It’s May! In Italy, that means that the entire country (and quite a few visitors from abroad!) are gearing up for the cycling event of the year, the beloved GIRO D’ITALIA. The first stage kicks off on May 11 in Bologna and the final stage finishes in Verona on June 2. This year, the 15th – and longest stage – starts in Ivrea near Turin and finishes in our very own Como town. The legendary Ghisallo climb (see below and try it for yourself!) promises to put the Giro cyclists through their paces as they compete for the coveted pink jersey. We even have a special deal with extra amenities for cycling enthusiasts who are keen to experience the legendary race first hand.

Whether your cycling skills are Giro-level or more low-key, we have a few favorite road and mountain cycling routes on Lake Como that we like to recommend to guests. Our staff is standing by to assist in choosing the right route, whether they are looking to take the Palazzo’s complimentary bikes out for a quick trip in the neighborhood or spend the day mixing grueling climbs with panoramic views.

The Mac Daddy

Anyone who has spent any time on Lake Como’s 100+ miles of lake road will have seen them – semi-professional cyclists in head-to-toe lycra on impossibly slender roadbikes giving the cars a run for their money (and, in some cases, the fright of their lives!). For many cyclists, circumnavigating Lake Como is a bucket-list challenge they’ve always dreamed of. If you are one of those cyclists, make sure you train well and train hard before attempting the trip, which will take up the better part of a day. Of course, if you decide to hang up your helmet halfway through, there are several ferry stations on the shore where you can board the public boat with your bike and catch a leisurely cruise home (NB: no bikes permitted on hydrofoil or catamarans).

The lakeside roads are fairly flat, with a few undulations here and there. We recommend avoiding the trip on busy summer weekends and getting an early start. The more traffic you can avoid in the busier areas around Bellagio, Como and Lecco, the better off you’ll be. Most of the tunnels along the lake offer detours for cyclists either on the old roads used before they were built or on paths that run alongside the tunnels on the lake shore – you’ll see a lot of that between Menaggio and Gravedona. One you cannot avoid is the tunnel between Lecco and Bellagio; make sure you have appropriate lights on your bike to make yourself seen. And take care in the section between Colonno and Tremezzo, where the road is quite narrow.

There are some great spots to stop for a bit of R&R along the route – either in charming lakeside villages or out-of-the-way beaches. The quaint beach at Santa Maria Rezzonico is at about the halfway point and sits in the shadow of a monumental 14th-century castle. It’s a great place to dip your tired toes in the lake and fuel up with lunch from Pizzeria Beach 29. The stretch of shoreline between Gravedone ed Uniti and Domaso a bit further north has grassy knolls and pebble beaches galore, as well as a few eateries and even a bike shop (P&L Wear and Rental) if you need assistance.

Your Own Private Giro

If you ever doubted that Italians treat cycling as a kind of religion, then this challenging tour will change your mind. The road to the church of Madonna del Ghisallo counts as the signature climb in the Giro di Lombardia race and as a pilgrimage for any real cycling enthusiast. Originally a patroness of travelers, the Madonna at about 2500 feet above sea level between the two southern branches of Lake Como was officially declared the Patron Saint of Cycling by Pope Pius XII in 1949. Since then, amateurs and professionals alike have made this grueling climb to pay their respects to cyclists who lost their lives and to say a prayer for their own safety at the foot of the chapel’s eternal flame. Among the jerseys, bike frames and pennants hanging in the church and the Museo del Ciclismo next door, probably the most moving momento is the mangled frame of Fabio Casartelli, who died in a crash during the 1995 Tour de France.

This 32-mile (51 km) tour starts at the Palazzo and cruises along the lake towards Bellagio before turning right just after the hamlet of San Giovanni and starting its climb towards Civenna. After a brief break at Ghisallo to visit the chapel and/or the museum, continue on towards Asso, but break right at Mudronno for the legendary climb up to the observatory at Pian del Tivano. The Muro di Sormano, as it’s called by some – practically suicidal as it’s called by others, is a narrow paved path just over one mile in distance, but your legs will have to manage an average gradient of 17% with a maximum of 25% on your way to the observatory on the Tivano plateau. The views – and the welcome pit stop – at the top are (almost) worth the pain of the climb, but the sense of accomplishment is utterly priceless.

It’s all downhill from here – around the switchbacks into Nesso and then along the mercifully flat lake road back to the Palazzo.

A Mountain To Climb

Mountain bikers love the hilly area east of Lake Como for its challenging climbs and panoramic views, and the Alpe del Giumello tour is one of their favorites. Not only does it give you an impression of the hard lives led by the mountain folk of yesteryear, but it also reveals the alpine beauty of Lake Como’s unparalleled landscape and the hospitality the area is so famous for. You will need climbing legs and a good level of fitness, along with a sturdy mountain bike and helmet. Our Palazzo team would be glad to assist you in renting any equipment you might need!

Make your way first to Bellano just north of Varenna (ferries leave regularly from Bellagio to Varenna!). Follow the local road on a gentle climb through switchbacks to Vendrogno and veer off onto trail number 6 for Margno. Continue on the main road towards Casargo, turn left for Indovero and head right up the dirt track of Via Pomaleccio towards the picturesque ancient hamlet of Alpe Intelco. Follow signs for Giumello from here and continue through the woods until you reach the large clearing.

Giumello is a great place to stop for a bite to eat and there are a few options in the village, but we love the Rifugio Shambalà with its panoramic terrace overlooking Lake Como and the Lombard Pre-Alps. The return trip has its share of tumultuous ups and downs as well as picturesque streams and woods as you head past Alpe Camaggiore and downhill to Dervio. This portion of the ride is not without risk – the gradient can go as high as 38% and the track is rough. Stop off in Dervio to calm your nerves with a gelato and cycle on the lake road (or hop on the hourly train!) to Varenna for the ferry back to Bellagio.

A Family-Friendly Cycle

All of the other routes in this blog post are for serious cyclists, so we thought we’d add another option for families and more “comfort minded” bikers. The Sentiero Valtellina and the Ciclabile Valchiavenna take visitors through historic towns and past quaint churches and castles, with plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy Valtellina’s famous food and wine. With more than 100 miles of dedicated hiking and cycle paths – almost entirely separate from traffic! – as well as playgrounds, farmhouse restaurants and picnic areas, it’s a perfect day out for visitors to Lake Como.

The path begins in Colico on Lake Como’s northern shore and continues either towards the Swiss border to the north or along the base of the Bargamasque Pre-Alps to the east. There are bike rentals at the start of the path in Colico (accessible via ferry from Bellagio or by car ferry and train via Varenna) and at various places along the routes. The northward path is the Ciclabile Valchiavenna and starts in the Pian di Spagna nature reserve, continuing along the Mera river for 20 miles. The highlights on this route are the picturesque Lage di Mezzola with its varied waterfowl and wetlands, the elegant Palazzo Vertemate Franchi in Piuro and charming Chiavenna with its historic center and crotti-aged cheeses and meats.

The other path is the Sentiero Valtellina heading east along the mighty Adda, one of Italy’s longest rivers, for 70 miles. The path ends at 4,000 ft above sea level in Bormio, but there’s plenty to see even if you avoid the climb at the end. Leonardo da Vinci once described the Valtellina as a “valley surrounded by tall and fearsome mountains”, where the locals produced wines that are “heady and strong”. Not much has changed in the ensuing centuries: this is still one of Italy’s most dramatic wine landscapes and a super backdrop for a two-wheeled adventure. Every few miles you’ll find an agriturismo, or farmhouse restaurant, with delectable delicacies of the region. Towns en route like Sondrio with its terraced vineyards and neoclassical architecture or Morbegno with its Baroque churches, dried Bresaola beef and creamy Bitto cheese are also definitely worth visiting. A bonus on the Sentiero Valtellina is the train line following the path, which allows you to skip sections or return to Colico by train with ample space for bikes on board.