Team Snook Cycling has twice made trips to Bormio, cycling two of the most beautiful climbs in cycling – the Stelvio Pass and the Gavia Pass, as well as the brutal Mortirolo. Here’s the reviews of our trips!
On June 19th at 4pm Diggers once again set off on the 325 mile drive down to Dover in order to catch the 1am ferry across the channel. Some time wasting at the start of the Dartford crossing meant the 6 team members avoided paying the £3 crossing fee, and still made it to Dover in time for the ferry, although not enough time to fill up the tank! Once onboard the ferry some refreshments were enjoyed and we arrived at 3am local time.
Once Diggers was fuelled up the 16 hour journey towards Bormio began! Heading East across France towards Strasbourg and down to Colmar, we crossed into Switzerland at Basel. A 5 minute stop at the border to buy the controversial Vignette and we were back on our way, with some stunning scenery all the way to the Vereina Railway Tunnel were were boarded a Eurotunnel style train to pass under a mountain and come out in the tax-free area of Livigno before the last hours drive to the Cima Piazzi Campsite on the outskirts of Bormio.
The showers were quickly used, the flags put up and the non-alcoholic Heinekens cracked open as we tested out the fantastic value fire-oven baked pizzas from the campsite.
The next morning and it was climb number one of the trip – the Stelvio. The climb from Bormio starts right in the town centre and is clearly signposted. Much like the Ventoux, it is an extremely popular climb with cyclists and at the time we started (10am) there were hundreds of others also making their way up through the tunnels and switch-backs on surely one of the most spectacular climbs in Europe with some of the most stunning views to match! Once at the top the food of the Stelvio – Sausage and Sauerkraut buns were scoffed and bottles of Paulaner purchased.
Extra layers were donned for the descent down the Prato side, and with some rain showers beginning right as expected, a decision was made to stop and begin the climb back up from Hairpin 46 (of 48 in total). The Prato side is certainly a tough test, particularly after the Bormio ascent and the view of the wall of hairpins ahead did not help! A few photo stops and we were once again at the top, souvenirs bought, layers added and ready to enjoy one of the best ever descents all the way back down to Bormio! This climb is really hard to beat!
Once back at the campsite, we showered and dressed before driving back up to the top of the Stelvio for a night at the top! With a selection of bars and restaurants at the top, we headed for the Tibet bar with amazing views right down the climb, before warming up some pre-made Spag Bol to carb load for the next days climb of the Gavia Pass.
The Gavia Pass also starts right from the centre of Bormio, and so we parked in the Motorhome Aire next to the finish of the 2017 Giro d’Italia stage, went for a coffee (and number 2) in a local café and then headed up towards Santa Catarina Ski Station and onwards to the Rifugio Bonetta at the top of the climb, where a cold pint of Moretti awaited us! The sun was out and the views also impressive, although the road condition made you wonder how the pro’s can race down a descent off it! A much slower descent was completed before beers at the Stelvio Xperience bar, served by the friendly Jane.
The third day was the much anticipated climb of the infamous Mortirolo! a 20 minute drive South of Bormio to Mazzo came after breakfast and TSC started one of Grand Tour cycling’s toughest 3 climbs! Again, the climb was full of other cyclists and with a fair bit of pushing visible by others, TSC kept their pride and used pedal power only to grind their way up to the summit! The majority of the climb is through forest and so you are well protected by the sun until the last 1.5km when it opens up. Pictures were taken and we dropped 500m back down to another lovely refuge selling delicious pints of Forst!
After descending the climb we piled into Diggers and drove a couple of hours South down to Lake Como with the fridge emptied on the way (except for remaining 0%ers!) to a campsite within a 20minute drive of the Ghisallo Cycling Museum. A very quick dip in the outdoor pool proceeded yet more Pizza’s ordered and we settled down to Peroni’s and world cup football on the TV. The next morning we drove to the legendary Ghisallo Museum and took in some Giro d’Italia history!
A two hour drive from Ghisallo to Airolo in Switzerland saw us arrive at 1pm for the last climb of the trip, the St Gotthard Pass using the old Tremola Road, which includes 8km of cobbles during its 12km length. The climb was like a cobbled version of Sa Calobra in Mallorca, and much quieter than the climbs we had already conquered. As a mark of respect to our disciplined efforts of not drinking earlier in the trip, we carried cans of Moretti up to the top and cracked them open in celebration at the (freezing cold) summit!
Once we had descended back down to Diggers it was time to start the long drive back to Calais for the ferry home. The first leg was back over the St Gotthard pass and 2 hours North to the Swiss lakeside town of Buochs for a night of experiencing the highest quality campsite facilities in Europe, and one of the finest dining experiences of the trip!
The final day saw us complete the remaining 750km drive to Veurne for a customary night in the Belgian town including a award-winning steak at the restaurant TSC made famous – de Plakker! A few more glasses of Primus were downed before hitting Diggers ahead of the Dunkirk to Dover ferry crossing the next morning and the drive back to Durham!
One of the most epic of TSC trips!
The total cost of the trip was around £1500 and this included everything – diesel, ferries, road tolls, vignettes, campsites and a few cheeky pints here and there as well as a blow out meal on the last night in Veurne! Not bad between 6 people! The trip involved around 2300 miles of driving, but it was worth every minute of it!
The photo album of the trip can be viewed at: TSC 2018 Italy Road Trip
TSC first visited the Stelvio on a family holiday in 2016, after spending a few days in Switzerland…
We drove up from Prato allo Stelvio, navigating the 48 hair pins included on the 24km ascent to the summit. We actually followed another motorhome from the Czech Republic all the way up, and started our ascent at around 4pm. The traffic was not too bad, with plenty of road with to pass vehicles coming down or allow cars to overtake you, although it was just our luck that the same day we went up, a mass car event called ‘The Garbage Run’ was coming down! Still, it wasn’t a problem, just a little slower! We also passed a public bus coming down from the summit on our way up.
At the top there is lots of space for overnight parking or wildcamping, as we were joined by 4 other campervans at the carpark next to the Sertorelli Sport Hotel looking down towards Bormio. The weather was perfect and there are 3 or 4 restaurant choices at the top, all with surprisingly reasonable prices and good menus.
The next morning we drove down to Bormio through the many tunnels and hairpins on that side. Our van is 2.85m high, and the Stelvio Pass tunnel height restriction is signposted as being 3.30m so plenty of room.
Cycling wise, the Stelvio from Bormio was as expected, a tough climb along the lines of Ventoux, although its constantly changing gradient made it tougher work at times. The climb was very differing in scenery and road types throughout, including some spectacular switch backs around 6km from the top. The scenery throughout both sides of the pass are absolutely stunning.
We also cycled the Gavia Pass from Bormio, a great climb too, and quite different in that the first 11km were 2 lanes with nice new tarmac up to the ski station, and beyond that it quickly turned into a rather rustic 1 lane road with plenty of pot holes! The views from the summit and the small refuge make it a climb absolutely worth doing.
The Mortirolo Pass was also cycled, although its hard to really class it in the same league as the Stelvio and Gavia, two beautiful climbs as good as any we have done in Europe. The Mortirolo is just 14km of pure suffering on steep always changing gradients with absolutely no respite at all! Enjoy!