We’ve just finished an incredible ride across northern Italy - 13 days, 15 cyclists (including our WOR Crew), around 1000kms of cycling as we pedalled the long, mountainous and “bellissimo” way from Milan and Venice!
We cycled the shores of Lago di Como on Day 1 and climbed from Bellagio to the historic Madonna del Ghisallo cycling chapel before descending for gelati (Onno Lulu of course!) and our first overnight stop in the beautiful hamlet of Pescallo, which was voted “most scenic” afternoon tea location, set beside the lake with aperol spritz's and antipasto in between lake swims.. absolutely stunning! The optional ride up the fearsome Muro di Sormano tempted some… but defeated most - 2.5kms and almost 20% - no wonder even the Pros struggle and protest!
On day two it was a ride through the hidden food and wine valley of Lombardia, the “Valtellina”, despite a flat-ish profile and beautiful off road cycle paths in the earlier part of the day, the riding was still challenging, the steep valley walls flanked with vineyards posing sharp rises as we made our way in to the Alps. At our Locanda in the evening, we ate the menu “Valtellina” - bresaola, pizzocheri and sciatt regional dishes washed down with local Nebbiolo. We won’t mention the dessert…!
Bormio presented us with our first “Passo” - the mighty Gavia and Stelvio, famed climbs of the Giro d’Italia. An incredible effort by 3 of our riders conquering their first ever “true mountain climbs” - Bravo to James & John on ticking off the Gavia and Brava Gillian the Stelvio - what memorable mountains to make your “first”. We somehow dodged Europe’s heatwave and avoided rain on both Passes - the cooler conditions perfect for climbing two of Italy’s most iconic passes. For me, the Gavia was a first (the mountain/weather/circumstance defeating me on 3 prior attempts) - a tough climb with no real rhythm - steep pinches and false flats - so rewarding to finally reach the top, with the tiny windy road passing cows, glaciers, lakes and mountain streams - a true alpine climb and a thrill to have finally completed it (thanks Alfie for the water stop - we needed it! Oh, and the support on the way down…!!!).
We rolled through apple orchards on the Via Claudia Augusta (old Roman Road) sealed cycle path, drank the delicious wines of the Alto Adige as we moved in to the germanic influenced regions - where Italian language gave way to German and strudel and schnitzel featured on menus and we sipped more Spritz in the piazzas of beautiful Bolzano (and a spot of shopping under the porticos for some!). Another “steep pinch” of a climb for lunch and everyone learned that I will do anything for a good restaurant - the views and food were top quality at Haidenhof and the 10% gradients quickly forgotten as we tucked in to smoked trout, canederli (regional soft bread dumplings with cabbage) and goulash.
It was an epic day as we rode from Bolzano in to the Dolomites - 4 iconic climbs and over 3500m vertical gain - the beauty of the scenery - blue lakes and rocky pinnacles and massif of the Dolomites. We rode the Costalunga (“cough-a-lung-up”), Pordoi and Campolongo Passes - becoming experts in hair-pin descents, to arrive at our spectacular chalet for 3 nights in the heart of the mountains. (Brendan nailed the ride - apparently fuelled by 4 Apfelstrudels… perfect cycling food!). We enjoyed the Ladin cuisine at our hotel and a few members of the group played billiards with the locals after a big evening meal, learning a little more about the Ladin language! With 2 days to enjoy the Dolomites the group chose a few different “off-bike” activities - cable cars, paragliding (Pip!!!), mountain walks, mountain ‘refugi’ for lunches (typical hearty mountain dishes such as polenta con funghi) and for some… more cycling!
For me, the Sella Ronda loop was a favourite day - the best mountain cycling you can fit in to 55kms, in my mind - anywhere. 4 Passes - Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella and Gardena - circling the rocky Sella Massif, every direction a different spectacular view and the gradients a mostly kind 6-7%. A stop on the top of every Passo - spritz, strudel, coffee (and Skittle and Pip is a Negroni at 10:30am a good idea…?). So much fun and such beautiful riding - an absolutely memorable day.
It wasn’t downhill yet - we rode over the Valporola and Falzarego Passes to glitzy Cortina d’Ampezzo - rolled along an old railway route (now a rail-trail) along the Cadore valley, flanked by more Dolomites peaks. Another “steep pinch” for a beautiful lunch - house made beetroot filled ravioli with poppy seeds typical of the region - a food highlight of the tour for me. The final climb of the trip took us in to the rural Nevegal mountains in the Province of Belluno - forested switchbacks and rolling farmland before the eerie descent of the Passo San Boldo (hairpins in tunnels…?!?!?!) - well done Gillian, you are now a true mountain descender!
A swim in the pool and a big evening meal with some of the best risotto (funghi) I have ever eaten at our beautiful hotel Cadelach. Bon Compleanno celebrations for John and Alfie with a magnum of something delicious made for a wonderful penultimate night.
The group rolled through the vines of Valdobbiadene (pronunciation please Skittle, Italian expert!)… and the flat farmland around Treviso to arrive in Venice - the way one should - by boat along the Grand Canal! A group meal at a new restaurant for WOR proved worthy of final night celebrations (fritto misto… yum!) and we bid farewell to our tight knit little group of friends.
A huge thank you to our amazing mechanic Alfie, our Italian expert (& negroni expert!) Skittle and Pepe for being such wonderful Crew! Thanks and congrats to all the riders - well done, a huge effort - a big ride and a lovely bunch! See you soon be it on, or off the bike!