Wednesday 1 March 2023

Bella Italia by bike: Bergamo to Lecco

Many years ago I lived in Milan, and would regularly catch the train out of town to ride in the more scenic areas outside of this industrial metropole in Italy. One of my favourite areas was Como. The train  would take me right up to the shores of Lake Como. Then from there I could ride up the steep road to Civiglio and Brunate, or go further out to Bellagio and then to Magreglio, via the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb. The challenging 10km uphill roads are rewarded by beautiful views over Lake Como and the Italian Alps in the distance, as well as a warm welcome from fellow cyclists at the cycling museum and the chapel.

It's been a while since I was last in this area, so as part of my return to travelling following the extended coronavirus restrictions I went on a long weekend to Bergamo and hired a road bike to do a few rides. Partly motivated by nostalgia, and partly by a wish to see if I'd still got it even in my advancing age, I did an extended ride from Bergamo to Como via the Madonna del Ghisallo climb.

The first part of my challenge involved doing a "test ride" the day before the big ride, from Bergamo to Lecco. My ride started from the centre of Bergamo, where I cycled through the historic part of the city, though not up through the Citta Alta (Upper Town) and along cycle paths and quiet residential streets to pick up the road towards Lecco. 

Monte Bastia and Val Brembo

Rather than take the main SS342 road I chose the inland route through a few hills. In that nearby area was the area of Monte Bastia with its woodland trails and hilltop churches, monasteries and castles. I wasn't about to do any hiking, but if I had decided to do so, it would have made for a pleasant, albeit fat-burning afternoon. On this Sunday afternoon there were a number of leisure cyclists and club riders riding up and down the climbs in this area known as Valbrembo (named after the local river, the Brembo) and it seemed that the popular climb to do was the climb up to the Madonna del Bosco church. There was no cycling museum at the top of this climb, but there were still some spectacular views of the nearby mountain range.

After a fast descent to the river, and then a climb through Brembate to reach the main road near Pontida. This road was still very scenic, and was quite relaxing to be on given the lack of traffic. I assume a lot of locals were still enjoying an extended Sunday pranzo.  

After Cisano Bergamasco my route took me onto a minor road to Calolziocorte, and once again I was treated to more nice views. To my right were the mountains that separated me from Bergamo, such as the Val Imagna and the Val Brembilla, and the rocky outcrops at the side of the road were the only parts of these mountains that I got to see. 

To my left I managed to get glimpses of lakes in the distance. Lecco sits on the eastern arm of Lake Como, which is fed by the river Adda. Along its course are other lakes that never get talked about, but are equally beautiful and worth stopping at - Lago di Olginate and Lago di Garlate. The latter was the one I experienced when I dropped down from the road to take a cycle path that went right along the water. There are a few campsites along this section and areas to just pitch up and have a picnic. 

Ciclopista Lecco-Abbadia

As I had my swimming kit in my rucksack, I was keen to find a good place to have a dip. To be fair, this was a reasonable area to stop, especially as there were lots of folks also messing about on the water - swimming or paddleboarding. However, I was keen to get further into Lecco and find a place with a bit more wow factor. Maybe I was being greedy - after all, I was already on Lake Como - what else did I want?? 

In any case, I continued along the path and later reached central Lecco where I found myself mingling with countless daytrippers, picnickers, joggers, folks on motorcycles, and unsurprisingly, end-to-end traffic along the main drag. 

Fortunately for me, I was able to ride along what appeared to be a recently constructed segregated cycle path (known as the Ciclopista Abbadia-Lecco) that ran right along the lake. After following this for a couple of miles I reached Pradello beach and that's where I stopped.

Pradello beach

This is probably one of the best kept secrets along Lake Como, as the beach, set in from a bay and down some steps from the cycle path and road, wasn't crowded despite the hot day. The water was as clear as in a swimming pool, and there was a bar nearby too. We were just surrounded by towering rocks from the Lecco hinterland, and the vastness of the lake, which seemed like an ocean!

I locked my bike to a nearby tree and got changed to get in a swim in the fresh, cooling water, before lounging and reading my book. A one-hour stopover was enough for me, before I upped sticks to ride to Lecco train station and head back to Bergamo. I must say this was perfect timing, as the sky suddenly turned black and as the train pulled out of Lecco the heavens opened!

When I alighted from the train at Bergamo the rain was coming to a stop and within half-an-hour the sun had returned, and I was ready to go out and join the locals for a passeggiata around the historic Citta Alta with its 16th century defence walls and its various medieval churches and monuments.  

View of Bergamo from the Citta Alta

My ride had been just what I needed - something more spectacular than my usual rides back home, with a couple of hills, but nothing too strenuous. I was looking forward to doing this and going further the following day. 

Related posts

Beautiful ride around Bergamo

Italian cycling tales from places on the Giro d'Italia route

Canals of Milan - 1

Canals of Milan - 2

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