Travels, day 16: Porlezza to Bárzio
@ Adrian Tritschler · Monday, Sep 8, 2003 · 5 minute read · Update at Sep 8, 2003 ·

Today 69.63km
Trip ??km

Sometime around five in the morning it started to rain — quietly at first, then a solid downpour that sounded as if it would last for days. My temporary patch on the pinhole in the tent’s roof held, but other parts leaked where the walls touched the floor, or where the tent is just too old and worn. There was no point in staying inside and getting gradually wetter, so even though it was supposed to be a short day’s ride, Jo and I got up early and sat around in the marquee.

Everyone got up early because of the rain, then sat around with glum expressions watching the water run down the paths and under the tents. Being such a high-traffic caravan and camper-van-oriented campground, the individual sites are almost completely bare of grass, so the whole place turned instantly to mud.

Over breakfast the rain eased off, and then after sitting around for another hour we all started to roll out of camp around 10 o’clock — except that Jo had a flat front tyre. Removed the sliver of glass from the tyre, in with the spare tube, and off we went.

Sixteen kilometres to the ferry at Menággio, the temperature rising and jackets coming off as it became increasingly steamy.

Ferry ride across lake Como to Bellagio and a pause for a coffee and a bit to eat. Jo and I managed to accidently jump the queue by sitting at a table by ourselves, while the other six all sat at one large table. Also present in the café was a dozen members of the BMW formula one team in matching shirts and jackets, I’ve no idea whether any of their drivers were present!

Still thinking that it was going to be a short day, with an easy ride to tonight’s town, we headed out to visit the chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron of cyclists. One by one, or in groups of three or four, we all missed a turn off due to Andy’s odd route notes concerning a stop sign and a turn. Two or three kilometres further on, and heading south-west up the ridge and along the lake shore, Jo and I stopped to consider the map.

The lines on the map seemed to indicate that we could cut across country, down to the river and back up to the next ridge to rejoin the correct road, so Tony, Jo and I tried bravely to take the short-cut. After climbing steeply up through a village, then zigzagging down towards a creek, the track eventually petered out as a vanishingly small lane into someone’s farm. Maybe it came out the other side, maybe we’d taken a wrong turn, we weren’t game to try any more variations, so headed back towards Bellagio, spotted the missed turn, and made a second attempt.

I think if there had been a printed profile of today’s route that far fewer people would have tried to visit the chapel, it was several hundred metres of climbing up through misty clouds, then a very discouraging descent before a final eight hairpins up to the top. The chapel itself is amazingly decorated with at least a hundred years of donated jerseys and bicycles.

There’s a cycling museum being built next door to the chapel, it looks strangely abandoned. Signs seem to indicate that it was started, or designed, in 1998, but it appears that the building site was abandoned about a third of the way through construction. Maybe they’re just taking a break…

The eleven kilometres back down to Bellagio passed in a blur, along the way the clouds had thinned again, giving us good views down to the South-eastern arm of Lake Como.

An hour or so to wait for the ferry to Varenna, then came what we thought would be an easy twenty or so kilometre ride around the lake then up the valley of the Tioverna to Barzio. Unfortunately we had no route profile, or notes to tell us that it climbed quite steeply towards the end, or that we’d left it too late in leaving the lake.

The ride up the valley was quite enjoyable, even if the clouds did close in again, the traffic was light and the villages attractive. There was a major detour around one smaller town where a landslide had destroyed the main road — and a number of buildings — and we had to detour off along a very narrow track. Eventually, somewhere around Introbio, as the rain came down again, Andy and Rose caught up to us in the van and persuaded us to forgo the pleasures of ten kilometres of climbing in the gloom and the rain, and to get into the van for a lift up to the town.

We were staying in the Hotel Esposito and looking forward to a group meal in their dining room. The meal started off well, but after a tasty first course the main course of nothing but two or three small and very salty sausages was not well received.


Porlezza, Menággio, Bellagio, Varenna, Bárzio


Some postcards I bought on the day:

GHISALLO - Monumento al Ciclista / CIVENNA - Monumento al Motociclista
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