too traverses diverse landscapes, follows river paths, boasts cycling bridges, and is developing its network of Bike-Friendly Places. Hopefully, it will be completed in its entirety and achieve the same level of popularity and emotional appeal as the Alpe-Adria.

Check out our entire report from the Alpe-Adria bicycle route in Austria and Italy.

And check out my other articles on

- Rhine Cycle Route in Switzerland
- Loire by bike in France


Thu 14 Mar, 11:23

I cycled this last year. Absolutely loved it, especially after you go over the Italian border and start follwing the old railway line.

Fri 15 Mar, 10:57

@Alex, I even call this post-railway section of the Alpe-Adria route the best tourist bicycle path in Europe. With these bridges and tunnels - it's hard to find anything better, more impressive! :)