The Thoughts on Translation family just returned from our summer vacation: a week of family time in Switzerland, then a three-week bike trip through the Italian Alps, from Martigny, Switzerland to Bolzano, Italy (actually Trento, a little south of Bolzano!). As usual, feel free to skip this post if you’re not into bike touring or Italy, but for those of you who are, here goes!
We do a trip like this about every two years, and our most recent (2014) trip was lovely, but the operative theme was rain, rain and more rain. So we (blithely) assumed that we were owed some great weather this time, and that strategy seems to have worked, as we rode in the rain for maybe an hour total throughout the entire trip. We were also fortunate to have no major mechanical problems, with only two flat tires in 820 miles.
Some, or perhaps many bike trips aren’t as good as the Facebook version. There’s the joy, but then there’s the utter exhaustion, or the freezing rain, or the broken wheel, or the day you rode over the wrong pass, or the day that someone was too sick to get out of bed. We’ve had our share of those; but this time it was really smooth sailing from west to to east across Italy. Except that it took me a while to climb some of the passes…see the length of the shadow below!
Logistically, this trip was a bit different than our others, in that we took two single road bikes and a single touring bike, rather than our road tandem and one touring bike. So our “SAG wagon” was my husband on the touring bike, while my daughter and I rode our relatively unloaded road bikes…very pleasant! The only complication was the airline bags for the bikes: we purchased three new Tardis bags from Ground Effect, and they worked great on the way to Switzerland. Easy to pack, easy to carry, and very well made. However complications arose when we mailed the bags to our destination in Milan and they never arrived. So, lesson learned, don’t rely on the Italian postal service, and if you find yourself in need of new bags in Milan, head to Rossignoli and they’ll hook you up! It’s also worth noting that Icelandair did not charge us for the bikes in either direction.
Our itinerary took us over about 16 passes or major climbs, which made for some long days, some short but intense days, and some long and intense days. We had ridden some of these before, but my newfound favorite is the Cormet de Roselend:
Another highlight was two days winding our way through the foothills of the Piedmont region, from Aosta to Oropa to Lake Orta. This region is really off the beaten path and relatively untrafficked by either cars or bicycles. You might think that the photo below shows a bike path, but in fact it’s a Piedmont-style two way road!
As on our previous trips, we stayed in hotels (no camping) and booked most of them in advance so that we could relax during the trip. Not many small hotels in Italy have actual online booking (“send us an inquiry”), but Booking.com has really taken off there, which makes it easier to book some of the out of the way places. New as well for this trip was my smartphone: although I didn’t have cell service in Europe, the phone’s GPS feature still works, and the use of an offline mapping app (Maps.Me) resulted in a dramatic decrease in “where the…are we” stops along the way. Also new is the website Italy Cycling Guide, which is a goldmine of information for independent bike tourers!
For those who want the details, here’s our itinerary. I may do a post about the gear we used on this trip, and here’s my previous post on planning your own bike trip in Italy. If you’d like to do a trip like this and you have specific questions, post them in the comments!
Day 1: Martigny, CH to Chamonix, France, over the Col de Forclaz
Day 2: Chamonix to Bourg Saint Maurice (France), over the Col des Saisies and the Cormet de Roselend. Note that this day could (perhaps should) be split into two days by staying in Beaufort.
Day 3: Bourg Saint Maurice to Aosta (Italy), over the Col du Petit Saint Bernard and Colle San Carlo
Day 4: Aosta to Oropa, via Settimo Vittone. Note that if you take back roads (incredibly beautiful!), this requires a few kilometers on an unpaved road.
Day 5: Oropa to Lake Orta via Rosazza and Bielmonte. Lots of up and down!
Day 6: Day ride between Lake Orta and Lago Maggiore
Day 7: Orta to Cannobio, via the Intrasca valley and Aurona. A classic Giro d’Italia stage with a big climb, then a big plunge down to the lake.
Day 8: Cannobio to Menaggio, beginning with the ferry to Luino.
Day 9: Day ride to the Madonna del Ghisallo shrine and the Muro di Sormano
Day 10: Menaggio to Chiavenna via the Valtellina bike path
Day 11: Chiavenna to Pontresina (Switzerland) over the Maloja Pass
Day 12: Pontresina to Tirano (Italy) over the Bernina Pass
Day 13: Tirano to Ponte di Legno, over the Mortirolo Pass
Day 14: Ponte di Legno to Bormio, over the Gavia Pass
Day 15: Rest day in Bormio
Day 16: Bormio to Merano, over the Stelvio Pass
Day 17: Merano to Bolzano
Day 18: Day ride up Passo Nigra
Day 19: Bolzano to Trento, then train to Milan