Tuesday, December 18, 2018

End of Summer in the Alps Part 2

Continued from Part 1


The Timmelsjoch is another one of the more well known passes in the Alps. It crosses the border between Austria and Italy. We had ridden up the Austrian side in Part 1, stopping at the Motorbike Museum on and paying the 14 euro one-way toll (its 19 euro return). Some folk may grumble at paying such a price to ride up a road, but the toll helps maintain the road and the tunnel at the top. It also means the road is a bit quieter than the other famous passes. Despite being the last half of September, the sun was beating down on us. It was roasting! HB and I stopped for a few photos on the way down, nearly running over an unobservant guy who walked right in front of us. He was probably distracted by the scenery, easily done in that part of the world. The Italian side of the Timmelsjoch, or Passo del Rombo as it’s called in Italian, is a bit narrower than the Austrian side and much twistier. As we snaked our way south towards Merano it began to get much warmer too. Once we’d negotiated our way through Merano (yippee for sat nav) we found a wee stall at the side of the road and stopped for a bite to eat, some juice and a cool down in the shade. We’d not seen Aidan and Jess or Joe and Liz for a while, so we pinged a few text messages out telling how we were doing. 

Some where in Italy

There was not much danger of mistaking our destination. We’d all booked into a hotel at the top of the Stelvio pass way up at 3000 meters. It’s a relatively short run from Solden to Stelvio, but all our stops meant time was getting on. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, Stelvio can be notoriously busy and the evening seems to be the quietest time, away from all the crowds and when all the early birds have gone home. Top Gear once described the road from Davos to Stelvio as being one of the best in the world. While previous experience has shown me the bit from Davos in is indeed very special, Stelvio itself isn’t actually that great, in my opinion, as far as biking roads go. However, the views really are something else. There’s glaciers, steep drops, wildlife and that on top of the world feeling you get on the high passes. It’s the second highest pass in the Alps but bizarrely there’s a sort of wee village at the top. There’s a choice of places to eat, some accommodation, shops selling trinkets and souvenirs and even a regular bus service. The east side is much narrower than the west side. It's a bit of a challenge riding up, especially on the lower parts of the road that's in the trees as you can't really see whats coming down the hill. Even when you get above the treeline you need to really twist yourself round to see up the hill as it's quite steep.
stelvio pano
The top of the east side of Stelvio with the mountain hut at the top left of the photo.

We were staying at the Tibet Stelvio hotel. Bed and breakfast is 45 euro which I thought was great, especially considering where it is. The hotel is a couple of hundred meters above the actual pass and gives a great view of the road and surrounding hills. You can hear everyone booting it between the hairpins too. We arrived at the top around four o'clock, which gave us a wee bit of time to wander around the shops I've been up the Stelvio a few times now, but this was the first time I could feel the altitude in my breathing. Jess said she was feeling the same, despite this she and HB climbed an extra wee bit to the mountain hut further up the other side to the hotel we were staying at. We also noticed a funny phenomenon. I don't know if it was down to the shape of the hills or the weather conditions, but I could hear HB speaking to me at a normal volume, we had a conversation across the valley without shouting! 
Oor digs for the night.

I grabbed a t shirt from the souvenir shop then a beer followed by a Bombardino, a cocktail based around advocaat, brandy and whipped cream served warm. The Tibet Hotel served good food at a reasonable price. My eyes being too big for my belly had me ordering a huge bowl of soup followed by some amazing Pizzoccheri which, despite its amazing taste, I couldn't finish. Stuffed, we sat around taking in the views and a few more drinks. I nipped out every now and then for a photo. I thought it would be freezing up there at the end of September, but it was a toasty seven degrees according to the bike. Everything is closed by around ten, including the main door to the hotel. Aidan and Joe missed the memo telling them there was a second door open at night, meaning they climbed back in through one of their room windows.





It's nice waking up to a braw view. We watched the ever growing group of early birds make their way up the pass as we had breakfast and discussed our route to our next destination, Livigno. HB and I decided to head over via the Gavia Pass before heading to the campsite in Livigno while everyone else opted to go straight to Livigno and find a hotel for the evening. Last time we stayed there Aidan and Joe had found it a bit chilly. Livigno is at 1800 meters and can get a bit cold in the evenings.
The west side of Stelvio is better than the east as far as biking goes, we stopped for a photo on the way down to take in the views before heading up the to the Gavia.

Stelvio morning. We'd moved the bikes as it had got a bit windy at night.

room view

stelvio pano 2

The Gavia is one of the lesser known of the Italian passes. A heavily potholed road twists up through the trees before opening up to give amazing views at the top. The whole thing is pretty narrow, not unlike our singe track roads here, but with way less passing places. I dunno what they do if they get two trucks meeting head on. We grabbed a juice and had a look around at the top before making our way down the south side. This is where it gets really nice. You get great views over the valley and there's a big fuck off drop on your right to keep you focused. HB thought it was the scariest road we'd ever ridden!

At the top of the Gavia you can park up and get a juice.

Top of the Gavia
Climb up a wee bit and there's this monument.

Then you follow this road down.

gavia pano 1
Where you see this!!

After some more seriously twisty Italian singletrack roads, which I thought would be better than it was, followed by some sat-nav roulette, because I got lost, we found ourselves back in Switzerland.

Eh? This wasn't part of the plan.

I'd somehow taken us a bit further west than I'd planned. We headed along some really nice Swiss roads, up the lower section of the Bernina pass before heading back over the border to Italy and into Livigno from the south. We found our way to the campsite and were just about to turn off when Aidan, Jess, Joe and Liz walked past. We arranged to meet them later on and pitched up out tent.



A good night was had out in Livigno, camping was no where near as cold as the others had feared, although you wouldn't be able to tell that from the rest of the inhabitants of the campsite. Apart from two Dutch mountain bikers we were the only folk staying in a tent and wearing t shirts. 
The run from Livigno to Lake Como is one of my favourites. The Forcola di Livigno is the first pass which takes you back to Switzerland and the Bernina Pass, the same way HB and I had ridden the day before. Only this time the border was closed.
We were asking other folk if they knew why the road was closed when we heard something very loud and fast battering up the Bernina Pass. There was a race on! We'd missed most of the cars, but saw the bikes racing up the pass as part of the Bernina Grand Turismo, a seriously prestigious event featuring some very rare machines. The road was open again in no time and we made our way up to the top of the pass where all the competing cars and bikes were parked up. Joe was in his element wandering between the old cars, pointing out the really rare stuff. It was great to see all the old vehicles. Of course, I pretended like I'd planned it all along.








We couldn't hand around all day looking at nice bikes and cars, so it was on the road once more, a great run to and through St Moritz. It's proper James Bond country with amazing yachts on blue lakes and folk cutting about in Ferraris and Porsches all with a braw alpine background. At the wee town of Maloja the road suddenly drops. The Maloja Pass! It has to be one of the best roads in the Alps, wide, but tight and twisty, it drops all the way to Italy. The only downside is that it's a bit of a pain in the arse to get a decent photo of. I tried, but never got any results. We did get stickers however, and a nice photo of the bikes and Joe's beemer at the top.


Only stopping for a bite to eat in Chiavenna (I was on the hunt for more Pizzoccheri) we made good time getting down to Lake Como, where everything becomes busy once more. We'd hired the same chalets at Camping Spiaggia in Abbadia Lariana as we'd all stayed at last time. Aidan and Jess and HB and I had three night there, but we were having to say our goodbyes to Joe and Liz who were heading home after two. It was time off the bikes, chilling out and see the sights. Well, the girls did. Aidan, Joe and I got jaked while they were in Bellagio. On day three we waved off Joe and Liz and the rest of us wandered along to Mandello del Lario for some lunch. I dragged HB round the Moto Guzzi factory and we all went out for a braw meal and tried to decide where to head for next.