When we left Arabba and the Dolomites, I was half excited and half sad. Sad because I felt we had barely scratched the surface of this incredibly beautiful region and there was so much more riding to be done: Passo di Pellegrino, Passo Giau, Passo di Falzarego – you name them! But I was also excited because our next destination was Bormio in the Italian Alps, a town high up on my list of places to visit because it meant even bigger climbs, the infamous passes Stelvio, Gavia and Mortirolo. Not only are these passes at a higher altitude, the climbs are also longer with higher elevation gains.
The GPS navigation system was set, we were on course, and while Alberto was driving, I perused the actual road atlas (navigation systems are a great tool and I don’t know how we would find our way around Europe without one but I still like to follow the road with my finger on a map, the old-fashion way) when I realised that to get to Bormio from the Bolzano/Merano side, we actually had to take the Hymer over the Passo dello Stelvio/Stilfserjoch. Now, that’s not a problem because she loves climbing as much as we do and she climbs like me, slow and steady in second gear, but unlike me, she is an old lady and the descend had me worried.
We stopped at a service station and the jolly attendant cheerfully assured me that the weather down at Lago di Garda would be better. It was still raining and with our German number plates he just assumed we joined the hordes of Germans flocking to Gardasee for holidays every year. I protested and when he learnt of our destination, his friendly face showed concern. It was snowing up there, he had heard in the weather report.
As we continued our journey, we discussed our options. The weather looked miserable, to say the least. The forecast spoke of weather improvements as of Thursday, three days away. Taking the Motorhome over a high pass is one thing, but to do it in bad weather and without snow chains is yet another story. And to spend one day locked up in a motorhome may be ok but to sit out three days in pouring cold rain may be a strain on any relationship.
We stopped in Parcines, a little tourist villages along the route, to get a more accurate picture of the road conditions at the information centre. It didn’t click that even though Südtirol belongs to Italy, they speak mainly German, so it took us a while to get the info we were after but when the girl behind the counter finally understood our Italian/English mix and exclaimed Haben Sie mal aus dem Fenster geschaut? Über’s Stilfserjoch brauchen Sie Schneeketten! (Have you looked out the window? You need snow chains over the Stelvio pass!) our minds were made up. We turned around and joined the Germans. New destination: Riva del Garda. I was heartbroken! Especially, since it meant we wouldn’t get to Bormio at all. At least not now, maybe later, in September, upon our return from Spain… if we had any time left. And what fat chance of spare time is there at the end?
Lake Garda hadn’t been on our itinerary at all. It felt like we left Italy. Unfortunate for Alberto, German continued to be the prevailing language. But the lake was pretty and, indeed, the sky looked friendlier and the rain cleared the closer we got. We even managed a little flat recovery ride that evening, nothing fancy, just a couple of hours, and then parked in Malcesine right down by the lake. Over dinner, Alberto spotted some roads and villages high up on the mountains on the other side of the lake. I wanted to climb Monte Baldo, the 2000m high Hausberg of Lake Garda but didn’t put a fight up over it. I’m glad I didn’t.
After a not completely uneventful night – we were woken at 11pm by a friendly policeman advising Alberto, also in German!, that it was forbidden to park by the lake after 11pm but we could park and sleep in the car park by the cable car station 800m away – the next morning we sat off to explore those roads and villages on the other side of the lake.
Flat all the way till Riva del Garda, we soon found local company, two guys who were happy to ride hard and swap turns. They unfortunately stopped at a bike shop in Torbole, while we kept going, along the busy road with galleries and tunnels after Riva and then up towards Limone sul Garda. The road kicked up and Alberto soon disappeared and left me to fend for my own. 14-15% gradient, I went along with it for a while but then had to stop for a breather. Thankfully, there was a little driveway that gave me enough momentum to get me going again. Alberto waited for me around the next bend, smiling. He was in heaven. The little roads were even more to his liking then he had anticipated, looking at them the night before from the opposite shore.
Off he sat again, with me snailing after the grimpeur. The road continued steep for a total of 4km and when I eventually reached the little church in the little village on the top, too, I found Alberto excitedly chatting away with another cyclist, German of course. All three of us big smiles on our faces. What a challenging climb! The German knew the area well, of course, having spent 15 or more holidays here. He insisted, rather than turning around, we should continue on to Pieve, only another eight or ten kilometres. The road was amazing, spiralling through narrow gorges all the way down to the lake, he described. And I swear, he wasn’t exaggerating. The climb back out was so scenic, I hardly put my camera away.
By the time we hit the flat road back towards Malcesine, we had close to 90km on the Garmin. I was feeling so fit and strong and elated that I spontaneously turned at the sign to Passo Campiano, a little 5km climb full of switchbacks that helped to crack the 100km for the day and to make peace with the unexpected Lake Garda detour. We would have snubbed this pearl of a lake in Northern Italy and it would have been a shame if we had missed out on one of the most scenic and memorable rides in Italy.