Burning sunsets, castles and rock-cut gorges. A painting? No, Lombardy to be toured by bicycle
02 November 2022
Looking at the long itinerary, one should leave right away. But how can one not devote a few hours to Bergamo, the city that doubles as a city and remains beautiful? Dedicate yourself to the essentials. A tour of the Città Alta, or Upper Town, built on a hill that can be reached quickly by the old funicular railway: the medieval center will captivate you with its narrow alleys, elegant palaces, majestic churches (for example, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Vecchia), and breathtaking views to enjoy while sitting on the mighty walls. At its foot stretches the modern, sparkling Città Bassa, or Lower Town. Carve out time for a must-visit to the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, where you can admire works by Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Wassily Kandinsky.
The route takes flat roads all the way to Casazza. But make no mistake: this is the calm before the storm. From kilometre 20 onward, in fact, a hellish hilly course in the Pre-Alps begins, kicking off with the climb to Forcellino di Bianzano: after 6.3 kilometres with an average gradient of 5 percent you will reach the pass. On the way up, you will pass through Bianzano, the smallest historic village in Val Cavallina, and notice a wonderful stone manor house, with an imposing keep and no less than two walls. It is Castello Suardi, 800 years of history (it dates back to the 13th century) and charm to spare: the corners of the square plan are perfectly aligned with the four cardinal points, and among its rooms it preserves numerous traces of the passage of the Templars.
Not even time to tackle the descent, down to Gazzaniga, and immediately the route gives no respite. It climbs again, this time for 9.3 kilometres, with an average gradient of 7 percent, to arrive at Passo di Ganda, on a scenic plateau between the Ganda and Rena mountains, and then descend into Val Serina, at Cornalba: even Virgil, the great Latin poet, was fascinated by the imposing white cliff that now dominates the town and is the delight of thousands of climbers. Admire it from afar and meanwhile catch your breath in anticipation of your next climbs. The road does climb for 5.5 kilometres (with an average gradient of 4.9 percent) in the direction of Dossena and the Crocetta Pass, straddling Val Brembana and Val Serina. Even here, if you wanted to shed your cycling shoes and explore the area, there is no shortage of cues. In fact, there are at least two. The Tibetan Bridge (or Ponte del Sole): 505 meters in length, for a total of 1,200 steps suspended in the air, with a splendid view of the Orobic Pre-Alps. Do you suffer from vertigo? Put your feet back on the ground, or rather 100 meters underground, by getting a ticket for the Speleological Park, a one-kilometre journey into the old mines.
Hitching up the pedals again, you descend to San Giovanni Bianco, where another temptation is there for you: the Val Taleggio Orrido (also known as Orrido dei Serrati), a gorge carved into the rock by the Enna stream, in which you walk (or pedal) for 3 kilometres between overhanging walls. The biking roller coaster is not over. Still waiting for you is the ascent to the Forcella di Bura, a big climb with a mild gradient (only 2.5 percent) and a monstrous length: 18.8 kilometers. The ramp heading to Colle di Berbenno (4.4 kilometres at 6.3 percent) between the Imagna and Brembilla valleys will be a reason for relief: you are halfway through and a long flat stretch in the direction of Lake Como ahead of you.
When you arrive in Bellagio, on the promontory that divides the two branches of the lake, you have two options. Ditch the bike and get lost among its cobblestone streets, elegant buildings and the Villa Serbelloni Park, a 17th-century terraced garden overlooking the body of water. Or stay on your bicycle and pull straight to the Sanctuary of Madonna del Ghisallo, cycling’s iconic climb, ploughed daily by the passage of professionals and amateurs alike: 8.7 kilometres with gradients of up to 14 percent. At the top, pay homage to the 17th-century church that holds the painting of the Blessed Virgin of Ghisallo, patron saint of cyclists of all times. Then take your time to visit the Ghisallo Museum, which through its rich collection of memorabilia, bicycles, jerseys and pennants tells the story of two wheels.
After a fast descent without major bends, two more blazes await. The first is the climb to San Fermo della Battaglia, with gradient peaks at 10 percent, where Giuseppe Garibaldi defeated the Austrians in May 1859. On the other side of the ascent is Como, and the climb to the Civiglio district, through a narrow, winding road, then back into the city centre.
By the RCS Sport editorial staff