By Sam Cohen
We struggled up the final, steep kilometres of an impressive, but little-known climb from the shores of northern Italy’s Lake Maggiore to the Passo del Cuvignone da Cittiglio. We climbed 1,000 m spread over a mere 9 km of road.
It was not an area I had known about for cycling. Sure, nearby Lake Como is famous. About 200 km to the east, the alpine town of Bormio and its legendary climbs, including the Stelvio, Mortirolo and Gavia, have made many a professional cyclist beg for mercy. But we were based at the Hotel Il Belvedere in Ranco on Lake Maggiore, which is connected with the Lake Maggiore Hotels Bike group. Our gracious host was Guido Bonseri, a native of Bormio. It was on his advice that we had found ourselves sweating in the August humidity as we scaled these ramparts.
Guido loved to compare the cycling around Maggiore to the cycling area of his youth. “Passo del Cuvignone is the same as the Mortirolo,” he said. “It has the same elevation gain over the same distance. It is just as hard.” In fact, the Passo del Cuvignone did not have the 18 per cent pitches I remembered from the Mortirolo. On the Passo del Cuvignone, I could sit in the saddle the whole way up. On the Mortirolo, I had to stand or fall over. The enthusiastic way Guido spoke of the area and the great love he had for cycling around the lake and up its mountains stuck with us.
The day before, we rode around the lake from Ranco to climb the Mottarone, a bigger climb that Guido had favourably compared to the Stelvio; perhaps it was a little easier than the Stelvio, but still a wonderful climb with terrific sights.
Riding next to the lake was scenic and mostly flat. The number of cyclists we saw was extraordinary. In all my travels, I have never seen so many different groups out for a ride: some looking like pros, some who seemed to be pros and people of all ages. We started late, so perhaps they were all heading home. It is a uniquely beautiful part of the world, with great culture, great food and terrific hospitality.
The Belvedere is a beautiful villa situated above the lake, with a scenic dining terrace. While the staff was welcoming and helpful, it was Guido himself leading the charge on cycling. Every day, he discussed our routes, uploaded maps to our bike computers and even rode with us when he had time. On our stay, we used the hotel’s bikes, Wilier GTRs with Campagnolo Chorus parts, that were comfortable on the long climbs and on the flats. The hotel has a bike room where we stored the bikes. There was also every tool and all the parts are required to make sure your ride is in order. You don’t need to clutter your hotel room with bike stuff.
The hotel also offers very good meals, with a typical multi-course Italian menu, starters, pasta and meat or fish, much of which comes from Lake Maggiore.
If you go: fly to Milan. The drive from there to Ranco is about 80 km. Make sure to travel the lake and visit some of the other towns. Ranco is beautiful but small. Resort towns, such as Stresa, offer many more activities. Don’t forget to venture north to the Swiss part of the lake if you have time; things are more expensive and the roads are quieter. The villages around the lake offer some great meals. There are interesting monasteries and villas that are worth a stop.
The riding: You can pick your poison. Do you want big climbs, medium climbs or flats? All are possible and many are great rides. Be warned that some of the roads around the lake on the Italian side can be a bit busy, particularly in August when Italy is on holiday.