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Cycling tourism

Giro d'Italia

Stage 16 | Salò-Aprica

12 hours
Best Period
June, July, September

Would you ever say that an itinerary in Lombardy is a triumph of lakes and mountains, archaeological finds and nature reserves? Well, that’s exactly it. Get ready to be surprised, then, as well as to struggle on climbs that have made cycling history


Title: The Lombardy you don’t expect

The name Riviera dei Limoni (Lemon Riviera) already says it all: the western shore of Lake Garda, with its jagged profile of precipices, panoramic hairpin bends and rocky gorges, has such a mild microclimate that it resembles a fragment of the Mediterranean Sea, where citrus trees, palms and oleanders grow. It is a completely different scenario in Valle Sabbia, with the Pre-Alps, Lake Idro with the backdrop of ever more imposing mountains. The same goes for Valcamonica, a flat green valley between the Central Alps, where the River Oglio flows along its entire length. Finally, Valtellina, a slice of Lombardy that goes from the northern end of Lake Como up to Switzerland. The Stelvio National Park, a natural paradise of larch, pine and fir trees, is part of this area.


Title: On the saddle from Lake Garda to the mountains

Lake Garda, the largest in Italy, and the Lombardy mountains

of Valcamonica and Valtellina, with glaciers peeping out of the peaks, are the features of the cycling itinerary. The route that we tell you about here, taking its cue from stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia 2022, has only one risk: seducing you with a shimmering sheet of water and then abandoning you, forcing you to get off your saddle before some testing climbs. A number confirms this: 4,510. These are the metres of elevation gain. Unless you have the physique of champions, be smart: ride along just one of the three segments we propose here and take advantage of the natural and gastronomic riches encountered on the way. You will not regret it. 

A leap back in time


Lying on the Riviera dei Limoni, Salò is the perfect starting point for a cycling itinerary: a breakfast in the piazza overlooking the lake is enough to recharge your batteries in preparation for the challenge. But while you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity for a stroll under the arcades of the Palazzo del Podestà and once under the loggia, look up: on the wooden coffered ceiling are painted the coats of arms of the 52 municipalities that, together with Salò, were part of the Magnifica Patria at the time of the protectorate of Venice. After leaving Lake Garda, the peaks await you. You will negotiate a 30-kilometre climb to Goletto di Cadino, at almost 2,000 metres above sea level. The gradients, which in some places approach 20 percent, are the price you have to pay to conquer Valcamonica, beyond the mountain, where you will find the first of the Italian sites on the Unesco World Heritage List: one of the world’s largest collections of rock engravings. It is a veritable treasure trove, consisting of more than 140,000 drawings carved into the rock over 8,000 years, depicting magical symbols, hunting and farming, war and navigation scenes. Another piece of good news: the Rock Carvings Nature Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo is on the route.

In the holy of holies of cycling


Rather than a cycling itinerary, the next stretch is a path into legend. On the Mortirolo, the pass between Valcamonica and Valtellina, some of the most beautiful pages of cycling history have been written. From above it looks like a coil of a snake coiling towards the sky. A tough climb with a detail that, however, plays in your favour: on this route, you tackle the climb from the more ‘human’ side, that of Monno, which starts in Edolo. 12.6 kilometres altogether run on very narrow hairpin bends, with an average gradient of 7.6 percent topping out at 16 percent. Having conquered the summit, watch out for the descent, on steep and narrow roads. Be aware, however, that a reward awaits you at the end. In Tirano, in the heart of the Valtellina, is the Accademia del Pizzocchero, which promotes the cuisine of the valley, a triumph of buckwheat tagliatelle (pizzoccheri, in fact), sciatt (pancakes filled with melted cheese) and polenta taragna. Sure, it’s not exactly the model athlete’s dinner. But if you have climbed the Mortirolo, you have earned it. 

Among the peaks


Past a dozen flat kilometres, the route heads again upwards, into mountains shaped by terraces covered with wineyards that yeld prestigious wines, such as Forzato. It climbs to Teglio, a lovely village surrounded by buckwheat fields, along a rather narrow road with sections at 15 per cent. After the descent to Tresenda, the route takes in the final climb, with the Valico di Santa Cristina as its destination. The second half is very interesting as it unveils its two characters: on the one hand, a spectacle because it crosses an enchanting alpine forest, on the other, a hard blow for the legs because of the steep ramps that reach 14 per cent. On arriving in Aprica, again straddling Valcamonica and Valtellina, catch your breath. You will be the first to want to put your bike away, to relax a little. The cues are all there. You can stretch your legs strolling through the narrow streets of the centre, among the houses frescoed with drawings of mountain landscapes. Or visit the Pian di Gembro Nature Reserve, a peat bog of glacial origin with some very rare species of wildlife and plants, including some carnivorous plants. The better, if you are with your family. In summer educational workshops with specimens of frogs, toads, newts and salamanders will delight the children.


By the RCS Sport editorial staff