Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cycling in the Lake Como area

I'm just back from a great few days cycling in the beautiful Lake Como area. Lake Como is a stunning area in Northern Italy just a few km from the Swiss border which is, or has been, home to famous residents such as George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson. It is easy to see what attracts these people, with the world at their fingertips, to live somewhere like Lake Como.

The scenery is stunning with the lake surrounded by pretty villages and mountains. And of course great Italian hospitality and food.

The region has recognised the areas great natural attraction for cycling, and its popularity with cyclists, and is investing heavily in 2 new projects which will make the area even better and more popular for the cycling community. With something for the serious lycra clad 'cyclists', and for those who just enjoy 'riding a bike' as a bit of ‘good for you’ fun.

The new Cycle Lane of the Lakes (Ciclovia dei Laghi) and the Sport and Relax on Bikes (Sport e relax in bici) tourism projects offer some stunning new routes and facilities including some exciting time recording equipment for those that like to get competitive. Hmmm - maybe only about 97% of the cyclists I know fit into this category so it should prove popular!

The area covered by these projects spans Lake Como in Italy, and goes over the boarder to the banks of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland in a joint initiative sponsored by the Tourist Boards for the Provinces of Lecco, Como, Varese, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Italy, and Canton Ticino in Switzerland.

And it is not simply Lake Como and Lake Maggiore which are covered by the project, 12 other lesser known but quieter and equally pretty lakes in the area, which I admit I was not aware of until this visit, are also included along the routes.

So what is so great about the new Lake Como cycling projects?

The projects provide cyclists visiting the area with:

• a range of great routes to suite all levels of fitness, experience and ‘keenness’ with maps, elevation data, sat nav routes, guide text, etc

• Time Trials – a range of climbs with timing equipment (see more about these below)

• BikeHotels – to support the cycling projects over 50 hotels have signed up to a BikeHotel program, offering cyclists the extra 'bikey' facilities required to ensure a great visit

• quality bike rentals – with bikes to suite all needs, right up to the very top of the range €5000+ equipment

• And last but certainly not least, the stunning scenery of the Italian and Swiss lakes!

How do the Como Time Trials Work?

Without being too technical the Time Trails make use of small sophisticated Chips (using RFID technology for the geeks among you!), which attach to the bike, and trigger readers below the road surface at the base and top of each climb, before displaying your time on the ‘score board’ about 30m after the top of the climb, along with up to 5 other times if you are riding close to your competitors (or maybe I should call them friends). Your time is also uploaded onto an internet site.

Great fun, the Chips, can be purchased or hired from shops and hotels in the area, and cost from €10 for a week’s rental up to €28 for a lifetime purchase. The chips can also be purchased online at and come with a login so you can look-up your times on the website, and compare them to others. The chips can also be used for mountain biking and running races using the same technology from this supplier.

Where are the Lake Como Time Trials?

5 time trails are currently being installed, with some up and running now, and the rest due to be completed by the end of 2012. These can be found at:

• Province of Como, has 3 time trials running between Bellagio and Ghisallo, Nesso and Colma di Sormano and Onno and Valbrona

• Province of Lecco has 1 time trial running between Ballabio and Resinelli

• Municipality of Cannobio has 1 time trial running from Cannobio to Sant’agata.

I tried the Onno to Valbronno and Bellagio to Ghisallo time trial routes. Great rides and the fact you can include the
Museum of Cycling and the unique neighbouring cycling Church, a shrine to cycling, at the top of the Ghisallo Pass make this a superb day out! Great scenery, good climbs, lots of other cyclists about, even in October, and fun to see my name pop up on the display at the end point! I won’t embarrass myself by including my times!

Additional Cycling and Relax Routes

In addition to the 5 time trial routes the Cycle and Relax program also offers keen cyclists 2 other sports routes, which are similar sporting rides with good climbs, like the Time Trial routes but without the timing equipment and 18 relaxation routes. These rides are great for those who want to enjoy a pleasant ride out, without the need to win the ‘king of the mountain’ jersey each ride!

For those who do want to win the ‘king of the mountain’ Jersey I recommend the ‘BS02’ hill climb route from Brissago in Switzerland to Borei. This route, which offers amazing views over Lake Maggiore, is only 6km long but has an average ascent of 9.5%, and bear in mind the first km or so is flat! After this the climb is around 13% average with peaks at 20% - I now understand where the ‘BS’ comes from in the route code! :-0

NB - The Osteria Borei restaurant at the top is also superb! Try the superb dessert ‘Panna Cotta’ – you deserve it after that climb! Have two!

Full info on the routes, the elevation data and geo-referenced sat nav files can be downloaded from the project’s cycling website –

Lake Como Cycling Routes

The ‘Cycle Lane of the Lakes’ project provides leisure cyclists with an additional 9 routes covering over 270km of great countryside, through the provinces of Lecco, Como and Varese in Italy, ranging from rides of under 10km to more serious days out of about 57km. Most of these are fairly easy routes. And again the website offers visitors information on the routes, what to visit and where to stay.

Bike Hire in Como

There are many places offering bike hire in the region, including many of the hotels. For our trip we were supplied with Pinarello Dogma full carbon bikes.

My usual experience of using rental bikes is the desire to get back to my own bike as soon as possible. This was a bit different. The Como Rental Bikes supplied by Roberto Ferca of CicliFerca in Como were real top of the range €7000 ish value serious Italian racing bikes. On this occasion getting back to my own bike was a step backwards!

Highly recommended, especially for serious cyclists who may want to enjoy using the ‘Ferrari of the cycling world’ in such a great cycling location. It just adds to your holiday experience. Why transport your own bike when you can hire bikes as good as these in the region!

What about Mountain Biking?

Mountain biking is also a key part of the Como area’s attraction, offering year round off road fun. The area has some superb Mountain Biking routes, with 21 mapped suggested routes covering over 600km of stunning scenery. These range in distance from 13km to 54km, and in climbs from 120m to 1720m, and hence offer something for all ability levels. Get hold of the Lago di Como Tourist Office guide book – ‘In Mountain Bike’ from the Tourist offices.

Where to Stay

As mentioned above the region has thought these cycling projects through very well, and over 50 hotels have signed up to the BikeHotel scheme, offering bike friendly accommodation for cyclists visiting the area. These are spread throughout the cycling area and range from Campsites, Mountain Shelters, B&B’s up to top class lake side hotels.

To get the ‘BikeHotel’ stamp the accommodation must provide the following:

• secure storage area for bikes inside the facility

• proximity to places of interest for bike tourists (trails and itineraries for specialists and general cyclists)

• offer of informational materials for bike tourists (guides, maps, topical brochures)

• basic information and technical assistance for users: presence at the facility of an internal workshop for minor repairs, or a signed agreement with a specialised mechanic

During my visit I experienced two of these, the superb Hotel Il Corazziere in Merone, and the Hotel Belvedere in Bellagio.

The Il Carazziere is a great place to stay, with an interesting history founded by an ex Kings Guard from Rome, the grandfather of the current owner Andrea Camesasca, a man who is very passionate about outdoor leisure. The hotel was superb with great food, accommodation and service. It is located in a great area, away from the hustle and bustle of the side of Lake Como, in a tranquil setting by a river, yet very close to two of the lesser known lakes, Lakes Alserio and Lake Pusiano. A great location for those wanting to try hiking, biking and horse riding, among other sports!

The Belvedere has a great location for those who want to be nearer to Lake Como, just outside of the beautiful town of Bellagio, with stunning views over the lake. I’d happily recommend both!

When is best for cycling around Como?

There is no defined season, and given the variety of routes on offer I’m sure cyclists will have fun in the Como area most of the year, but personally I would recommend early and late summer season. In April to June and from September to October, the temperatures are great for riding, and the high season tourist crowds have yet to arrive, or have departed, making riding around the main lake routes more enjoyable.


The fact that cycling in the Como area is great is nothing new! I’m sure generations have enjoyed this sport in this area for 100 years or more, but these new projects just make it all the better – easier, competitive for those who need to compete, and hence more enjoyable!
Get your lycra out and get the flights booked!

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