Biking in Northern Italy

Swiss/Italian Alps and the Northern Lakes: Route Description

A sample tour through the northern lake region could cover the following:

Isele/Domodossola-Locarno (40 miles). Isele and Domodossola are both on the Italian side of the Simplon Pass and the Swiss-Italian border. In fact, Isele is the first train stop in Italy, which means that if you want to revel in a 15-mile descent out of the Alps without grinding up first, this is your chance. Take a train from Brig in Switzerland, or any of a number of destinations in Italy (like Milano), and start your day with a gorgeous scenic downhill.

Just before the unremarkable city of Domodossola, turn to the east and head for eight grueling miles uphill to the quaint retreat of Santa Maria Maggiore. From there, it's almost 20 more miles down an impressive and winding two-lane country road to the Swiss city of Locarno on the shores of Lago Maggiore.

Lago Maggiore (25 miles). Take two days to enjoy the lake. Pedal down the western shores past lakeside villas and through quaint preserved Italian fishing towns. Sample the incomparable gelato, fresh pasta, and fish plucked directly from the lake. Swim when you can on Maggiore's pebbly beaches. After a night in Intra, spend a day ferry-cruising to the Borromean garden islands and the city of Stresa, the latter a tourist and shopping center replete with first-class hotels, spas, and waterside esplanades.

Intra-Lugano (25-50 miles). Leave one pond and pedal for another. From Intra, ferry across to Laveno and then bike up the eastern shore road of Maggiore. At Luino, turn east and climb the short ridge shortcut into Switzerland's Italian-speaking city center: Lugano. Or, continue up the length of Maggiore all the way to Giubiasco for an up-the-hill train to Lugano. Of course, hill lovers can tackle the climb under your own power.

Lugano-Bellagio (20 miles). Use the morning to enjoy Lugano before continuing east along Lago di Lugano. But be sure not to leave too late since you have a ferry to catch at the end of the day.

The climb out of Lugano will leave you a little surly, but once you've hairpinned your way to the crest of the hill, all is well. The rest of the lake road runs through a series of short tunnels and skirts carless, waterside communities nestled into the nature by the road. Stop in at Gandria for a quick stroll.

When you put the lake behind you, one more climb caps the ridge between you and your third lake: Lago di Como. Zoom down to Menaggio, turn right, and run off the three miles to Cadenabbia. The ferry from here will leave you in lovely Bellagio.

Lago di Como (50 miles). Two days in this dramatic setting are not enough, but use them as best you can. Leave your bags in Bellagio on the first day and head up to the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo, where you can join hordes of devoted two-wheelers and pay homage to the patron saint of cyclists. It's seven miles up from town on a tough hill, but the sense of mission can't be denied. Nor can the views from the top. Keep heading south to Asso and then turn back down to the lake for the return trip to Bellagio. On your last day, take a leisurely ride along the couldn't-be-more-scenic road to Como. Spend the night or, if you must, hop a quick train to Milano and the rest of your life.


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