Como. Stelvio. Dolomites. One Climb at a Time

a group of bikers in the Dolomites during an Italian cycling holiday

Our Como, Stelvio, Dolomites tour is all about riding some of Italy’s iconic climbs and on our recent tour, a fantastic group of cyclists achieved just that. As the rest of Italy experienced a heatwave, we were fortunate to have experienced fantastic summer mountain weather, allowing us to enjoy every element of the tour, one climb and one day at a time.

Here we share with you the climbs of each day and the experience of climbing some of our favourite climbs across Lake Como, the Alps and Dolomites, which were shared and enjoyed with guests. While our 13,000+m of elevation over 8 days certainly provided a challenge to our riders, it was incredible to see everyone rise to their own challenge and tick their personal bucket list climbs off their list. This is definitely a challenge for the mind as much as it is for the legs, and it was great to hear and see the level of support and camaraderie amongst the group each day.

A rider cycling past the chapel at Madonna di Ghisallo Italy.

Madonna di Ghisallo

After an easy roll along the edge of Lago di Como on our first day, it was time to start our collection of climbs and head for the hills. The first target was a visit to the chapel that sits at the top of Madonna di Ghisallo. We were treated to a beautifully warm summer day as we rode around an arm of the lake toward Bellagio. From here it was a beautiful 9km ascent, with a quick stop to fill the bottles with cool mountain water, before a short downhill section in the middle, and then a 1.5km kick of 8.5% to get to the summit.  At the summit, we took time to visit the cyclists chapel, take in the spectacular vistas and enjoy some well-deserved lunch.

A rider cycling in Italy
Two riders on a cycling holiday in the Italian mountains
Two riders on a cycling holiday in Italy
A rider filling up his bottle at a fountain in the Italian mountains
Inside the chapel at Ghisallo in Italy
A many cycling up the Muro di Sormano

Muro di Sormano

The Muro di Sormano or the “Wall of Sormano” is a climb of almost mythical status in the region, given its addition to the Giro di Lombardia in 1960. This beautiful, but serious 1.7km climb with a 16% average and a max gradient of 25%, is short and very sharp for sure, and provided a lot of personal satisfaction to everyone who pushed their way to the top. 

From the summit, we had a thrilling 12k descent to the lake and then a fast, undulating roll along the lake’s edge to Como.

A cyclist in the Italian Alps
two riders cycling up the Muro di Sormano
Cyclists on an Italian bicycle holiday
Cyclists on an Italian bicycle tour
A rider cycling on Mortirolo

Passo del Mortirolo

Passo del Mortirolo, wow, what a day. 11.7km at an 11.4% average and 22% max gradient. 

Some of the group were told by a bike shop owner in Como that the first couple of km’s were the hardest. He wasn’t wrong.  However there was some conversation about the first ‘couple’ of km’s actually being the first 9km – these sure were challenging.

We were treated to another warm summer day as we rolled through a couple of beautiful Alpine villages on the lower slopes, before a right turn and then ‘boom’….. the group splintered as everyone found their rhythm and got down to the work of counting down the turns, hunting for shade at the edge of the road and engaging in some positive self-talk to keep the legs rolling.  As we arrived closer to the top and the gradient eased, we could hear the beautiful sounds of the Alpine cows and their bells before seeing them, and from here it was just another couple of hairpin turns and we had reached the summit.

As each rider rolled to a stop at the top, they revelled in their achievement – and rightly so. 

It was not over though.  We still had the beautiful descent down the mountain, with vistas of the valleys and mountains in the distance and a couple of donkeys cheering us as we passed by.  When we reached the valley floor, it was a 20k roll up the valley to Bormio, which included an extra 600m of elevation thrown in for good measure.

A cyclist riding past the Pantani monument on the Mortirolo in Italy
Two people standing in front of the Mortirolo sign in Italy
Two riders in front of the monument at the top Passo del Mortirolo
A man cycling up to Passo Mortirolo in Italy
A group of riders at the top of Passo dello Stelvio

Passo Dello Stelvio

Passo Dello Stelvio needs no introduction.

Sitting at 2657m and with its 36 hairpin corners, it’s on everyone’s bike bucket list.

We had another magical day in the mountains as we set off from Bormio and hit the slopes of Stelvio.  From the first pedal stroke, we were climbing and as we entered Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio, it was time for everyone to find their right tempo to tackle the next 20km. 

This is a climb that is an absolute feast for the senses.  With a couple of early switchbacks and tunnels under your belt, you roll around a corner and the zig zag of the road ahead is etched into the mountain.  After completing all of these curves and passing the waterfall, and more alpine cows, the landscape opens to a high mountain plain, before more hairpin corners and a fork in the road – with the left turn taking you down to Switzerland, and to the right, you can see the top which looks like it’s literally in reach, but there is still another 4km and 10 hairpins to the summit.

At the top of the pass, we enjoyed a traditional panino with mountain sausage and sauerkraut, and also the spectacle of the mix of cars, moto’s and bikes who were all celebrating their arrival to the top. It was a buzz of activity.

What goes up, must come down, and after regrouping it was time to enjoy the thrilling 20km descent. Every time we climb and descend Passo dello Stelvio, it is a joy; the conditions are always different, and so there’s always something new and different to see and feel. 

A woman descending Passo Dello Stelvio during an Italian cycling holiday
A man descending Passo Dello Stelvio
A stelbel bike on front of a sign to Passo dello Stelvio
A man riding up to passo Gavia in Italy

Passo di Gavia

With similar numbers to Passo dello Stelvio in distance and elevation, Gavia is a revelation with its entirely different landscape.

We set off early and with the sun shining on our backs, the climbing started from the first corner. We passed through a couple of alpine villages and then as the switchbacks began, we weaved our way around the side of the mountain, which falls away and disappears into a ravine below. We kept pushing, we kept going up and as we did, the mountains opened up and the ravine became a small valley with a tiny lake filled with water of the most brilliant turquoise blues. 

We regrouped, took in an espresso or two, refilled the bottles and prepared for what we believe is one of the best descents in Italy. 

We began our descent in the clouds and amongst a terrain strewn with granite rocks, as the thin hairpin laden ribbon of tarmac floated down the mountain.  With each hairpin, the landscape became less rock strewn and more green. This is an absolutely adrenaline filled descent, with a large section of the tiny road without a guard rail – it’s just you and a couple of metres from nothing, but the open abyss below.

The magic of the descent continued with more hairpin corners through cool green forests and then onto straight open roads by an obligatory mountain stream, before we hit the cobbles of another delightful Alpine village.

Two bikers in front of the lake at the top of Passo Gavia
The roads of Passo Gavia
Two bikers riding in the Italian Alps
a man cycling in the Dolomites during an Italian cycling holiday

Passo Giau  

Waking up in the Dolomites, we enjoyed a sensational breakfast as we prepared for the large day ahead of us; 83km and 2500m, with 5 distinct climbs.

We rolled out and started climbing from our door step, easing into the first 10 kms and taking the time to enjoy our first taste of the Dolomites.  From the summit of Passo Campolongo, we took an undulating 20km descent to the next short climb. The epic Passo Giau was getting closer, 10km at a 10% average, and a landscape that matches this steepness with its beauty. As we descended to the start of Giau, the group was focused on their rhythm and finding something that resembled a tempo that could be maintained. 

With 29 hairpin corners, the landscape kept us company, evolving as we ascended.  It started with little glimpses in the distance of some of the towers, and the higher you rode, the more the curtain was drawn away, until you reached turn 25 and the full show was revealed.  You become so engrossed in the spectacle that you don’t notice the next 4 corners. It is a purely majestic scene.

Following lunch at the rifugio on top of the pass, we descended the blissful 10km, setting ourselves up for the steady final 13km ascent to Falzarego & Valparola Pass. From Valporola it was a winding, switchback laden descent down the mountain and back to the village.

This was an amazing day on the bike filled with beautiful challenges, spectacular landscapes and thrilling descents, leaving all wanting to do just one more.

A man cycling up to Passo Giau in the Dolomites
A man cycling in the Dolomites during an Italian cycling holiday
2 cyclists in the Dolomites during an Italian cycling holiday
A group of cyclists in the Dolomites during an Italian cycling tour

Sella Ronda

The iconic Sella Ronda was our final ride.  We set out from our village ready to take on the 4 passes, starting with Passo Gardena, then Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi and Passo Campolongo. 

With a little drizzle on the way up to Passo Pordoi, we arrived at the rifugio at the same time as a small rain squall swept over the mountain. This was the perfect time for lunch and an espresso as the wind and rain passed, and the sun returned.

Sella Ronda is a ride that becomes etched in your memory for its absolute beauty and near perfection; it’s the steady climbs, the beautiful roads, the winding and stunning descents, and the different villages at each pass. It was a day where the beauty of the landscape kept everyone’s head high, waiting to see what was unveiled around the next corner.

Chapeau to all of our riders who took on every challenge, one climb and one day at a time, achieving their very own bucket list of Italian climbs, and also sharing in the camaraderie of a group who together achieved a sensational riding challenge over 8 days.

A woman cycling in the dolomites Italy
A man cycling up to Passo Gardena, Italy
Two cyclists descending a mountain in the Dolomites, Italy
A woman hiking in the Italian mountains

Our non-riding partners shared the mountain beauty

While the riders enjoyed their personal challenge across the Lakes, Alps and Dolomites, our non-riding partners also enjoyed a great mix of sightseeing, cultural and hiking activity across each of our three locations.  From walking tours and boat trips to visit some of Lake Como’s most beautiful towns and villas, to a cultural immersion with a Ladin cheese producing family in the Dolomites, and hikes in the fresh alpine air of the Stelvio National Park and the Dolomites, our non-riders experienced some of the best views, landscapes and nature-immersions that one can imagine – wildflowers and butterflies were in abundance, streams and waterfalls were flowing, cowbells were joyfully ringing and the sense of stillness that came with being in the mountains and away from the hustle and bustle, were enjoyed by us all. 

Two butterflies and a flower in the Italian mountains
Two women hiking in the Italian mountains
People hiking on a small path in the Dolomites
Women in a cheese room in the Dolomites
A lady at a cheese tasting in the Dolomites

If you would like more information about our Como, Stelvio & Dolomites tour, click the link here.

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