by Casey Thompson © 2020 Bike It! Bellagio
Luca told me that many years ago he and his brother, Fabio, rode from their home to Livigno, and ever since this has been one of my dream rides, to go from Lake Como to the heart of the Alps over three major passes. It was a last-minute decision the other day, and it was a great last-minute decision! Luca's mother, aunt, and life-long family friend were going to Livigno to do some duty-free shopping, so we took advantage of their trip to Livigno for a ride back home, grazie mille to them! Bormio, which we talked about in a previous blog as another popular cycling destination, especially known for being a starting point for the Stelvio and Gavia passes. Livigno is just about an hour drive from Bormio, and we've taken our cyclists there on a few of our trips, either as part of a ride or as a rest day excursion to explore this interesting, picturesque, rather big town, nestled in the middle of the alps at nearly 2000m a.s.l. Many pro teams and pro athletes go to Livigno and its vicinity for altitude training and for the many long and arduous passes. We actually dropped off some material to the Bahrein McLaren team for Fabio on the way out, we didn't see the team though because they were still out on their long ride for the week. It was already 16:30, so I imagine it must have been a long ride!
Our ride was 140km. We started in Varenna and had nearly a 50km, rather flat warm-up, before starting the Maloja pass which is 30km long! The first half wasn't especially challenging in terms of elevation, easy gradients and such, with beautiful vistas and a border crossing into Switzerland. I've never seen so many water fountains along a climb so we stopped at a few for some ice could mountain water--very refreshing. The second half was pretty cool, consisting of some tight switchbacks, and with each turn we got a higher view of the valley and the many cows grazing on the steep slopes. Those cows have some impressive balance!
After the Maloja pass, we had another flat 20km or so in the valley to St. Moritz (a very famous and elite outdoor destination!), and then the climb to the Bernina Pass began. I had done this climb before on one of our trips, but this time it was much harder due to an intense headwind the whole way ... but we made it! Then we had just a nearly 3km climb left to the Forcola Pass and a long, rewarding descent to Livigno. After climbing nearly all day, it was well deserved to finally descend.
Time for immediate celebration! We quickly got to one of our favorite restaurants, La Piöda, before it closed for lunch. We enjoyed a big plate of pizzocheri and sciatt--2 local specialties. Then of course, knowing me, a trip to the Latteria di Livigno is a MUST for a huge bowl (or two) of gelato.
Next time, we will attempt the ride back home, but from Bormio to make a nice loop, although that would include two more passes from Livigno to Bormio, after Bormio it's nearly all downhill along the Valtellina cycle path to Lake Como!
We were recently very lucky to have the time to go back to a special place for 3 days since tourism hasn't quite begun yet on Lake Como for this year.
Tavarone is a tiny town in the Ligurian mountains, nestled in the Val di Vara--an outdoor paradise just like our Lake Como! It is very close to the Cinque Terre (the second most beautiful place in the world, after Lake Como of course :) )
Now let us tell you something cool--at Albergo Ristorante La Veranda in Tavarone is where I met Luca's family for the first time, and thus the meeting that has made Bike It! Bellagio a reality today! That's right, I met Luca's family (Luca actually wasn't there!) at this wonderful family-run hotel the weekend of the Granfondo Cinque Terre in 2013. We had a great time chatting after the race the next day, so we exchanged contact info and nearly 2 months later I travelled to Lake Como from Milan where I was studying to ride with them...and then met Luca! So La Veranda and Tavarone hold a very special place in our hearts.
Now let us tell you about the cycling: AMAZING! There is so much to explore and no flat roads...get your climbing legs ready! Tavarone itself is surrounded entirely by secondary, traffic-free roads, we saw less than ten cars per ride during our 3 days there! There is beautiful scenery over the valley and of course on the ligurian seaside!
Check out our three rides below from Strava, and a short video we made!
We would recommend at least a 3-night stay at La Veranda, but there's so much to explore you could even stay a week or more! It is better to have a rental car to transport your bikes to different starting areas (we did this for 2 days to not make our rides extremely long since there is so much climbing, we drove about 15 min. each day to different starting points). La Veranda is family-run by the nicest couple and their daughters and their restaurant is fantastic. We definitely recommend the half-board option to enjoy their delicious dinners each evening. On weekends they do pizza! The breakfast is also perfect for cyclists: fruit, cereal/oats, local fresh yoghurt, homemade crostata or cake, delicious local focaccia (Liguria is famous for foccaccia) and more!
Tavarone Local Roads (had to be short since the weather was iffy--but we loved every bit! It was so quiet with nearly zero traffic and it was very challenging with lots of great valley views over other small towns like Tavarone!)
Add Liguria, and more specifically the Val di Vara/Tavarone to your cycling destination list! It's about a 3.5 hour drive from us.
by Casey Thompson © 2020 Bike It! Bellagio
There are so many beautiful biking routes on Lake Como, so many possibilities that you could stay in Bellagio for more than a month and not do the same route twice! Below are the routes that are the most popular rides for road cyclists and e-bikers! If you have one to three days to ride on Lake Como, definitely pick from this list when making your ride plan!
by Casey Thompson © 2019 Bike It! Bellagio
Bellagio is the ultimate location for cycling—the stunning scenery of Lake Como, the challenge of the mythical climbs nearby, and its many excellent restaurant and cafés immersed in its romantic atmosphere--will have you falling in love with our incredible cycling destination. You'll want to return to Bellagio every year.
Bellagio is the ideal starting point for nearly any ride on Lake Como because its ferry terminal offers easy transport to nearly all the other towns on Lake Como, most importantly Cadenabbia and Menaggio, and Varenna: the car ferry ports on the Western and Eastern branches of the lake that you travel to with your bike. (*Cyclists with bikes must use the car ferry.) Bellagio has the only ferry terminal that goes to these other main ports directly! The 102nd Giro d’Italia is returning to Lake Como this May, and the annual Giro di Lombardia will take place October 12th. If you come to cycle during one of these event weekends, you're sure to have an unforgettable cycling holiday!
Where to Cycle
There are so many spectacular rides and routes that can originate from Bellagio, the number of cyclists coming to Bellagio continues to increase. When you come to Bellagio, you can experience several iconic climbs, such as the Madonna del Ghisallo, the Muro di Sormano, and many, many more. The Bike It! Bellagio website lists more than 30 routes, including maps, distance, elevation, and points of interest. (Visit our shop, and we will share the GPX files to any of our routes without charge.) Of course, if you are interested in joining a daily tour or want a custom tour, Bike It! Bellagio offers such options as well. We also rent Hammerhead Karoo GPS devices if you want to try different routes at your own pace. (We upload the GPX files for our routes to the Karoos too.)
Where to Eat and Drink
Food, drink, and gelato are always on the mind of cyclists (right?). If you are staying in Bellagio, you must check out the many different and delicious places to fuel or recover from your rides! Let us know what direction you are headed, and we can make some recommendations for you.
Breakfast and Coffee (Colazione e caffè)
Pasticceria Sancassani - The cutest little pastry shop and café nestled in the neighborhood of Visgnola above Bellagio. It's a nice 10-minute walk along a cobblestone path from our shop. You must try one of their fresh homemade brioches with a cappuccino, as well as try one of their many pastries (our favorite are the cannoncini!) Indulge yourself! Looking for an afternoon treat post-ride on a hot day? Go for their "crema di caffe'" or a gelato!
Bar Pasticceria Rossi - This bar is an authentic lakeside spot in downtown Bellagio where you can grab a fresh pastry and coffee before heading on your day's adventures. It's also a classic hangout for an aperitivo in the evening!
Marco Benzina - Marco is our legendary next door neighbor! If you join one of our group tours, you'll have the opportunity to try Marco's delicious pizza, piadine, foccaccia, and many other signature creations as part of the post-ride lunch. Lunch at Marco's is exactly the "off the beaten" path experience you are looking for. (Marco doesn't have a website, this is truly the locals' place!)
Trattoria Baita Belvedere - This charming, authentic, back-country restaurant is located about 4km up the road toward Ghisallo, boasts incredible panoramic views of Lake Como, and offers local, rustic dishes that you can't find elsewhere in Bellagio. Try their Poltenta Uncia and Pizzocherri and go for the mixed appetizer. Dessert? Gelato with their freshly picked berries from their farm. :-) This is the perfect place to stop for lunch when descending from the Ghisallo. They also offer a free shuttle to and from Bellagio for dinner reservations!
Far Out - Just as the name implies, this restaurant offers some different dishes--something out there! Located in downtown, Far Out offers a variety of tasty dishes, ranging from classic Italian specialties to local delicacies. Refuel after your ride with some pasta or ravioli and then try a "fritto misto" to satisfy your taste buds.
Ristorante Silvio - Try one of Bellagio's signature dishes here: Risotto con pesce persico. Silvio offers a wide array of lake fish platters that will give you a taste of Lake Como, literally. Visit this award-winning restaurant for a perfect ending to your ride or before you go out in the afternoon to be fueled by fish.
La Fontana - In downtown Bellagio, about mid-way along one of the farthest set of steps, La Fontana offers a quaint and welcoming atmosphere. The owners are two brothers who will make sure you enjoy the best dish for you based on your preferences. You must try their pistachio soufflé for dessert (imagine next level, Italian-style lava cake!
Ittiturismo Mella - "From the fish net to the pan", you will eat freshly caught lake fish at Mella! Located in the San Giovanni neighborhood, this family-owned restaurant is lakeside and has a homey atmosphere, as it's all related to their hobby, passion, and profession of la pesca or fishing on Lake Como. Try their daily menu deal where you get a full menu trying all sorts of lake fish for a great price! Did you know that their family dog "Ice" was featured it the Netflix series "Dogs"? Check it out!
La Punta - Located where the three branches of Lake Como meet, also known as the "Y" of the lake, or la punta, the point, where Bellagio juts out, giving Lake Como it's upside down "Y" shape. The perfect place for a romantic dinner, it has a sophisticated and calm atmosphere, as you sit with a beautiful view of the lake before you, while enjoying some freshly caught fish!
Le Darsene di Loppia - A picturesque restaurant setting in Loppia, a tiny neighborhood next to Bellagio will leave you enchanted by its peaceful and dreamy ambiance and even more so by its delicately crafted dishes where you'll savor every bite.
*Keep in mind, many restaurants are closed 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. and some are closed on unusual days. Be sure to check their websites for such information.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels in Bellagio, but there are also many apartment options and B&B’s, which offer a more personal setting to experience the local Italian culture. Contact us with your accomodation needs, and we'll make some suggestions to help you find the best place for your stay.
To See and Do in Bellagio
Whether you’re having a rest day or traveling with a partner who doesn’t cycle, there are plenty of things to do in or near Bellagio.
Shopping: Downtown Bellagio's stairways and little narrow streets are full of shops, cafés, and restaurants. You won't have any trouble finding a souvenir or a special keepsake item from one of the many local artisans our boutiques to remember your trip to Lake Como! Remember that Lake Como is famous for silk, so be sure to take a look at those shops!
Churches: Bellagio and its surrounding neighborhoods have several churches! Make a nice walk/hike out of it and visit them all in one day! The area churches are S. Maria di Loppia, S. Maria Annunciata di Breno, San Giacomo, San Giorgio, San Martino, and San Giovanni.
Villa Melzi Gardens: Take a peaceful walk through these gardens, stop and smell the flowers and enjoy being on vacation, take in the moment!
Kayak & SUP - A must-do activity when in Bellagio! Michele is a former professional rower and an all-around awesome person who will guide you on a memorable tour on Lake Como! Join one of his kayak tours or arrange a stand-up paddleboarding session with him, you'll have so much fun!
Wakeboarding - Hit up Club Morgan in Lezzeno for your extreme watersport needs! They have wakeboarding, waterskiing, wakesurfing, and canoeing! Be sure to reserve their equipment ahead of time.
Hiking - Lake Como is an incredible place for hiking, there are so many old mule tracks and horse trails, as well as man-made paths immersed in the woods. The many Pre-Alp mountaintops offer postcard-perfect, breathtaking views over Lake Como. Come see us for some suggestions! From Bellagio, you must go to Mt. San Primo, and from Menaggio to Mt. Grona--our two favorites!
Swimming - Any triathletes out there? The best open-water swimming spots are from San Giovanni's beach (via alla spiaggia) or from Pescallo Bay. Onno is also a great spot, which you can reach by car or bike of course!
San Giovanni is the best free beach in Bellagio to put down a towel and relax, or take a dip in the lake!
Navigational Instruments Museum - A nice place to visit and learn about tools and instruments used for navigation over the waters. It's open 10:00 to 13:00.
Villa Serbelloni Walking Tour - Offered twice daily, this tour takes you to see the Villa Serebelloni Gardens and now Rockefeller Center property. Learn about some of Bellagio's aristocratic history.
Lido di Bellagio - Bellagio's beach club is a great place for people of all ages to hang out and enjoy the lake by day or night, listening to good music, dancing, and having a great time!
Day trips to other places by ferry:
by Dan Merlino (guest blogger) © 2019 Bike It! Bellagio
At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. The previous year we had done a tremendous tour with TriLakeComo around Como and then over to the Italian Alps to ride up the iconic Stelvio and Gavia passes--great guides, wonderful food, fantastic routes! But Rome to the Ghisallo was a 6-day pilgrimage from Rome to Como, over 500 miles with lots of climbing. Daunting! However, I love Casey and Luca and their team, so I put my faith in them. That was the right call.
The trip was spectacular. The ride started with a blessing by a priest at the Vatican and ended with a peal of bells and a welcome blessing at the bike chapel on top of Il Ghisallo! How can anything go wrong when you have divine intervention! The trip went so smoothly, perhaps because it was so well planned, with top-of-the-line Bianchi bikes, great scenery, wonderful hotels, and excellent food! All we had to do was train.
The route was epic. Bellisima! The beautiful walled city of Siena was magical. Pisa’s Leaning Tower automatically made you tilt your head. Only in Italy! And then a very backdoor, intimate ride into the Cinque Terre. We even stopped at the Bianchi factory for a visit along the final stage to see their incredible attention to quality in production.
Join us this year: 2019 Roma-Ghisallo Trip Itinerary
by Casey Thompson © 2018 Bike It! Bellagio
We just returned from a week-long trip to the Alps with some strong riders from the States and Canada. This is our third trip to the Alps with touring cyclists, and each time it just gets better sharing the climbs along these iconic passes. The Alps aren’t as far away from Lake Como as one may think. Bormio is just a 3-hour drive! If you have a week or two for a cycling holiday, Lake Como and Bormio make the perfect match for an unforgettable trip. Start in Bellagio with us and warm up along some pre-Alpine climbs and lakeside rolling roads, before heading to the giants northeast of Lake Como. Much of Italy’s cycling history lies between us and Bormio. It’s a great way to relive some epic Giro d’Italia and Giro di Lombardia moments with your own eyes, doing the climbs yourself! Check out some pictures below:
4 Awesome Climbs from Bormio
Passo dello Stelvio: 2,747m a.s.l., it's the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps! Seeing all the switchbacks you climb from above is certainly a great feeling. And we were fortunate to find a pro Bianchi team rider at the top!
Torri di Fraele & Laghi di Cancano: This quiet and gentle climb takes riders to the 13th century fortress tower ruins (the tower served as a border between the valleys of Bormio and Engadina) and the artifical lakes of Cancano, part of a hydroelectric plant.
Passo Gavia: Another of one of the highest paved passes in the Alps. At 2,651m a.s.l. it's often the "Cima Coppi" in the Giro d'Italia.
Passo del Mortirolo: Also known as the "Cima Pantani", this climb is also featured often in the Giro...and it's one the hardest climbs you'll ever do...we can testify!
OFF THE BIKE:
Bagni Vecchi: The "ancient" bathes of Bormio
Bagni Nuovi: The "new"/modern thermal bathes and spa
Livigno: Duty-free shopping town in the heart of the Alps ... also great for anything outdoors! Stay a night, like we did, then climb the Bernina and Forcola Passes!
Bellagio Location: Via Valassina 103 Bellagio, Italy 22021
Via Venini 136
Varenna, Italy 23829
Daily from Bellagio's town center, in front of the car ferry station at 9:00 a.m.,
9:20 a.m., and 2:00 p.m.
Free parking at the shop
*No shuttle for Varenna location as we are close to the town center and ferry port.
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