September 2018 - Italy & Switzerland

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  • Last year @Tor & I jumped on a plane to Montpellier with our bikes with a rough route & the plan of arriving in Barcelona about a week later. It was the first time I'd ever planned a cycle tour & it more or less went to plan, barring a hospital visit in Berga.

    Anyway, doing some real cols for the first time had me hooked, so earlier this year I booked us & our bikes on flights to Milan & back again sixteen days later in September. That should give us plenty of time to explore the Alps!

    We'll be bikepacking on road bikes with Restrap kit, & hoping to do roughly fifty miles a day with a pretty chill pace & maybe some days off too. I've got a rough route based from Como (we'll get a train from Milan to Como to avoid riding in the city), but I reckon it could be more adventurous. The main point I want to hit is the Stelvio Pass, & my girlfriend wants to get to Davos in Switzerland. I'd like to fit in the Gottard Pass & Madonna del Ghisallo too hopefully, but those could maybe be one-day rides if we set up base camp somewhere after the loop.

    Getting excited as it's only about five weeks until we fly now! Has anyone got an experience in the region/route critique/suggestions?

  • Once in Davos, go via Chur to Andermatt, from Andermatt you can make loops including the passes Furka+Nufenen to Airolo, or Susten+Grimsel+Furka to Andermatt, or Susten+Grimsel+Nufenen to Airolo. From Airolo you can go up the St Gotthard over the cobbles. If as a day trip they wouldn't be too bad on the way back down, or you can descend the other side back to Andermatt. I think combination of climbing up to the Gotthard from Andermatt and descending to Airolo is less satisfactory.

    The Splugen pass is a hidden gem though! The landscape at the top is splendidly strange, and the descent on the Italian side would be rather exciting in places - sort of twisty tunnels and galleries with on-coming coaches!

    Or go in reverse to spend a couple of days in Bormio doing more of the iconic climbs near there?

  • Check out the Klontalersee , you can ride over Holloch grotte and the Pragel pass (this picture) to get to it . super beautiful and theres a really good campsite right by the lake.

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  • this is the view from my tent by the Klontalersee

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  • Oo, these are some fantastic suggestions - thanks @xrayspex & @Georgel !

    I've made another version of the route taking into account St Gottard, Davos, Stelvio, Splugen & Madonna del Ghisallo (ferry across Como). Some really handy tips there @xrayspex . That lake looks beautiful @Georgel but I think it might be too far north for us. I've looked into trains, but it'd be really costly to get back to Milan if we stray too far away so that might be off the cards.

  • @xrayspex and @Georgel thanks for the suggestions. We're going to spend this evening trying to work them into the route. We're exploring train options back to Milan now so we can try to spend more days in the mountains.

  • Ride to Amsterdam along the Rhine and get the ferry back to the UK. Thats what we did , amazing trip .

  • Couple more things: Switzerland has a lot of cycle routes, they are pretty well signposted once you know what you're looking for (usually small brown arrows with the number and blue symbol, but only really where you need to deviate from your current course) so if you can find one going in your direction it makes navigation easy. They keep you off the major roads very nicely (though these quite often have a bicycle lane anyway), but also tend to route around town centres, which is fine except you just see the suburbs...

    Be warned that they almost certainly will have gravelly sections, which can spell disaster for normal road tyres (we toured last autumn on such routes with 28mm tough commuting tyres and no problems, but this week I got 4 punctures in one go with 25 mm road tyres).

    Having a quick look at­n-switzerland.html


    suggests you could pick up a route near Tiefencastel, then follow the route 2 to Disentis and Andermatt...

    The app is a pretty handy way to plan and navigate.

  • Check out the Klontalersee , you can ride over Holloch grotte and the Pragel pass (this picture) to get to it

    Will do!

  • @Georgel As much I would love to, I only have so much holiday leave at work!

    @xrayspex Some more great tips - thanks! With this in mind, I've realised that there's quite a few sections near the Splugen Pass which Strava has tried to route me on the Via Spluga which looks like more like what you say - gravelly. That's not ideal for us on road bikes (28/25mm tyres), so routed onto the more main roads instead for those bits. I think I need to take some time to learn the naming convention of Swiss road network to avoid ending up on faster roads though.

    The first link is really handy & gives me a bit more confidence that it might be rideable on road bikes though, as it Google StreetView seems to give out after about a kilometre. I'm hesitant to route on roads you can't StreetView (not very adventurous sounding, I admit) after a very muddy experience of trying to navigate Le Parc Naturel Narbonnaise en Méditerranée last year. May give it a try!

    @Tor sent the route we had to a former colleague who lives in the Alps & has returned some really handy advice which we've yet to look at properly. From a quick look at the suggestions, one was a query about whether a road existed. Intrigued, I had a look at my route & eventually figured out that it was between Bivio & Juf. Strava seems to think that there's a perfectly rideable trail between the two over the mountain. I don't think so!

    At the weekend we did some bikepacking in the Forest of Bowland & on the ride over we popped in to see our favourite bike mechanic, Marek, at his workshop Aurelius Cycles. He's done some touring in the Alps & said the route looked great but that it would be far more economical to spend more time in Italy than in Switzerland. I suspect that he's right, personally informed by a £17 G&T in Geneva airport (thankfully paid for by insurance money). Might just mean less time in bars/restaurants & more time spent in shops instead. We'll have to see. I had a little look at camp site prices & they all seemed reasonable, apparently food is the killer. As long as the pastries are affordable I'm generally fine though.

    Supposed to be looking at the route in more detail tonight but I think we might be riding to the pub instead to enjoy the last of this weather before the cooler conditions eventually return this evening. In the meantime, I've refined a version of the route.

  • to avoid ending up on faster roads though.

    I think if you look on streetview and find a one-lane-in-each-direction "main road" (on google maps these are yellow with a blue marker), it's ok to cycle on if you need to, but two-abreast cruising will not be relaxing/possible and there can be some quite big junctions. There may well be a bike lane in places or a separate shared use path (even if not part of the network routes on that web page). Google maps also has roads that are white with no marker, and these can be exactly the same size as the above, small town or country roads, or gravel tracks (the width on the map does give an indication if it will be a fast one or not).

    Highways (2 lanes in each direction) are large yellow roads with red symbols, and I don't think there is any real chance you could stray on to one - it would be the same as riding onto a motorway.

    Strava seems to think that there's a perfectly rideable trail between the two over the mountain. I don't think so!

    Can happen if mountain bikers go that way I think.

    far more economical to spend more time in Italy than in Switzerland.

    I can only agree...

    Supposed to be looking at the route in more detail tonight but I think we might be riding to the pub

    Just one other thought: I've been on holiday in the Val di Mello/Splugen area in about September, and it's getting later -the deep valleys were very cold in the mornings, the weather getting changeable and not nice on the Swiss side of the Splugen. I think your route is great and it isn't a difficult place to get about - if you don't like a section of road/track, there will almost certainly be an alternative. It might be not worth worrying about it further and keeping flexible about whether you spend more time on the Swiss side or the Italian side according to the weather nearer the time.

  • Don't forget Nick's advice about the amazing Gelato place @GideonPARANOID ;-)
    "Another alternative for a day 'off' is to ride the Passo Marco Pantani from Ascona, and take in the best Gelato shop that we know, at the western end of the promenade in Ascona."

  • Just one other thought: I've been on holiday in the Val di Mello/Splugen area in about September, and it's getting later -the deep valleys were very cold in the mornings, the weather getting changeable

    I've been thinking about this too. We were relatively lucky with the weather last year in the Pyrenees, but Col de Pailhères was a real challenge with the wind & cold. The next day, the higher Port d'Envalira was easy peasy due to beautiful weather. We'll be spending more time at altitude than last year, so definitely plan on bringing more layers for those kinds of days to be safe.

  • A friend forwarded a photo onto me this morning - will be packing another layer I think!

  • Airport time - this has come around fast!

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  • Got back last night, got some milk, caught up on Corrie & processed a few photos. What a fantastic trip! Will share some photos experiences after we've sorted stuff out.

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  • Mapped the route we did together into one map. We completed the five hundred mile loop sooner than we really expected, so decided to set up a base in the cheapest & most convenient campsite - Camping Darna, just outside Porlezza on Lake Lugano. 12€/night with a 24h Carrefour in town & plenty of riding options around there & easy access to Como - a no brainer!

    I booked nights in the Linate airport hotel in Milan for our first & last nights for convience's sake (free airport shuttle). The hotel felt deserted & the staff were lovely & interested in our trip. They even let us keep our cardboard bike boxes in their left luggage for two weeks for free which was absolutely fantastic. Only a short five mile ride into the city centre to Porto Garibaldi to get a train up to Como San Giovanni, & then to start our trip!

    However, before we could really start, we had to resolve the problem of @Tor forgetting her seatpost bolt. While packing the boxes, we noticed her seatpost was seized, but seems forgot to put the bolt back in. Both of our touring setups use saddle bags. I wasn't keen on testing the limits of how seized it was, but after intense Googling (very few bike shops with workshops seem to be open in Milan on a Sunday or even Monday) & a fruitless Decathlon trip we resolved we'd have to soldier on & hope for the best.

    We rode up the west side of the lake in gorgeous sunshine up to Argegno for the first of many quattro formaggi pizzas of the trip. Noticing a little bike shop around the corner we popped in to ask for help (we'd managed to find an abandoned seatpost binder bolt on the floor outside the station which might be useful). The shop's owner - previous Olympic MTB'er for Spain - tried to find a nut but sadly nothing. Ah well.

    We then climbed our first hill over to our first aforementioned campsite in Porlezza in the blazing heat, popping into the shop on the way to stock up on some food for a picnic on Lake Lugano for tea.


    1. View over Lake Lugano from our campsite's beach in Porlezza.
    2. The owner of the bike shop we popped into.
    3. Switchback on the descent into Osteno.
    4. Pizza in Argegno.

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  • On the second day we were heading into Switzerland for Chiggiogna, the pronunciation of which still escapes me. We started off going from the campsite up through Porlezza, following the road along the north side of lake into Lugano. At this point, we hadn't quite figured out the roads & the fact that roads simply disappear on my Wahoo's map when they go into a tunnel, so we ended up in a tunnel for about two miles - not ideal as we missed out on some lovely views, but generally fine.

    Crossing the border was easy peasy. Stopped to stick a sticker for LSF (Leeds Fixed Gear/Singlespeed) on the border sign & then heading into Lugano where we stopped at a Migros which we'd become very familiar with (being based in Porlezza later on). Took some time to find a bike shop & a guy managed to find some bolt which worked, thank goodness! First impressions of Switzerland were that everyone wears full Assos & owns a Colnago & that every car is a BMW or Porsche. We cycled past a speedboat fair on the waterfront!

    We rode north out of town via Passo Monte Cenari - a slow drag with a very fast mainroad descent. Hit 42mph with full touring kit - a best (for then). Had another pizza (twice the price of the Italian pizza) at the bottom & continued up the valley. Was a bit of a mainroady day, but as we went along it got a bit quieter. Passed loads of really impressive road & railway infrastructure, including what we later realised was the head of the Gottard Base Tunnel - the longest & deepest railway tunnel in the world. Above that, the train line spiralled up the valley inside the mountain (which seems crazy to me).

    Campsite seemed expensive at 32CHF, but that turned out to be about the going rate. Views of the valley, a clear blue swimming pool, good showers & a place to eat your own food under an awning of grape vines - we couldn't complain too much.


    1. Drilling head of one of the TBMs used for building the Gottard Base Tunnel.
    2. Our pitching, including view & pool in Chiggiogna.
    3. Stacked motorway, road & train infrastructure.
    4. Looking back into Italy on the north-eastern edge of Lake Lugano.

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  • The Campsite was a whopping 42CHF actually. But it was fabulous. THAT POOL and those incredible views :-)

  • everyone ... owns a Colnago

    Not a BMC?

  • Ha, did see plenty of those too. Just a lot of high-end bikes in general. Did also notice a lot of flags! Felt like a similar intensity of flags as when I went to the US.

  • Eventually finished processing enough photos to continue the writeup.

    The next day was a short day - about twenty seven miles from Chiggiogna to Andermatt, up over Passo San Gottardo via Tremola road. It being pretty high (2,106m, climbing from 700m) & fairly early in the holiday we figured it a good idea to play it safe with how it'd go.

    We rolled along the valley, climbing slowly in the early morning, snaking beside railways & the motorway up to Airolo, where we started the climb after a quick pit-stop. I was expecting the cobbles to start right from the get-go out of Airolo, but it wasn't until a few kilometres up the climb they started in sections. Some of the first sections felt a bit sketchy - rolling slowly over the tiles with touring kit always feels a bit risky, like something it going to shake loose - but they got better as we went. Eventually, nearer the top, the road became a lot quieter & windier, with no sections of tarmac for relief & a huge number of switchbacks stacked up the mountainside. The road is a beautiful road, & would highly recommend it!

    We sat for a snack at the top overlooking the really very clear lake & pressed on down to Andermatt. We weren't expecting more cobbles on the descent, & thankfully it was only about two kilometres of them. Shot down very quickly into town, which gave us lots of time to wash/dry our clothes & have a few drinks in the afternoon sun. Gottard Camping Andermatt was very basic - would not recommend it (but there's no other option really) - but the town was lovely. It's a fancy ski resort though, so it was a bit dear. Saw many Ferraris squeeze down its narrow streets.

    The next day we had a long one - seventy miles down to Landquart. Thankfully, it was all in one valley after climbing Oberalp pass (literally, over alp pass) which we could see from our pitch. Our tent was on the dark side of the valley, so it was tough work getting up & layers were peeled off very quickly after starting the climb once we got the light. We shared the climb with a mountain railway - the Glacier Express - which ran alongside the road for a while, & even a tunnel at the top. Pretty climb, but not particularly memorable. Beautifully quiet at the in the upper stages of the Oberalpreuss though.

    At the top in a little town there was weirdly a lighthouse, as you might expect to find by the sea. It was quite busy so we had to wait around for a while for a gap in the traffic before descending (easily catching up cars & coaches on these windy descents). The top section was great fun - really windy & open, becoming straight & very fast lower down. We had about 1,400m to descend in about 80km from the top of the pass, so most of the rest of the day absolutely flew by.

    At Ilanz, we popped into a Coop for a can of Coke & some refuge from the scorching sun. Here my route had a detour into a national parky thing around the river Vorderrhein - seemed better than following the mainroad through Flims. This turned out to be one of the most spectacular roads of the entire tour. Hugging the wall of a mountain, the balcony road offered a fantastic panorama of the white walls of the valley, deep green forests, glacial blue river & peaks in the background. Kept having to stop to take photos & take it all in. Absolutely fantastic.

    After that, the rest was a bit mainroady really. Getting through Chur was a chore - forgot what riding through urban streets was like after only a few days of touring. Eventually we found our campsite - Waldcamping Landquart. Very close to some shops, great facilities (including a communal room to sit inside where we didn't get bitten to death by bugs!) & a cheery host. Lovely.


    1. Cobbles being maintained on Passo San Gottardo.
    2. Upper section of cobbled switchbacks.
    3. Looking down on the Glacier Express winding its way along the Vorderrhein.
    4. The view looking down on the cobbled switchbacks.
    5. The upper section of Oberalp pass with lots of avalanche prevention.

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  • Off topic, but is there a way of determining the order of the attachments? Seems random, no matter what I try. I'll annotate the photos so things don't get confused.

  • From Landquart, we headed over to Zernez, via Davos. We woke up to the threat of rain (which thankfully never really materialised), but it was generally grey all day. The first part of the route was nicely off the main road on some bike paths, including some gravel, then back to some more main roads which were a bit meh. After Klosters (where the royal family go to ski, apparently), we climbed Wolfgangpasse over to Davos. Funnily, at the bottom a driver pulled over & asked us for directions. Popping into Davos was part of our route all along because @Tor lived there for a bit, so we could actually offer some advice, despite being a long way from familiar territory!

    Getting into Davos we had a quick lunch & rolled towards Flüelapasse. We had a quick look at the rain radar & there were rather intense thunderstorms in the area, which made us think about maybe staying in Davos for a night just in case (despite it being so early). We decided to press on however & were fortunate not to get wet at all while riding. Probably should have filled up water bottles at the bottom though, as it took a fair few kilometres & a failed attempt at getting water a closed ski lift before we could find any. The pass was really quite gentle & felt pretty easy. Not many switchbacks at all on this one, climbing from the east. The descent had loads of sharp turns though, & was very fast!

    In Zernez we cycled up to the campsite about quarter of an hour before the reception opened, & about five minutes after we arrived the heavens opened, delivering quite a deluge. Decent facilities at Camping Cul, & two shops in town to buy essentials. It rained most of the evening & night, but thankfully there was a little communal room with plugs so we stayed in there drinking cheap wine & playing cards most of the night, accompanied by some Lithuanian motorbikers.

    Wet tent the next morning. We awoke to some dramatic clouds in the valley, & rode back into town & then further west via Ofenpass which was a bit of something & nothing. From the top we descended into a little valley where there was a tunnel which leads to Livigno - where we'd be camping in a few night's time. We rode further along our road via Pass dal Fuorn & then flew down back into Italy, where the road surface instantly became worse. Going down this road we saw our first reference to tomorrow's challenge - Stelvio. We weren't doing Via Umbrail however - we were doing the classic Stilfserjoch.

    Having that challenge the next day, we had a quick - & so much cheaper than Swiss - lunch in Prad am Stilfser Joch alongside many other cyclists & then rode about ten kilometres & two switchbacks up to Fornoi where there was a campsite with absolutely fantastic views looking up to the mountains. Great campsite facilities, weird host. Very reasonable 22€.


    1. Gravel coming out of Landqaurt.
    2. Looking back along the valley from Klosters.
    3. At the top of Flüelapasse.
    4. Climbing out of Zernez with dramatic clouds.
    5. The view of the mountains from our camp in Fornoi.

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  • The motorbikers were Czech not Lithuanian. The lunch in Prad was GREAT!

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September 2018 - Italy & Switzerland

Posted by Avatar for GideonPARANOID @GideonPARANOID