The cycling in Lake Como was quite simply spectacular. We hired our wheels from Il Perlo, a bike specific hotel just outside of the centre of Bellagio, which has absolutely spectacular panoramic views of the lake. Even if you’re not going up there to hire bikes, I might even recommend a visit just for the view! Carlo and Enrica were so helpful and friendly, doing everything they could when we ended up stranded at the side of the road(!) and then again when we asked for dinner recommendations after our ride. I’m incredibly tempted to return to the hotel for a weekend, purely for their hospitality and another go at some Italian elevation gain.
“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness occurs while you’re climbing it.” Andy Rooney
My ride for the day was one of the brand new Botecchia T1 Tourmalets, which was an absolutely awesome bike. An awful lot more aggressive than my modest Scott Speedster, so I had some sore shoulders the next day from the long reach and shorter stack. But it was beautiful to ride; unbelievably smooth, super light and very quick up the hills. I’d gone to Como in the mind that I wanted to conquer the famous 160km route around the perimeter of the Lake, how cool would that look on Strava, right?! But after a late start, Carlo won me over with his recommendation of a shorter route that instead, would include two infamous climbs of the cycling kingdom: Onno and Ghisallino.
Looking on the Il Perlo website now, I can’t quite believe it’s listed as one of their more *mild* routes considering it includes a Cat 2 climb and plenty of 15%+! It is however described as the perfect loop to experience the lake scenery from up close and from above. This, I completely agree with.
Starting from the hotel, our route began with a decent which took us down to the lakeside road. Here, we had to stop for a severed chain on the Kemo – of all things! Carlo came to our rescue and took us back to Il Perlo to grab a different bike, which, in hindsight, did us a favour as it meant we got to do the beautiful descent twice! The road then levelled out for a good few km, taking us through some of the beautiful lakeside towns and past a stunning waterfall, thus lulling us into a false sense of security before road started to seriously kick up.
Taking the turning towards Asso, we soon found ourselves on the gruelling Onno climb. It just kept going. Looking back at Strava, the first segment is over 5km at about 6-10% incline, then it pushed up to about 15% for another mile, before returning to a *more pleasant* 7% for the last segment. My only sanctuary was that there were some lovely hairpin bends, which I find for some reason makes a climb mentally more manageable… anyone else?!
At the top of Onno is a special fountain ‘built in honor of the cyclist’, which was really cool and after that gruelling hill, we definitely deserved a quick rest. We were heading straight towards the mountains now and the route took us through some beautiful alpine villages we would never have seen if it weren’t for the bike. It was so peaceful and certainly put my love for cycling in perspective. A few km later and we were at the bottom of the Ghisallino climb, which forms part of the Giro di Lombardia. If I remember, this was a little shorter in length, but kept up a steady 10%+ for a good 5km.
If you climb Ghisallino, you have to make an obligatory pit stop to see the Cycling Chapel ‘Madonna del Ghisallo’ and the famous museum in Magreglio. It is brilliant. There were old bikes and jerseys in there that had been used and worn by some of the world’s greatest cyclists in the Olympics and Tour de France; the likes of Eddy Merckx and Gino Bartali. It was hilarious; literally a shrine, to the patron saint of cycling. But also one of the coolest places I’ve ever set foot in! There’s also a great look out point over the lake; a view to remember let’s say.
From the chapel, the route back to Il Perlo was pretty much downhill all the way. It was a wicked descent, just like those iconic hairpin bends you see the pros flying down on the TV. Reluctant to fly however, I held back on the break since the reach on the Bottecchia didn’t quite accommodate my tiny hands! It was now a relief to be able to focus on the view again, as opposed to zoning in on the tarmac two feet in front of me on the climbs. I had one of the best afternoons ever on the bike and it’s safe to say these mere few hours has encouraged a very large appetite to see more of Europe on the bike. And dare I say it, conquer some more of those big hills.