Ride Report – Pinnacle Passes 2019
Have you ever experienced the kind of heat that melts pavement? That is the sort of heat that greeted us in Milan for the start of our Pinnacle Passes tour. The temps were well into the mid-thirties and it was stifling. We hoped it was made worse because we were in the city and that it would get better as we moved out into the countryside.
Our group had gathered in Milan for the beginning of our Pinnacle Passes tour through the French and Italian Alps.
We landed in the city in the midst of a pavement melting heat wave which sucked some of the enthusiasm to explore the city.
We collected our hire bikes from the rental depot and most riders choose to take a very Milanese style approach to safety apparel on the short ride back the hotel with shorts and t-shirts very much the done thing. Our mix of bikes mostly consisted of Ducati 1260 and 950 Multi Strada’s along with a pair of BMW R 1200 GS.
We met downstairs for a pre-dinner drink and some anti pasta but at the rates our hotel was charging for beers (something like 12 euro!) we opted to head out for dinner rather than settle in at the bar.
A short walk around the corner for dinner presented us a funky modern cafe with a great mix of traditional Italian and more modern style food. It was a great kick off to the trip with our group acquainting ourselves. Most of our gang knew each other from previous Maschine rides so it was right into the laughs.
Milan, Italy to Nervi, Italy
We had a slow departure from Milan trying to find some final bits and pieces to set a couple of bikes for GPS navigation.
The temperature was up already to around 31 degrees leaving town. Jumping on the motorway helped with the airflow but we were hoping it was a few degrees cooler up at Passo Penice.
Our route towards the Mediterranean coast for our overnight in Nervi led us almost due south of Milan through some wonderful country we found in 2018. The rolling hills were reminiscent of Tuscany and quite bumpy in places until we came to a section of road we dubbed “the racetrack”. This stretch of bitumen was glorious in its twists and turns and the surface was beautifully smooth. The road wound it’s way down a hillside in amongst fields of grass that was mostly devoid of trees so you got an excellent view down the valley. This track was so good we just had to do it twice!
As we started to climb towards Passo Penice the temperature did indeed drop to a far more comfortable mid-twenties. Our lunch cafe at the top of the pass at 1,460m was pumping on Saturday with a heap of bikes in the car park. Good service from the waitress who spoke less English than we spoke Italian. We managed to get our order in and great paninis were had followed by our first proper Italian coffee on the road.
Our next stop on the map was the historic town of Bobbio. Bobbio sits on the banks of the Trebbia River and aside from the medieval towers in the towns centre, the prominent feature of the town is the wonky bridge that crosses the river. The bridge named Ponte Gobbo or Hunchback Bridge is an ancient stone bridge which dates back to at least 1196 but may even be of Roman origin. Some say its irregular shape is the work of the devil. Bobbio has a lot of history to it and there is even rumour that Leonardo da Vinci completed the Mona Lisa here.
Continuing on from Bobbio we followed Val Trebbia high up on the twisting road with glorious views down the valley to the stunning river. It was so tempting to stop in for a swim, but we wouldn’t get anywhere if we stopped at every beautiful river we saw.
What followed was series of beautiful twisting roads that hugged the hillside and in places the hillside actually curved over the roadway. There were just a couple of small villages we passed through for the next 80 or so kilometres which is quite a rare thing in Italy.
Seeing the Mediterranean for the first time did not disappoint, our view from top of the last mountain range before the coast looked straight down towards the pretty seaside towns of Portofino and Santa Margehrita Liguire. Or intention was to take a quick run in and out to Portofino on its narrow road to find a cooling gelato. Considering the temperatures during the day we had no doubt earned a gelato, but everyone was pretty keen to just get in the ocean.
A quick dash along the coast west towards our overnight at Nervi dodging scooters and Fiats. We wasted no time after arriving at our hotel at Villa Pagoda to head down to the ocean and dive in the ocean. And it was glorious! The water never felt so good.
Even though it was late June and summer hadn’t even really started, there were plenty of bronzed bodies lying on the rocky outcrops. Clearly baking in the sun is serious business over there because we were told by one young Italian gent to move because we were blocking his rays!
Back to our hotel for dinner and there was a wedding going on, but we had our very own balcony to dine on so we were set for a great night.
Nervi, Italy to Saint-Paul, France
We spent a couple of hours in the morning walking along the foreshore and taking another swim in the ocean. It was too good to resist. Our hotel was serving a beautiful breakfast with even our own chocolate fountain to dip our morning fruits into if we so desired!
With temperatures in the mid 30’s by mid-morning it kind of took our enthusiasm for exploration away. Our planned route was to take us along the Mediterranean coast into France with a lunch stop at Monaco and perhaps a run into the hills to cover some of the Monte Carlo rally stages.
We made the call to cut short the days route in favour of bee lining it on the autostrada to our accommodation in the hills behind Nice with the promise of a cool pool wanting for us.
Not far west from Nervi is Genoa, a busy seaside city which is one of the main shipping ports in the Mediterranean. When we travelled through here in 2015, we saw the wreck of the Costa Concordia in port being devoured by metal workers to convert it to scrap. This year we witnessed the aftermath of the collapse of Ponte Morandi. During a heavy storm in August 2018 a 200-metre section of the bridge collapsed causing the death of 43 people and leaving 600 people homeless. The result of this bridge being subtracted from the roads infrastructure was first of all confusion by my GPS when we get directed off the autostrada and then confusion by riders as we wound our way through the side streets of Genoa. We did eventually rejoin the autostrada and looking back we could see clear through a tunnel that disappeared into a void across the river where the bridge once stood.
We dropped into Monaco to do a lap and check out the mega yachts in the harbour. Our ride by of the Casino de Monte-Carlo was thwarted by some very well-dressed police officers who directed us around in the wrong direction. We even had a scooter mounted officer chase us down. We still don’t know why we couldn’t go past the casino, maybe it was because we weren’t driving an Audi or a Lamborghini.
Having seen enough of Monaco we followed the signs to Nice on the autostrada and then skipped around the back of the city to head to our hotel in the hills near Vence. Our accommodation for the night was Hotel Les Messugues which is a fascinating establishment, formerly an old jail which been tastefully decorated with beautiful landscaping.
What we were all most interested in though was the pool waiting for us in the gardens. We quickly stripped off our bike gear and head for the pool which was rather unique. The circular donut shape allowed you to circulate around the pool, duck under the bridge and continue a circuit to help walk off the fatigue in our legs. Aided by the well-stocked bar fridge which worked on an honesty system it was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. We were all impressed by the sculptures in the garden too, in particular the man striding high above with his genitalia swinging in the breeze.
Our dinner for the evening was truly special and an experience that I’m sure most of us won’t forget any time soon. We dressed in the finest clothes we could manage out of our pannier boxes and had a couple of cars (black Mercedes M Class no less!) deliver us to the restaurant.
Alain Llorca restaurant is perched on a hill-top overlooking the village of Saint-Paul de Vence. The service and food from this Michelin star restaurant were exceptional and at a level that most of us had not experienced before. Our sommelier in particular was an exceptional salesman and had a glass of champagne in front of each person by the time his work at the table was done. Such was his irresistible charm and cheeky humour, a craft he had cleverly honed over his 70 odd years of service.
Someone dared ask the question of what the most expensive bottle of wine was on the menu. We don’t quite recall the exact figure but let’s just say it was north of 5,000 euro! So, you could go about halfway to buying a very nice BMW GS motorcycle!
The food that followed was a degustation symphony of taste explosions in the mouth that left us with full bellies and enlightened taste buds. All served in true French style out on the balcony This restaurant was the epitome of what you imagine when you think of a fine French restaurant. We all slept well that night.
Saint-Paul, France to Embrun, France
Did you know motorcycles require fuel to operate? We were aware of this fact but what was overestimated was just how many fuel stations would be in the ‘Parc naturel regional des Prealpes d’Azur’. This National Park was massive, and we had only just started enjoying the first 20 km of twisting roads when someone mentioned over the intercom their fuel was getting a little low and they were about to go on reserve.
No problem I thought, there are little villages everywhere in southern France and there is always a fuel station around, it’s not like Australia. A check of our planned route through the national park though and I was shocked to see that we wouldn’t be passing another town likely to have fuel for at least 80km.
Some quick calculations and a deviation was made to drop back south out of the park to grab some fuel before re-joining the route further on. The ensuing detour road was so gob-smackingly beautiful with its steep sided gorges and waterfalls it distracted us all from the fact we were adding extra kilometres onto our days ride. No one really seemed to mind even they still gave me heaps for my lack of logistical planning over the intercom. It didn’t help that when we arrived in our refuelling town, we discovered the credit card network was down so all of the self-serve fuel pumps weren’t working. Three stops later we found a very busy service station that would accept our cards and fill our tanks.
After riding another hour, we dropped down into a river valley and just had to take a plunge in the stunning river. As beautiful as it looked from the roadside on this hot day it was still bitingly cold in the water. It did the job of cooling our core body temperature but if you stayed in too long you soon got the sensation of pins and needles in your legs. Continuing to follow the river valley was a sensational winding road that led us to a little town for lunch.
Our key highlight along the route today was Gorges du Verdon. This is a massive gorge network in the Provence region which has incredible steep sided gorges that drop several hundred metres to the river valley below. Along the landscape on the exposed hills at the top of the gorge was surprisingly barren, the river far below just looked like a beautiful blue-green oasis. So many great viewing locations fought for your attention as we followed the rim of the gorge network.
A little further on and we were treated to one of those iconic scenes that everyone thinks of when you talk about the Provence region. Rows and rows and rows of fresh lavender growing strong in the fields. The purple flowers carpeted the landscape in all directions, and you couldn’t help but stop and get photos in amongst it. It looked great and smelt nice too.
Our overnight stop at Embrun was at the foothills of the French Alps and thankfully the temperature had dropped off a little by the time we got in. Basic accommodation and a basic meal compared to last nights but that was going to be hard to top.
A big storm overnight certainly helped bring the temperatures down and thankfully we weren’t riding in it but we would still feel the repercussions of it tomorrow.
Embrun, France to Lake Como, Italy
Big day today. We wanted to head back east to the Italian lakes district but there was fair bit of ground to cover.
First, we climbed up into the French Alps and rode over the stunning Col d’Izoard with its massive rock scree covered slopes that reach up into the heavens. Col d’Izoard summits at ta height of 2.360 metres and is one of the famous stages often included in the Tour de France cycling race. Many legends have been created over the is pass and we were blessed with clear weather for our summit today.
As we bombed down the other side of the pass there was plenty of cycling traffic to race against as they now had gravity assisting them. We all carefully chose our lines into the hairpin bends and thoroughly enjoyed that sensation of cranking over and trusting the grip under our tyres.
We headed for the Italian border crossing in the Alps near Briancon but shortly after passing through the town we felt the aftermath of last night’s storm as the mountain road ahead had been cut off by a landslide. Traffic barricades stopping our progress over the mountain pass, so we took the next road over and it still got us there without adding too much time.
We made a promise to our Italian mate Alberto that we would come and visit him in his hometown of Bardonecchia. We met Alberto in the centre of the ski village where all the action was happening. It was all happening in Bardonecchia today with the village pumping with kids enjoying the summer activities. The biggest attraction was the sled run that was operating and after having some lunch we all had a go at the Alpine Coaster. A conveyor belt dragged us uphill several hundred metres in our little carts and then the only thing preventing us from hurtling down the tracks was the brake handle we had control of. Most of the corners could be taken in free-fall but the final spiral made your stomach drop and you had to be a brave soul to resist the temptation to brake. It was such good fun that even the local Caribineri had a go. Dressed immaculately as always in their uniforms!
There was in fact an overly large police presence in Bardonecchia as Alberto explained to us there was a new rail tunnel being constructed through the Alps between Lyon and Turin and many people had been protesting it. The proposed tunnel would be 57km making it one of the longest train tunnels in the world. The existing Frejus tunnel is already 12.8km long and punches a hole clear through the alps to France. An incredible engineering feat that makes passage through the mountains possible in all weather.
We said our farewells to Alberto and his family and jumped on the autostrada heading for Turin and across to Lake Como. With a posted speed limit of 160 kmh on this section it truly does give an appreciation of speed. After crossing through a toll point, I stopped for just a couple of minutes to take my helmet off and put earplugs in. I waved the others on ahead and said I would catch up. With the group travelling at an average 160kmh that two-minute stopover resulted in me being 5 km behind and spending the next 20 minutes chasing them down at well over the posted 160. Luckily as I entered a tunnel an Audi Q7 came rocketing up behind me and blasted past at a far greater rate of knots. I took the opportunity to tuck in behind him and ride his slipstream all the way back to the group. Certainly make the boring motorway sections more interesting!
We rode the autostrada around the outskirts of Turin and straight to Como. From the busy little town of Como we skirted the edge of Lago di Como up the middle of the ‘wishbone’ along the western shore to the little village of Faggeto Lario. When you see a typical Lake Como view the shoreline is dotted with beautiful houses that look like they belong to the rich and famous. Tonight and for the next night we would be staying in just such a home. Domus Plinii is a family owned property that has converted a stately home into a six-apartment luxury hotel. I say apartments because each room was indeed that. Spread over two levels we all had our own lounge room and kitchen downstairs and bedroom upstairs.
While the sister runs front of house, brother Umberto took us out on the lake in his Mastercraft boat for dinner with a couple of little side excursions on the way. We cut a path across the lake to the western shoreline past a classic timber boat builder, past the lakeside holiday home of Goeorge Clooney and past several stately mansions that often host lavish functions. One such property is “Villa Pliniana” which for $150k euro can be yours to hire for an evening function. The founder of Spotify Daniel Ek tied the knot here and Mark Zuckerberg and Bruno Mars were just a couple of identities that were on the wedding guest list.
Umberto was a little distracted at one point while driving and almost ran over a ladies rowing team. They expressed their displeasure with hand gestures moving up and away from their chins and shouting some Italian word I didn’t recognise. I must look up “fangool”…
We were dropped off at a small jetty just down from a little village that didn’t have a name but had the most incredible restaurant. Trattoria del Porto is a classically simple family run trattoria that proves good food is more about the love than fancy ingredients. We sat down and no menus were offered, and no choices were given. We were all served a white wine and each of the three courses contained fish. Not your typical experience by any stretch but oh my was it good. Despite the usual lack of options everyone loved the food and wine. It was the epitome of good Italian eating, simple, unpretentious and using quality local produce.
After our meal we were offered a look in the historic church next to the restaurant. A hefty iron key was lent to us which allowed us to open the doors of the 1,000 year old Chiesa di San Martino overlooking the lake. What a privilege this felt like.
We happily wandered back down to the jetty with our bellies full and our minds blown at how the Italians do food so differently but so right. The temperature on the lake was just perfect as Umberto delivered back to our villa. A perfect evening.
Rest day on Lago di Como
With a day off the bikes to do as we please it was a mixed bag of activities and not much actual rest. Our villa had a few red Vespa scooters available for rent so Jeff and David took advantage of this and soon saddled up for a ride north to Bellagio. They clearly enjoyed the feeling of winds between their legs because they were giggling like a couple of schoolgirls. Three of us followed on our Ducati’s while three others took a ferry north to visit the famous town of Bellagio.
Sitting at the very point of the wishbone in the middle of Lake Como this town is very popular and is surrounded by beautiful views every way you look. The foreshore is tree lined with many shops and restaurants receding back up into the hillside. We took our time having a stroll around the streets before settling in for some lunch and a few drinks.
We took an alternate path back south and went up and over the mountain in the middle of the lake. The Vespa’s struggled a little for power up the hills but we found a gentle hand pressure on the back of the top boxes gave a little extra Ducati power to assist with the hill climbs. Descending the hills was no problem though and it soon became a great race battle to see who could bomb deeper and later on the brakes into every hairpin. A ridiculous amount of fun was had by all of us as we swapped turns on the little scooters.
The Vespa’s survived the trip back to our hotel where we first had a little relax in the sun by our private little beach. Our hotel also had available several paddle boards, so we rented a few of those and had our first go at stand paddle boarding, and what a location it was to do it. It was one of those pinch yourself moments being able to paddle freely around the lake with all the beautiful villas on the shoreline and all the beautiful people cruising past in various watercraft.
Our evening was spent first with ridiculously cheap drinks at a little bar then moving next door to a restaurant that was adequate but honestly paled in comparison to last night’s dinner. Still it was close to our hotel and it was a simple walk back.
Lake Como, Italy to Livigno, Italy
Our hosts at the hotel prepared lovely breakfast baskets for us that including fresh croissants and homemade jams. They also gave us some local olive oil and other goodies to take home with us, so we did our best to pack it away safely in the limited on bike space we had.
We rode north along the shore back up to Bellagio where we boarded a ferry which would take us on a quick 15 minute trip across the lake to Varenna on the eastern shore. We then continued all the way up to the northern tip of the lake where we began our journey into the Dolomites.
By midday we were getting a little peckish again, so we hunted down a food stop. Our first attempt at stopping revealed a that we were either too early or too late for the cafe as the lady said she didn’t really have anything ready to go for our group. A little further on in the village and Jeff sniffed out a fantastic little Pasticceria loaded with great pastries in the little Italian town of Somaggia. The display case was loaded with so many great choices in pastries it was hard to make a bad choice. The only disappointing thing as they didn’t have a coffee machine. We were both disappointed and confused by this. What sort of Italian bakery doesn’t have a coffee machine? The owners were so eager to please our group the husband went next door to their house and proceeded to make a batch of homemade coffees that satisfied each and everyone one of us. Such gracious hosts. We had a great “conversation” with them sharing an equal amount of English and Italian as best we both could. If ever you happen to be up that way, make sure you drop into Pasticceria Sala di Sala Mirko.
Continuing up the valley we were heading for St Moritz which sits in a beautiful valley. After crossing the border over into Switzerland we rode up the fun little Passo del Maloja. The valley beyond was simply gorgeous and was visual proof of why St Moritz is such a popular ski resort destination. With a savage looking summer storm looming overhead we kept rolling through town. At least some of us did. Our group got split up when some stopped to put on wet weather gear. The irony was that those of us that kept riding to the next town completely missed the storm and stayed dry while those that stopped got caught in the worst of it and got absolutely drenched and pelted with hail!
We regrouped and as it turned out soon after St Moritz we would all need our wet weather gear as we rode into the wettest weather we would get all tour. The clouds shrouded the mountains with mist, but they still looked magnificent poking through. I fiddled with all of the buttons on my Ducati to dumb down the power delivery as much possible in order to help keep me upright on the wet pavement.
Thankfully we only had to ride through the wet stuff for about 1 hour before arriving back in Italy to the lovely ski resort town of Livigno. Our accommodation was at the newly refurbished Hotel Sønne and Patricia our host greeted us with the best hospitality you could imagine. We quickly warmed up in this luxurious hotel and most of us even had time to sneak in an afternoon message which we figured was well earned.
Livigno is an oddity in that it is a duty-free shopping haven. The justification for the tax-free status is the difficulty in reaching the town during winter. Walking down the streets and checking out the shops is the done thing here in Livigno. Whilst we couldn’t haul much loot in our pannier boxes David did make a wise investment into a bottle of Captain Morgan which he purchased for a mere 7 euro! That’s about 11 dollars Aussie for a 750ml bottle of spirits!
One of the cool things about Italy is how seriously they take their eating and drinking. In particular at some hotels you can partake in ‘aperitivo’, or Teatime as it was called at Hotel Sønne. Without doubt the absolute winner of the snacks they served up was the Tiramasu. This little dessert was served in a small glass and it lacked the usual alcoholic inclusion, but the taste was so subtle and delightful. Although it may have wrecked our dinner it was so worth it! It is worth booking into Hotel Sønne just for their Tiramasu.
Our real dinner that night was at a traditional Italian trattoria with red and white checked tablecloths run by a lovely old Italian couple who we are guessing have been there for 30 or more years and still love to host people. Their English was scarcely better than our Italian but that doesn’t matter when the common language is good food.
Livigno, Italy to Merano, Italy
With a run over the most famous mountain pass Stelvio on the agenda today we made sure we filled up at breakfast time. Host Patricia excelled herself when we commented at breakfast about how good their Tiramisu was, she disappeared into the kitchen and produced the one dessert that survived last night’s battering by our crew. We shared it around, so we all got at least one more spoonful of its goodness.
Leaving Livigno was bittersweet. None of us wanted to leave and most of us vowed to return. Possibly in winter to enjoy the winter sports!
The run out of Livigno took us alongside the stunning Lago di Livigno with its avalanche proof gallery tunnels affording great views of the stunning lake and surrounding mountains that terminate at a massive dam wall right on the Swiss border. We stop here to pay a toll before making use of the tunnel that punches through a mountain and divers us out into Switzerland. A short squirt through the 3km long one-way tunnel brought us out into the Swiss National Park and its beautiful mountain road.
The next 20 odd kilometres are a symphony of stunning Swiss roads with a great series of sweeping bends and tighter hairpins. We hooked a right turn at the town of Prato Allo Stelvio and we made our run up the northern Trafoi side of Stelvio with its numbered 48 switchback hairpins.
Stelvio was in its usual twisted glory. There was a little traffic on the road but not so much considering how beautiful the day was. As usual the first run up you can’t help but stop and take lots of photos and videos of the gorgeous views and myriad of bikes climbing and descending the mountain.
At the summit village we were greeted with the usual carnival atmosphere with bikes, cars and people everywhere. It was reasonably busy for a Friday and the weather was glorious at the top, so we took our time soaking in the atmosphere and eating wurst.
With our bellies topped up we took the run down the southern side of Stelvio Pass into Bormio heading for Passo Gavia, but once clear of Bormio we soon came across some signs saying “Strada Chiusa” or Road Closed. Trying to interpret the detail in Italian was a little tricky so we decided to push on and try our luck. A little further on though and it became clear that Passo Gavia would not be on our route today with Carinbineri blocking the road and telling us there was a landslide so we had to turn around.
A quick check of the map confirmed that the best way onto our destination of Merano would be back over Passo Stelvio. Damn! What a terrible thing to have to ride that mountain pass twice in a day! So, we attacked the mountain with gusto and made our climb back up to the summit in about 11 minutes from Bormio with no stopping for photos this time around. The descent down the steeper Trafoi side took on a bit of a race with the intercoms giving us a gauge of how in front or behind riders were. The last couple of corners was a tussle with three or four overtaking moves happening in the last two corners. Jeff declared the winner by his self-proclaimed finish line. Great fun and giggles!
The traffic into Merano was quite heavy as so many people obviously had to complete the same turn around as us due to road closure. Merano sits in a lovely valley in the northern Italian region of South Tyrol. With a beautiful river running through the centre of town it sits in a basin relatively low at 325 metres, but the surrounding peaks rise up to over 3,335 metres! It’s a beautiful town with a lot to offer.
Having had a great experience here last year we took our group back to Bistro Liszt in the centre of town where our fantastic host Michael (Micky) remembered us and looked after us once again. We sat outside and enjoyed the warm breeze with an Aperol Spritz and devoured some great food while Mickey looked after us.
A stroll through the streets of the city afterwards worked off the meal while we enjoyed the twilight.
Merano, Italy to Sesto, Italy
The day was starting off warm at 25 degrees at 9am. The fact that we were heading further and higher into the mountains allayed our fears a little about how hot it might get.
We followed a beautiful flowing road out of Merano through Avelengo with stunning views down to the valleys below. This road was almost perfect. A beautiful smooth surface with flowing curves and great scenery through the trees with very little traffic and few towns to pass through. Very pretty and relaxing ride to start the day.
Around the ridge of a mountain and the views down into just demonstrated how rich this area is in producing fruit, grapes and other produce. Bolzano is a big commercial city that is surrounded by vineyards and orchards and fields. It looked like the fruit bowl of Italy’s north!
Being Saturday there was a lot of traffic in the road today, so we took a quick detour off the main road to take in a great series of switchbacks that got us up on top of the ridge line above the traffic. We followed this for as long as we could while still heading more or less in the correct direction.
This was bringing us into a famous area of the Dolomote mountains with a wicked series of passes linked together in a circuit known as Sella Ronda. During winter you can ski in a loop with over 26km of downhill runs all linked together in a circuit. Today with the glorious clear skies we would soak in the views of the grass covered mountain peaks with their awe-inspiring sheer granite faces rising up before us.
Arriving in Covara in Baddia we stopped for lunch and with a massive cycling marathon race due to take place tomorrow the town was heaving with fit lycra clad athletes. Well maybe they weren’t all athletes but most of them were fitter than our crew who had enjoyed far too many beers over the past week.
Mounting back back up we climbed yet another series of passes before summiting at one of the most spectacular views in the Dolomiti. Passo Giau is a little rough and bumpy climbing in places but once at the summit you are standing on a saddle with valleys dropping away to either side and a massive granite peak rising up before you. A very beautiful spot. Down the valley to our right is Cortina d’Ampezzo which is a popular ski destination but today we would continue through and on to a little town right near the Austria border called Sesto. We have visited Hotel Drei Zinnen several times over the years, mostly because of the views but also because of the excellent friendly service we get from Troudel and her team.
The dining room was a feast that evening at the long table.
Sesto, Italy to Asolo, Italy
Leaving Sesto, we rode back through Cortina and continued south through some interesting back roads. After our morning tea stop the skies were looking threatening with summer thunderstorms brewing in the direction of our intended travel. There had been news reports the day before of massive hailstorms causing damage in the area, we were heading so we made a slight adjustment to our track to avoid the storms for as long as we could.
Our revised route took us through the middle of a National Park with the roads pretty much deserted and then dove into a steep sided canyon with several tunnels and galleries to ride through. We picked the right time to stop and gave everyone a chance to put on their wet weather gear. Even before we got rolling again the skies opened up and began to drop their deluge on us. For the next half hour, we would squint our way through the pelting rain but really, we were pretty lucky. The rain didn’t last long, and the temperatures remained high, so we soon dried out again.
Asolo is an old hilltop village which is becoming very famous for producing some excellent Prosecco wine. The other thing this region is famous for is boot manufacturing and so tomorrow we would be visiting the Alpinestars factory for a special tour of their facilities.
Our hotel was something else. Villa Cipriani has an excellent reputation and it’s easy to see why. The gardens are beautiful with fantastic views down the mountain to the town below and further across to Venice on a clear day.
Not long after arriving at the hotel it bucketed down with rain for another 30 minutes, so we were all thankful for being off the bikes earlier. A few of us took the opportunity to sneak out in between storms and go to the clearance store for Alpinestars. There wasn’t quite as much on offer as we hoped there might have been, but reality was, we couldn’t carry much anyway. Still we all made room and added some t-shirts and gloves to our kit before returning to our hotel.
David decided tonight would be the night to lighten his luggage load a little, so we were invited to the lounge area of his villa for some pre-dinner drinks. The bottle of Captain Morgan he bought for 7 euro in Livigno was the perfect starter before we headed out on the town for dinner.
The restaurant we walked up to was large, hot and pretty busy but our table was probably making the most noise so we couldn’t really complain! After dinner we sought some fresh air with a nice little stroll around the village. Turns out Asolo has quite a lot of history with “Rocca di Asolo” an old stone fortress sitting on top of the hill with the structures dating back to the 12th century. Next to the fortress was an amphitheatre and it was fun to imagine what it would have been like to see a rendition of “Romeo & Juliet” played out here centuries ago.
Asolo, Italy to Riva Del Garda, Italy
A lovely breakfast was taken in the gardens of our hotel before we jumped on our bikes in civvies for a quick ride down the hill into Asolo for our tour of the Alpinestars factory. Alpinestars have been supporting Maschine with awesome riding gear for the past few years and we are proud to be associate with them. When we knew we were going to be in the area of their factory we asked the local distributor, Monza Imports, if they could organise a tour for our group. Thankfully they obliged.
The building is nothing remarkable form the outside, just looks like any other stark white industrial building, save for the cool looking Astars logo on the front and the fleet of red Astars branded vehicles in the car park. Massimo was to greet us in reception but strangely it was the receptionist that caught our attention initially. She had an Aussie accent!
Massimo took us on tour of the buildings. First up we walked into the showroom where they have pretty much every single item in every single colour way on display. Being early July, they were in the midst of launching their 2020 range to dealers and distributors, so we got an early look at some new colours and styles. It was fascinating to see the full range spread out. The remainder of this building houses sales and logistics staff and very much has a modern race vibe to it.
For the next part of our tour we jumped in a minivan to run us down the road to the building where Alpinestars began in 1963. This original building now houses the custom race gear manufacturing and prototyping workshop. Inside is an army of incredibly skilled and talented seamstress who sew individual cut pieces of nylon and leather with moulded 3D plastic components that make up the race suits and MX gear. As part of this building is a large flatbed printer that can print all of the sponsor logos direct onto the fabrics and kangaroo leather. No more sew on patches.
The neatest part of this building is the boot manufacturing area. This is very much an industrial area with massive presses and various machines used by craftsman to assemble boots. The really cool thing is the plastic tubs that contain custom lasts (plastic moulds) of any racers that Alpinestars supports. Digging into the tubs we found names like; Mick Doohan, Eli Tomac, Michael Schumacher, Justin Barcia, Dani Pedrosa. The list of recognisable top-level racers names was endless.
Next up was a drive to a brand-new building which wasn’t even completed yet – the R&D building. Last year when we visited, R&D was still housed in the original building but now it had a place of its own. Such is the growth of Alpinestars. We can’t say too much about what we saw here but we were lucky enough to meet the lead engineer working on the Techair airbag system. He showed us some data logs and the new sensor pack that was being developed for the next generation of Techair vests. It was tiny! So impressive to see how they continue to improve the technology and had shrunk many components.
The last area is amusing but serious at the same time and that is the test lab. In here is a range of machines that test the durability of various components. Many of the test rigs had been developed by Alpinestars staff themselves because they just don’t exist. Everything from rocking a boot backwards and forwards on a footpeg, pieces of leather being worked to and fro, fluro coloured leather being bombarded by 10 years’ worth of ultra-violet radiation in a few weeks were tested here. Turns out you can’t beat black for fading! We were very fortunate to even have one of the engineers show us a drop test with a helmet shell on their test rig. Fascinating.
This tour really did give an appreciation of just how well Alpinestars has riders covered from head to toe now. Pick any discipline of motorcycling be it road racing, motocross, enduro, adventure or just street cruising and you can get Alpinestars gear to cover. I don’t think any other gear manufacturer can say that. Oh, and they do cycling gear too!
We said “ciao!” to the Alpinestars guys and ducked back to our hotel to put our proper riding gear on and grab some lunch before we made tracks west. For the next hour we picked our way through some urban and industrial roads at the foothills of the Dolomites before launching back into the mountains to go up and over towards Lago di Garda.
As we descended a valley near Rovereto we stopped off at little spot where across the valley you can see a church literally carved into the side of the mountain face. Eremo di San Colombano dates back to 753 and legend has it a hermit monks lived here and built the church sometime around the late tenth century. In the river below there was a group of youths jumping into the deep rock pools that cool mountain water was spilling into. It was certainly the place to be on this hot day.
Lago di Garda is our most favourite place in all of Italy and the view coming into town reminded us just how special it is. The lake stretched out form the mountains down to the south and all along the lakes surface was sailboats and windsurfers taking advantage of the winds that blow through here.
Arriving in Riva del Garda we felt like royalty arriving to our hotel in the centre of the main square. This area is normally restricted to traffic but as our hotel sits facing the plaza we had special privileges to roll right up to the front door. As we rolled by the cafes and picked our way through the pedestrians plenty of people were looking at us, no doubt with a touch of jealousy.
With so many choices of restaurants it’s often hard to pick where to go but really, it’s hard to go wrong.
Riva Del Garda, Italy to Milan, Itlay
Our time in Italy was coming to an end. Our last day took us along the western shore of Lago di Garda towards the town of Campione where we peeled off up into the hills to ride one incredible section of road. Strada Della Forra is an amazing canyon that splits through the mountain and the path through it is an incredibly narrow piece of road that indeed in some sections there are traffic lights to control the flow of traffic as its only barely wide enough for one car to fit through. It feels like riding through a botanical garden as the walls of the canyon are rich with plant life and ferns clinging to the walls.
From the steep sided hills surrounding Lake Garda you get incredible views of the lake which stretches over 50km from the mountains of the Dolomites down to the flat land of the Po Valley around Milano. We took the opportunity to have a cruisy lunch by the lake before we had to make our way back to Milan.
Everyone was feeling pretty beat after two weeks on the road, so we took advantage of some excellent autostrada to make the final 100km pass by quickly. Speed limits of 130kmh or more make that distance pass by in a snap.
We got back to the hotel near the centre of Milan and got to work stripping our gear off the bikes and dumping it in our rooms. We saddled up for one last time to return our bikes to the rental depot. Little damage was recorded except for a couple of minor scrapes but would there be later damage to our licence after returning to Australia? Only time will tell!
A taxi back to our hotel then freshen up as best we could before a short troll through the neighbourhood for our final dinner at a rooftop restaurant. We were all feeling weary, but the laughs were still coming as we recounted the tales from the past two weeks.
Ah Italia! We will be back!