Switzerland & Italy (2005)

This is the report of my cycling trip in south-east Switzerland and northern Italy. With the Gavia as the highest point and the Splügenpass as the most beautiful. The other pass roads were disappointing. Anyway, I can add 8 cols to my list. In five days time I travel 400 km and 7.600 m in altitude.

Day 1: Thusis > Pontresina (67 km)

|Route| The first part from Thusis to Tiefencastel is an easy climb on a wide and busy road. Not very enjoyable. Near Filisur the valley splits in two. I turn right and follow the river Albula. The climb to Bergün is heavy with almost 10% during several km. Then the climb gets less steep and the valley opens up. Far away I can see beautiful mountains. Next another steep part: 3 km over 8,5%. This pass road is tricky. The road squeezes itself through the valley, and then at last, I can see the summit. Still 7 km to the pass height though, which lies 500 m higher.

As usual families and motor riders rest from their tremendous efforts on the summit (2,312 m). I continue right away. At this side of the pass the valley is rough, almost gloomy. After a long stretch the road goes down in a series of very steep hairpins. In front of me I can see the broad valley of Oberengadin. The last bit to Pontresina is harder than expected because of the wind blowing from the Berninapass in my face. I am happy to arrive at the camping site, some 4 km past Pontresina near the Morteratsch glacier.

Day 2: Pontresina > Bormio (71 km)

|Route| From the map today has the potential of a superb day, with four passes over 2,200 m. Too bad. The Berninapass is disappointing: boring  climb on a quite busy road. The curves in the road after the summit (2,326 m) is okay, but soon I have to turn left to Livigno, via the Forcola di Livigno (2,315 m) to be precise. Not so easy these few km climbing 9%, but the highest point is not far away. I cannot see anything from here, it has started drizzling.

Partly due to the weather, Livigno looks like a sad place. So I continue quickly to today's third pass, the Passo d'Eira (2,208 m). I think this road has been constructed for ski tourism, it is wide and has a mild gradient. I order a coke when I reach the top. Then back down, and up again, this time some 400 m to the Passo di Foscagno (2,291 m). The road becomes more busy. Due to the bad weather many day tourists are so bored that they take their cars and drive to tax haven Livigno (possibly with cheap petrol).

According to the map there must be a camping south of Bormio. When I arrive there the site is terrible, and I decide to return. I have had it after a day riding wide roads through the rain. I take a cheap hotel room and have dinner on my bed.

Day 3: Bormio > Ponte di Legno (44 km)

|Route| June 5, 1988, was a memorable day. The finish of the Giro was in Bormio, and the road to Bormio went over the 2,621 m high Gavia. During the climb it started to snow. Many participants were in trouble. Lots of them gave up or secretly stepped in vans only to get on their saddle again for the last few miles. Rookie Erik Breukink (Dutch!) was the toughest and won this stage. In the final ranking he became runner up, Andrew Hampsten won the Giro that year.

Today I travel on this famous Passo di Gavia. Unfortunately I go in the wrong direction. The classic route is from the south to the north. I notice this: the northern approach is very boring and, apart from a few stretches, not steep at all. I am not able to see much due to the low clouds. Up the pass it is cold. When I descent my brakes have to work hard. The green mountains are exceptionally beautiful. The very narrow road is constructed high above the valley.

Down in the main valley I soon find the camping. The camp site in Temù is one of the most lovely I have been. The boss is a nice Italian with a beard. Lots of Dutch with their heavy cotton tents come here as well. A fine place to relax the rest of the afternoon.

Day 4: Ponte di Legno > Domaso (130 km)

|Route| Today I will cycle the Mortirolo! This is the mountain rim to which four very steep roads come together from different directions. Often included in the Giro. I climb the Mortirolo from Monno. The distance is 11 km and the gradient almost 8%. Not too hard, though my legs start hurting during the last few miles. It is a nicely built road in a not very spectacular environment. On the summit (1,852 m) I cycle on a plateau for a while. At random I take a road to the south, which brings me by many ups & downs to Passo di Aprica (1,181 m). Terrible village!

I descent some 850 m to the main valley leading from Lago di Como to Bormio. My goal of the day is at the famous lake. But before I will be there I still have to cycle for another 65 km. And this is no fun. The road is very busy and people tend to drive fast here. Although all drivers keep a close eye on cyclists, like anywhere else in the Alps, the thought of lorries overtaking me with a speed difference of 80 km per hour horrifies me. At Sondrio I cannot resist the McDonalds. After 130 km I finally arrive at the camping site in Domaso. Before pitching the tent, first I buy myself a cold beer.

Day 5: Domaso > Thusis (95 km)

|Route| The southern approach of the Splügenpass is just perfect. First I can warm up a little cycling along the beautiful Lago di Mezzola to Chiavenna (333 m). In this busy town I buy some food for the day. Next there is a stretch of 10 km at 6 to 7% on average. Not too hard. But then: ouch! In front of me are 8 km at an average gradient of 8.5%. That is tough. The positive news is that the road varied: sometimes it is carved out of the rocks resulting in weird tunnels and very sharp turns. The drivers of sports cars coming from behind hardly find it difficult to see me in time.

After the steep part 8 km remain to the pass height. There is a ski area on the right of me (Mademiso) but I am glad not to see any of it. So far the landscape was a bit of a bummer, but up here it is really beautiful. On the pass height (2,113 m) I say hello to the Swiss border guard and then I am back in Switzerland. The north side of the Splügenpass is quite boring. After a series of hairpins I find myself in the main valley in just a few minutes.

From Splügen the road goes down by following the Hinterrhein. The Via Mala, the old trade route through the narrow gorge, is varied. It is an appropriate end to a cycling tour with the best climb on the last day.