Sentiero Valtellina: from Tirano to Bormio by bicycle
This itinerary, the northern section of the Sentiero Valtellina, starts in Tirano and continues to one of the most well-known resorts in Valtellina.
At the end of the day, we discovered a part of Valtellina not only geographically but also historically. For those less trained or those who really can’t stand hills, the underpass out of the train station leads directly to the bus station to take a bus till Bormio and travel the route in reverse. The difference in altitude will almost only be negative.
Cycling from Tirano...
When you talk of Valtellina you cannot but mention the Adda, the river which originates from the southern slope of the Monte del Ferro in the Alpisella Valley, in the Rhaetian Alps, and then runs through the whole valley and flows into Lake Como. From the basin, the Adda continues its course towards the sea creating the parks of Adda Nord (Northern Adda) and Adda sud (Southern Adda). Zigzagging and flanking the river Adda in about 40 km you reach the city of Bormio, well-known for its thermal baths and breathtaking landscapes. From the rear part of the station, we cycle till a roundabout and then turn left after a while again left/right/right to avoid a short stretch of road in the wrong direction and get on the Lungoadda Ortigara, a secondary low-traffic alley flanking the river and keeping it on the right. In a few minutes, Tirano is already a dot behind us and we’re able to plunge immediately into Nature: the woods and the mountains are the real masters of Valtellina and it’s pleasant to cycle with the breeze in your hair.
After 3,7 km the landscape changes: close to Sernio, the river Adda we’re running along backward, becomes a blue-green pond because of a blockage of the A2A. Shortly before the blockage, on top of a short hill avoid the dirt road on the left but keep going straight towards the property of A2A (I heard people who had doubts about this crossroads).
A sign on the asphalt (forbidden to children under 18 years of age and in the local dialect) spurs a specific type of cyclist to overcome a short spurt, we cross the bridge (also for cars even if little traffic-congested) and we get back to the cycle path. At the Parco dell'Adda a must-do stop for a coffee really delicious. And for those who want to let their Facebook friends know where they’re and what they’re doing, the Wi-Fi is free. It is approximately open from April till November. A very long slight slope drives us to the meadows, on the right halfway are visible the Bellaguardia Castle and the Pedenale Tower (examples of ancient fortifications to guard the Mortirolo. One day we’ll go also here), to be swallowed suddenly by the bush and apple trees to let us go out after Mazzo di Valtellina, in the past defined one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
A ride till Piazza Santo Stefano with its churches and the Palazzi Quadrio and Venosta is worth a short detour both for kilometers and time.
In about 1,5 km we arrive at the Parco dei Prati di Punta. A pretty artificial pond where you can fish, a wide meadow where you can sunbathe, playground for children, bar, party areas, etc. which would be worth a relaxing visit but the road to Bormio is still long.
After some classic pictures we go back to the saddle again dominated by the Monte Storile which is the mountain with the most anti-aesthetic profile that exists but seen from this area appears reaching towards the sky and seems to be looking at us while small and slow, we approach the gates of the Upper Valley. Without noticing, after pedaling for a while on the Sentiero Valtellina, we’re already in the municipality of Grosio, and on the slope on the left are visible the San Faustino Castle and that commonly known as the new castle (both restored).
At the end of Grosio the cycle path stretches 650 m after a fountain (with fresh and clear water) on the right. This is one of the newest pieces of the cycleway. You now cross the "Pont del Gac'" bridge and now the road goes up and up and up. In 2 km the difference in height increases by 150 m (if you do it in reverse from Bormio pay attention to speed since it’s easy to exceed 40km/h and there’s a rather blind semi-S curve).
Here starts the Upper Valley...
A flat stretch on new asphalt (we’ll see in a couple of years... at the moment it’s totally new!!!), at the feet of Sondalo, makes us gain speed if you don’t need to the shopping since you have a supermarket on your right. Well, we’re saying that if you don’t need supplies, the very new asphalt makes us gain speed immediately (this stretch is not recommended during the Motoraduno dello Stelvio) till the conclusion of the Sentiero Valtellina cycle route. From here till the resort of Aquilone (about 9 km from our destination) the route goes along the old Stelvio state road; generally with low traffic with the exception of rush hours and with only a few trucks but for those of fuels.
The road is rather inevitable with the exception of Le Prese: ignore the deviation at the junction to Bormio on the left because it takes to the new state road and almost directly to the gallery (besides being forbidden it’s also very dangerous. I happened to see cyclists that without knowing to take the galleries, especially during the high tourist and I assure you that over there it’s a lot of traffic) you turn right on a short bridge (weird eh? :) ) crossing the Adda and once reached the opposite bank, you go on flanking the water stream. With incredible natural shows, a short but very intense climb, the road goes to Morignone.
From the road it’s possible to spot a waterfall: we’re in the place where before 1987 there was the resort of Sant'Antonio Morignone completely destroyed by the landslide of Monte Zandila.
...and we are in Bormio
Here we’re magnetized by the magic of the mountains. The Reit peak is in front of us. The view extends from Mount Scale to the mountains of Valfurva. The environment is magic and in fall the yellow-red of the trees is even more alienating (in the good sense of the term. Does a positive acceptation exist? Take it for positive). Even if you sit down out of a bar you have a terrific view. You will definitely relax. A very short stretch with mixed traffic and the cycle path drawn in the meadows takes us to the sports arena of Bormio and in short, you’re at the bus station. I suggest that you bring with you a wind-proof jacket if you do the reverse tour since the area from Cepina to Sondalo is always windy and at sunset, the air gets chilly also in summer. Furthermore, the route is rather short but the temperature excursion from Tirano to Bormio can be of many degrees. You can easily find also a difference of 15° according to the season.
We take into account two possible variants only in the road stretch where there’s is no cycle-pedestrian lane.
The first one, short, is only for those who have an MTB (maybe also for a gravel bike but since I have never tried it I cannot grant it) since all is dirt and if the flat stretch well beat has anyway a slope that leaves you no breath and with a bottom quite disconnected: holes and some “wandering rocks”. If you travel along with it from Bormio to Tirano you’ll easily reach 30 km/h but always pay attention. At the Ponte del Diavolo (“Devil's bridge”) (at about 5,5 km from the end of the cycle path in Sondalo) just after a group of houses, you turn left abandoning the state road, using a swift gear and you go on the dirt road.
The second variant is maybe more historic with a view more on the landslide of Mount Zandila. This route has slopes with a gradient of 18%. We take the paved alley on the right (it’s what remains of one of the many variants of the state road). After the first climb, we take a breath, and we go for a second short stretch that takes the wind out of your sails. The mountain clearly shows us its wounds. In seven hairpin turns (it was commonly called the “high road of the landslide”) we’re in a large picnic area. Possibility of refilling your water bottle thanks to the freshwater gushing from a fountain.
In this stretch, a monument in memory of San Martino di Serravalle was built. Here lay a small church (from what I learned from some readings, I’m too young to have a historical memory of this) dedicated right to San Martino di Serravalle destroyed by the landslide. We travel along with a short lit gallery (cars are almost non-existent since it isn’t a crossing point but for reaching the mountains or the picnic area but lights and whatever should be part of your equipment) where it’s almost always cold. Now the road goes down again. If we look at the slopes above us we’ll notice that here winter is freezing and avalanches leave their mark. During the descent, we meet a small church that luckily hasn’t been destroyed by the flood where there’s an ossuary of the people who died during the natural calamity. This place, despite everything, instills tranquility. It can look like a paradox. Or maybe it really is.We take again our bikes and after a stretch, with a slight descent, we connect to the cycle path in Tola.
What to see in Valtellina
From Sondalo the Stelvio National Park starts, where you can admire specimens of bearded vulture (also nicknamed as “lamb vulture”) or one of the many specimens of deer, chamois, and gooseberries. The territory of the Park is also the paradise of MTB, reserving a different route everyday un. Tirano, our departing station, is a place to devote about a one-hour visit for example in order not to miss the Basilica della Madonna di Tirano or the historical center.
Where to sleep and eat
A place which I want absolutely to recommend even if, I admit, is a bit out of hand if you move exclusively by bike (maybe by hitchhiking?) is the Baita del Gufo, an agriturismo on the road of the Mortirolo Pass. At the Baita del Gufo you eat with a fixed price and you can gorge yourself as much as you want with typical dishes from Valtellina like pizzoccheri, sciatt, cheeses... but meat is also available!!! Another place where to eat local food, a lot and very well, spending really very little, and, by the way, along our route is the La Locanda da Giovanna . I don’t know if you have to book but I suggest that you call before showing up. In Tirano the Antica Osteria dell'Angelo is a quiet, comfy place in the historical part of the town. To sleep, if you want to stop along the road and spend more than one day in the valley, I can recommend you the Garnì le Corti di Grosotto where you don’t spend a lot and a pleasant place. Also in the town of Sernio you’ll find a cheap alternative called Ostello Seicento. In Sondalo Hotel Torre, family-run, and in a quiet location at the beginning of a pine forest. During your stay in Upper Valtellina don’t forget to taste the local cheeses of the area like Casera, but also bresaola. Sciatt, pizzoccheri, chisciol, taroz, manfrigole, and bisciola are a must-try thing! Naturally, they’re all light and ideal for cycling... Don’t forget a sandwich with rye bread and bresaola and mushrooms or a slice of cake with buckwheat and jam.