We have been running a Giro d’Italia cycling tour in the final week in the Alps and Dolomites for some years now and while all have been unique and different, the 2023 edition was special and amongst the best of them – for a whole range of reasons.
Below we uncover why the last week in May is the perfect time for anyone with even the smallest cycling passion to be on the bike in Italy, and more specifically amongst the action of the final, and often thrilling week of the Giro. Here are our top highlights from our recent Giro cycling tour that just kept giving over 9 days, in every possible way.
1. Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Stage 19 Mountain top Finish
Stage 19 was nothing short of epic.
Starting with Passo Campolongo and then hitting Valporola, Giau, Tre Croce and then a mountain top finish at 2300m on Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
As soon as we knew this was part of the Giro route in 2023, we knew we had to be there.
Our group set off early from Cortina d’Ampezzo, with plenty of time to ensure we had climbed the mountain and then were in a prime spot on the steep 18% slopes for the final 1500m of the race. What a location. In one direction, we could see the breakaway approaching and in the other direction, the switchbacks that doubled up on themselves and a tight tunnel of fanatical tifosi. The atmosphere was incredible with cheering, yelling, flares, trumpets and bells. To be part of this colourful, quintessential Giro experience was amazing, and one that will be unforgettable.
2. Bergamo, Stage 16 Finish
We joined the Sunday pilgrimage to the Bergamo Pre Alps by riding part of the stage 16 course, and ascending the serious 17km Valcava climb, with its 18% muro (wall).
A beautiful, but tough challenge for sure, with a light mist on the way up and clear skies for our descent.
We pushed hard as a group to remain ahead of the race and road closures, and to make it back in time to see the race make its first pass through Bergamo’s Citta Alta. It was super cool to hit the closed roads after the Giro caravana had just gone through, and with the streets lined with pink and fans starting to take up position. We perched ourselves on the ancient Venetians walls of the old town, with its spectacular arched doors and cobblestone roads before us. To see the breakaway ride full gas up the cobbles into the old town, with the fans going wild, was amazing. It was then only a handful of minutes before the pink jersey came through with the peloton.
With now a little over an hour to go until the final pass, it was time to walk down to the ‘new town’ and the finish line. Bergamo had turned on the weather, with the cold and rain clearing to a sunny and warm afternoon. The atmosphere was electric and we managed to secure a position in the thick of the action, right at the finish line, as we watched a nail-biting last couple of kms on the big screen, with a beer or two.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
3. Riding Salo to Torbole, Lago di Garda
Lago di Garda really should be on everyone’s riding bucket list. There are so many ways to tackle it and to see it from different views.
We started our ride on day 4 of our Giro cycling tour with a small climb out of Salo, a beautiful town in the Lombardia region of the lake. Shortly after our first climb, and while we were out on the quiet back roads, part of our group was passed by a rider in Jumbo Visma kit and matching bike. At first, we thought it was another passionate cycling fan out for a spin, however when the 2nd and 3rd riders in the same kit passed, there was a crackle on our radio that the full Jumbo team were behind us, on their rest day ride. With excitement and friendly engagement from Roglic and fellow riders, our group enjoyed a close-up Giro experience, stopping to cheer the team on as they passed.
This was the first highlight of the day.
At the 10km mark of our ride, we descended and picked up the Stage 17 course along the lake, taking one of the now disused roads that is only open to riders and walkers. We were clipping along at a nice pace and it was just one continual stunning vista after another. There was one more small detour that we had to take away from the lake and it was up and through the Strada della Forra, with its amazing ravine, tunnels and curves.
There are some days when everything falls into place and this was one of them; capped offed with a delicious rustic mid ride lunch and a fast lake side spin to our new lakeside village, and home for two nights.
4. Passo Giau
Passo Giau is without a doubt one of Italy’s best climbs. Every opportunity we have to include it in a tour, we do, and it’s the reason why it is a feature ride on our ‘bucket list’ Como, Stelvio & Dolomites cycling tour each July. Depending on where you calculate your start from, it is roughly 10km long at a 10% average. It’s another beautiful challenge that just keeps going, and going. However, it is the landscape that leaves you in awe, with every new switchback, a new and breathtaking vista.
We have climbed Passo Giau many times and we never grow tired of the sensation you feel of taking it on just one more time. It is pure Dolomiti magic.
5. Hiking in the Dolomites
Not only did our riders enjoy some amazing efforts and scenery in the Dolomites, our non-riding partners did also. On our first day in Cortina, we took off early with our local guide for a 15km hike that took us up steep climbs, through picturesque areas laden with wildflowers and the odd marmot or two, and then down an ‘off-piste’ descent that took us past a stunning alpine lake, and through a sea of Dolomiti rocks.
We enjoyed regular stops along the way to learn about the change in vegetation from our starting point at 1200m, where pine trees are in abundance, to our highest elevation at 2200m, where the landscape is barren of trees, but rich in the incredible scenery that is unique to the jagged Dolomites. This was some of the most spectacular walking in this area of the Dolomites and enjoyed by all. A pause for a delicious lunch at a local rifugio was the perfect mid-walk ‘pick-me-up’ to keep us all going on a day that will remain etched in our hearts and minds.
6. Cheese making & tasting experience
Another highlight of our 2023 Giro non-riding partner program was our guided visit to Val Taleggio, a stunning valley outside Bergamo which is famous for cheese production, the most famous of which is named after the valley itself.
Amongst misty and atmospheric scenes, we drove to a cheese producer’s property about an hour out of Bergamo and enjoyed a private tour with a long-standing cheese making family of the area. We learned not only about their Bergamaschi traditions and unique history of ‘slow cheese production’, but also enjoyed being immersed in how the family works and lives together daily – with mamma Lina, a beautiful warm-hearted woman of 85 years still cooking lunch for the entire family of 15 every day – when they are at home on their property during the winter / shoulder months, and also when they take the cows out to pasture through the summer months, at elevations of 1800m.
Bergamo’s valleys produce the highest number of DOP cheeses of any region in Europe and this came as no surprise to our group when we saw the passion, history and dedication of this important family in an ancient cheesemaking community, producing cheeses of such high quality. We completed our visit with a tasting of 5 local cheeses and a glass of local red wine, which was simply delicious.
7. Local dishes & wines from the Alps to the Lakes and Dolomites
One of our signature themes that we bring out across all of our Italian cycling tours is our focus on enjoying local food and wine – not just local to a region, but also to a town, a small area by a lake and to a specific culture of people – and this was lived to the full across the three distinctive regions we stayed in on our 2023 Giro d’Italia cycling tour.
From the casoncelli pasta of Bergamo to an array of lake fish dishes at Lago di Garda, and stinco di maiale and apple strudel from the Ladin culture in the Dolomites, our group was immersed into the cuisine of each distinct area.
Casoncelli is one of Damian’s favourite pasta dishes in Italy and the last time he ate casoncelli at a restaurant in Bergamo, he came away not only paying for our meal, but also a vintage bike he managed to secure from the trattoria owner. Thankfully this time, there were no bike purchases, but just a very happy group enjoying an opening night dinner of local favourites at one of Bergamo’s old town institutions.
Casoncelli is the local filled pasta of Bergamo, with pancetta, and a sage and butter sauce, and is seriously delicious.
In Lago di Garda, we enjoyed two very special dinners of lake fish, accompanied by delicious wines, such as Lugana, Pinot Bianco and a Lagrein Kretzer Rosato. From a carpaccio of fresh fish on our first night, together with lake views (and a birthday celebration for one of our special guests), to an individual antipasto plate of seafood on our second night, followed by lake trout and then a raspberry semifreddo for dessert, the group enjoyed some very special local dishes.
Then it was off to the Dolomites. When Stinco is on the menu, there are normally quizzical looks from guests of ‘what is that’? Stinco is delicious and it’s what Italians call slow cooked pork shank. This is fall-of-the-bone goodness that is often served with polenta and is a perfect pairing with the local vino – and after a long day on the bike, is a taste sensation. This was followed with a traditional Dolomiti apple strudel that just perfectly wrapped up another great meal.
8. The Group
Sometimes groups just gel and when this happens, it is a great experience for everyone who is sharing the tour. It would be remiss of us to not mention the very special group of riders and non-riding partners with whom we shared our Giro cycling tour in 2023 – because while it is we who create the tour experience for our guests, it is most often the guests themselves who make the tour experience magical. We have reflected often on what these ‘ingredients’ are for being part of a group tour experience that really stands out, and we believe it comes down to 3-4 key things – (1) making sure you feel you’re a good fit for an active group tour, (2) arriving with a positive mindset, (3) being aware that you are on an adventure and being open to embracing new experiences, flavours, cultural traditions (even if they challenge you individually and are not what you do at home) and (4) being open to sharing good two-way conversations on the bike or walking path, and at aperitivo and dinner, as each day unfolds. This is where the magic is.
Grazie mille to our Giro 2023 group for an amazing shared experience – both on and off the bike.