It’s funny how things can happen.
We were doing a little bit of recon and some new trip development, and found ourselves in Cuneo in Piemonte Italy, on the fringe of the Ligurian and Maritime Alps.
I had for the last 2 years been wanting to climb a few of the mountains around the area, and had been saying for the last few weeks that I would do Colle Fauniera on my birthday as it fortunately fell on the day we were in the area.
I don’t know why I have wanted to climb this mountain… it’s one of those things…. you see a photo and then it becomes embedded in your mind that ‘I need to do this’.
At any rate, we touched base and met with Davide, the director of La Fausto Coppi Gran Fondo (held each July in Cuneo), to discuss a few things. It was a great meeting.
A few hours later we were enjoying our aperitvo at a cool little enoteca (for research purposes only!) and received a call from Davide, who said that he’d like to ride Fauniera with me the following day, and show me the area. My instant thought was ‘oh crap, now I do need to actually ride this thing….. there’s no pulling out now’
We met in the morning and drove out to the base of the mountain at Pradleves. We take in a macchiato and then kit up and pull the bikes together.
We get rolling though the cobblestoned streets and head out of town along the valley. We’re in the shadows of the mountains and it’s bloody cold.
We stop and take the obligatory photo of the Fauniera sign with its 21.9km distance and 7.6% average details and a 14% maximum. We are under way again and immediately start climbing.
Davide tells me that the climb is kind of broken into 3; an 8km warm up, an 8km harder section and a final 6km easier bit. Phew…. this is going to take a while.
We are now going up and the landscape and colours change as we rise.
The vegetation starts to thin out, we turn a corner and we’re now in full sunshine with a view of the exposed hills that we will soon ascend.
This is absolutley beautiful.
The road is narrow and at the edge of the mountain…no guard rails…. just grass and a few cows below with their chiming bells.
As we roll to the top we talk about:
The region and how it is untouched so far.
The 3 sides that you can climb of Fauniera
The Gran Fondo and how La Fausto Coppi buys 22 tonnes of tarmac each year, donating it to the the local authority to assist in maintaining the road.
We pass a tiny little chapel by the side of the road and Davide announces that this is one of the steepest parts of the climb at 13.7%. As much as it would have made for a nice photo, I elect to keep peddling and maybe get it on the way back.
We keep pushing. I should say that I keep pushing given Davide has been riding these hills his whole life and is doing it easy.
I am now in need of some water and am told that there is a little place up ahead. We pass a couple of buildings and then roll into the forecourt of a church which has a fountain off to one side with beautiful, crystal clear mountain water. We fill ourselves and our bottles and keep on going.
The weather is fantastico. It is warm, there is no wind and it is clear blue skies. I’m told this is unusual for this time of year and that it is called a “peppermint day”; a day where the air is clean, sharp and crisp.
We’ve now hit the final section which is wide open and the landscape rock strewn….. it’s truly magnificent.
We pass another “mineral water stop” and fill our bottles again, before winding our way up the last few km’s to the top at 2481 metres and the Marco Pantani monument.
We take the time to soak up the achievement, look down at where we have come from and also over to the other side.
The descent is exhilarating and the adrenalin is high, with the beautiful terrain, the narrow roads and the steep drop below. You know that you are truly alive.
During the whole ride we see one hiker, one car and a lone black dog. It’s been a while since I have been on a ride and seen such little activity on the road.
Post Ride Lunch
We roll back into Pradleves and head to a little family run osteria for lunch. This is not a little lunch, but a 4 course affair with our beautiful host Cinzia. We start with a trio of local antipasti including the Piemontese specialty, bagna cauda or ‘hot sauce’ made of anchovies, garlic, butter and oil on a roasted pepper, before delicious braised rabbit, slow cooked brasato (or beef in wine) and polenta, a plate of the local and prized Castelmagno cheese, and then finally a piece of the traditional Bunet, a delicious firm chocolate puddling made with rum and amaretti, all accompanied by a glass or two of the local Barbera vino of course.
As with most things in Italy, we conclude with an espresso.
Following lunch, we are invited to a private tour of the Formaggeria next door. This small producer makes 50 different types of cheese, specialising in the local and prized Castelmagno which has protected designation of origin (DOP), a quality certification in Italy attributed to fine and uniquely made, local produce. The cheeses ranged in age from 3 months to 24 months, with each wheel needing to be turned every day to ensure its maturation and quality meets the standards. We were also shown the old natural rock cheese cellar down the road which is still used and still produces a better quality product than the modern refrigerated cold rooms. It’s these experiences and stories about the care and quality of production of food and wine in Piemonte, Italy and Europe that still leaves me in awe.
What a way to finish a great ride.
Colle Fauniera is spectacular; the climb, the challenge, and the landscape which truly opens your heart.
Thank you Davide for the amazing experience.
For further information about climbing Colle Fauniera for La Fausto Coppi Gran Fondo and as part of our 9 day cycling tour to Piemonte in July 2018, click here.