Bellagio and Lake Como – lifestyles of the rich and famous. With cycling boot camp underway and fresh legs rearing to go, unfortunately we couldn’t make time for an afternoon spritz’ with Mr Clooney (perhaps next time with more notice ;)). We had a bit to get through this day with a climb of the Madonna del Ghisallo, a quick tour of the cycling museum as well a 4-hour commute to Bormio, which is where we would spend the next 3 nights.
Located about 90 kilometres from Varese, Bellagio is nothing short of a stunning backdrop to spend a few days enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures; – cycling. With its cobblestone laneways, abundance of colourful blooms that line the streets and plenty of choices for alfresco eats (and drinks), it’s easy to see why this pretty mini metropolis is a bustling summer haven for tourists. Not to mention it’s pristine positioning on the banks of Lake Como, with views of the Central Alps in the distance. Bellissimo.
On packing our bikes into the van that morning, we passed through several pretty villages and drove to a quiet inlet on the lake for what would become a much needed recovery dip that afternoon. For now, it was simply the place that we would start our days cycling. A 6.5 kilometre easy pedal into Bellagio on gently undulating roads that closely followed the lakes edge for the most part. Upon arriving into town, and all in the name of fun (though likely to the annoyance of others’), we descended through the narrow cobblestone laneways (and the crowds of tourists) to arrive at the waterfront. This is where we would then commence the 13km Madonna del Ghisallo climb. 5.2% average gradient. Easy! 😉
In hindsight, what felt difficult at that time was really not. This climb was a great warm up to the days following. With a few pinches here and there, it gave us a taste of the sometimes uncomfortable moments that would unfold throughout the week. Those hurt locker instants were often relieved by the stunning views, hairpin turns, which permitted for few seconds of effortless spinning, and remembering that we were on the other side of the world, with friends, cycling.
We were all in awe of how beautiful the surrounds were. It was the height of summer, the streets and mountainsides were lined with traditional homes in shades pinks and terracotta, masses of hydrangeas and the character of Lombardy filled the air. All the while keeping the colours of Lake Como in our view. How lucky were we.
Starting a few kilometres south of Bellagio, the total cycling time for this return trip was just shy of 2 hours, totalling 40 kilometres. We took the climb relatively casually; stopping to take some photos and marvel at the landscape, as well just to enjoy the journey. We often broke into pairs or smaller groups dependant on our abilities, which was really nice to have someone to share the experience(s) with. Simple conversation between breaths, words of encouragement and hitting the top together was pretty cool.
Madonna del Ghisallo is a hill in Magreglio, close to Lake Como that winds its way above Bellagio. At the top of the climb is the Madonna del Ghisallo church, – a 17th century building that is a tribute to cyclists and their achievements throughout the years. There also burns an eternal flame for cyclists who have died. It’s an impressive display of memorabilia to the sport, presented in a unique and thoughtful manner.
The cycling museum- Museo del Ciclismo, also at the summit, is filled with bikes, jerseys and other artefacts of champion cyclists from a variety of prolific events – foremost, the Giro d’italia. It’s really quite incredible to see the quality of the bikes and materials used in earlier years, as well the advancements of cycling technology to now. For example, wooden rimmed wheels, discs made of what looks like paper-mache, and heavy steel frames. To consider that these cyclists would mount 15-20kg bikes and cover the distances and climbs that they did, compared to my 7kg carbon fibre frame (that at times I find difficult), is ridiculous, yet so impressive.
Though a shorter climb at 13 kilometres, don’t be fooled, the Madonna del Ghisallo had a few surprises. It’s got quite the kick at the beginning with a max gradient of 11%. Towards the middle the incline levels out, allowing you to catch your breath before it pinches again toward the top. Those last few hundred metres burn, and it’s a bit of a slow grind to the peak. The road surface was of good condition, sealed well and relatively wide. A few hairpin turns keeps things interesting, as well permits for beautiful views for the majority of the ascent.
This was a completely stunning cycle path and a memorable way to discover Bellagio. The decent was a fun twenty-minute reward for our previous efforts, followed by a fast return to Lake Como for a much needed cool down. Temperatures were fresh (no Lake Monate bath-like waters here!), but the perfect finish to a good hit out.