Cycling across the Alps to San Marino and Venice

Part 1: The change of plans

October 2019. Our plan is to ride from Bern to Berlin, via Munich and Prague. We have never been to Czech Republic and always wanted to ride in East Germany. Everything is organized: we will pick up the keys of the Munich apartment in Winterthur, we have let our Czech friend know we are going to visit her country…

The weather forecast in this beginning of Autumn is not nice: rain and cold. And this at least during the whole next week. Not like the “One Week, Four Countries” tour we did in October 2017.

We packed all our house into six panniers: wardrobe, bed (mattress and blanket), kitchen and repair workshop. The house goes in a separate bag above the panniers. Finally, we have confirmed that the campsite for the first night is still open.

We are on October 4th 2019, 9 o’clock in the morning when we take a last look at the weather forecast and it really doesn’t look nice. The weather is much better south of the Alps. And if we went there instead?

A quick look into the cycle.travel website: We wanted also once to cross the Gotthard pass, didn’t we? Why not this time? But where to do we set the bearing? Can we visit a new country? San Marino. We go in the direction of San Marino. We look for a campsite for the first night and there is one in Interlaken, 65km from Bern, which is still open. Decided.

Leaving the campsite in Interlaken with rain gear on

Day 1, Bern – Interlaken, 67km

It’s around 11 o’clock when we leave home. The ride to Interlaken is mostly flat. We follow the arrows of the Aare Route – the national route number 8 of Switzerland Mobility. The temperature is not so warm. In Spiez we stop for a hot chocolate at the Migros Restaurant. Arrived at the campsite, we notice that we are at the end of the season. We put up the tent, drink a beer at the café of the camp site where there are only locals as guests and decide to go for dinner at one of the hotels next to the lake.

Day 2, Interlaken – Guttanen, 41km

Next day starts flat along the Lake of Brienz, then turns to Meiringen and starts climbing in the direction of the Grimsel pass. Today we cycle until the village of Guttannen, at 1057m. We take a room at the Hotel Bären.

Along lake Brienz
Near Giessbach
Start of the climb after Meirigen
Drying clothes in the room. It is useful to have a clothesline.

Part 2: Crossing the alps with recumbents

Day 3, Guttannen – Grimselpass – Oberwald/Hospental, 32km

After a nourishing breakfast at the hotel, our morning passes while doing the missing 16 kilometers (and a bit more than 1000m height difference) to the top. There is still snow at the Grimsel pass (2165m). We go to warm up with a sausage and fries at a crumbling restaurant served by Portuguese. For the continuation of the day, after the descent to Gletsch (1757m) there are two options: either turn left and climb to the Furka pass (2429m) or turn right and continue down to Oberwald, where we can get a train under the mountain to Hospental (1482m). We decide for the easy option with the excuse that we have already cycled up the Furka pass a few years ago. Cycling down to Gletsch and Oberwald goes fast and mid-afternoon we are checking in at a pizzeria-hotel in the village of Hospental.

Only 11km missing to the top
Bicycles on the train from Oberwald to Hospental

Day 4, Hospental – Gothardpass – Belinzona, 83km

Climb, climb, climb. Another day, another pass. Today we will reach the first objective of this trip, the Gotthard pass. We start cycling at 8 in the morning, the valley is still in the shade. The road is fortunately quite empty. As we climb the sun appears and the weather starts getting better. It takes us two and half hours to arrive at 2106m, the top. For our surprise the old road we plan to use to go down is closed to traffic, due to some ice. We are not sure whether we are allowed to go. We decide to cross the barrier and… it is magic. We are completely alone cycling down this beautiful serpentine road. The wind is strong, we carefully pass the ice patches and stop multiple times for pictures. Soon the houses, the vegetation and the whole feeling is different, we are now in the Italian part of Switzerland. It is somehow different. We continue our very long descent all the way until Bellinzona where we stay at the campsite. After one beer on the terrace, and even if it’s warmer than in the North of the Alps, we decide to eat at the restaurant.

Early climb to Gothardpass
Recumbents at the top of the St. Gotthard
Luckily the Tremola road was closed to cars
Cycling down the St. Gotthard completely alone

Day 5, Bellinzona – Malnate, 72km

Climb. Just one small hill. The Monte Ceneri climb, which we already did several years ago, is probably the most unpleasant road of the whole Swiss cycling network. We go up slowly for five kilometers with fast cars and lots of trucks, separated only by a yellow line. Soon after this bad moment (which seems forever) we are cycling along the Lago di Lugano, cross the border and enter Italy. There are no more cycle lanes, but also not so much traffic, with exception of a couple of big roundabouts that connect to highways. Gently we arrive to Malnate, where there is the campsite La Famiglia, run by a catholic group. The campsite is inside a big property with pines, right in the center of the village. The showers and toilets lack maintenance. It took Eva quite some patience and to call three times the manager to get tepid water.

Cycle path climbing Monte Ceneri, missing a separation
Camping La Famiglia, Malnate

Part 3: Cycling in Lombardy

Day 6, Malnate – Abbiategrasso, 58km

After a light Italian breakfast – croissant with jam and cappuccino – at the fancy Villa Magnolia next to Malnate train station, we head south. The weather is not with us, raining most of the afternoon. We are completely wet when we arrive to the small accommodation in Abbiategrasso. It’s a nice freshly renovated house with interior patio. The nice owners show us the room and we recover the spirit with a hot shower and floor heating. Now that we know how the primo and secondo plates work (they are simply separate parts of the restaurants’ menus and almost no one eats two main courses), we are not afraid of trying a simple eatery in town.

Our typical breakfast in Italy
Cycle path along old trainline

Day 7, Abbiategrasso – Pavia – Miradolo Terme, 75km

Certosa di Pavia, which we want to visit, is open only until 11 this morning. We leave Abbiategrasso early and, for two hours, cycle without stop. Certosa is a beautiful monastery north of Pavia that our friend Giovanni recommended to visit. It’s worth going. With pizza slices from the local bakery, we have lunch in a park nearby. In the afternoon we cycle through the city of Pavia and continue until Terme di Miradolo. It’s a decadent thermal village, where the baths are mostly for treatments – there are several ambulances waiting to bring people back home. We stay at Albergo Castelo, the only hotel still working, even without other visible guests.

Certosa di Pavia
Steep cycling
Cycle path in Italy
Terme di Miradolo

Day 8, Miradolo Terme – Cremona, 65km

We are now cycling west, pass Lodi province [as we write this post, this province is well known as the first hotspot of the Covid-19 epidemy in Northern Italy and was the first to be under lockdown] and cycle along a canal until Cremona. Here we decide to test the “automatic” campsite. To open the gate, you need to position your car or bicycle in a certain place so that the machine gives you a card. It takes a good time to make it work. After setting up the tent we go for a shower, which is not included in the price. You must put a 50 cents coin for 3 minutes of water. The coin machine is outside the cabin and starts counting the time as soon as you put the money. So better to be ready. Refreshed, we cycle the few kilometers to the center of the city. Cremona started our list of very lovely Italian cities. Old buildings, lively and nice to be. We dine in ‘Trattoria del tempo perso’, a good restaurant with walls decorated with communist paraphernalia. The night is clear albeit humid creating an environment for taking nice pictures.

Cremona
“Automatic” campsite of Cremona
Beautiful full-moon night in the campsite of Cremona

Day 9, Cremona – Mantova, 89km

Next planned stop is the eastwards city of Mantova (Mantua in Lombard). The road there is very quiet, crossing several small villages. During lunch we build up the tent to let it dry. The city seems to be packed for the weekend and we only get a room north on the lake, at Locanda Agnella, a bed and breakfast run by a man and his mother. The room we get was probably his and his brothers’ room as children, as is full of children’s books. We do the laundry close-by and have dinner back at the guest house, cooked by the mother in a very homely feeling.

Drying tent during lunch break

Day 10, Mantova

In order to visit Mantova, we decide today to just cross the river and take a room at Residenza Accademia, just by the main square. It is 10 o’clock when we come to the reception and they immediately guide us to leave the bicycles at the bike garage, so we can visit the town without worries. We really enjoy the kindness. We visit Palazzo Te and other attractions before sitting down drinking a spritz while watching all the people who cycle in these Italian towns.

Mantova

Day 11, Mantova – Ferrara, 102km

There is a thick fog when we leave Mantova towards Ferrara, along the river Po. There is not much to describe the 100km of today’s ride. Ten kilometers before arriving we check for sleeping places. Even after reading the disastrous reviews, we decide to pay 74€ for a room at the Duchessa Isabella 5-star hotel, breakfast included. From the announced category there is only the size of the room. There are almost no employees and the receptionist almost make us pay extra to leave the bicycles in the hotel compound. The room is very kitsch, with a straircase to arrive at the window. Ferrara’s small streets are nice to walk, we enjoy the city and go for dinner in the historical center.

Thick fog leaving Mantova
Single track on recumbent
Arriving to Ferrara, city of bicycles
Ferrara
“5-star” hotel room in Ferrara

Part 4: Cycling in Emilia-Romagna

Day 12, Ferrara – Bologna, 59km

In the morning we cycle a bit more in Ferrara and drink a cappuccino before heading to Bologna. There is nothing worth to write about the cycling there. Only the arrival is special. Bologna is the biggest city we plan to visit in this trip and there are not so many hotels. We book a private room via booking.com. The owner asks via whatsapp to inform when we plan to arrive, and we say 16h. Exact on time we get there and luckily meet the caretaker leaving the building. She receives us explaining that she did not yet have time to clean the room. In quite broken English she says not to be sure for the bicycles parking… we see it is not going to be easy, but anyway we ask to stay a second night which she confirms with the owner by phone. The bicycles are parked in an underground garage nearby.

Morning in Ferrara

Day 13, Bologna

The included breakfast is all pre-packaged and dry. We walk the whole day around town, visit the old university, drink beer at some alternative bars. Via whatsapp we inform the owner of the apartment that we would like to checkout next morning between 8 and 9, as we need the keys for the underground parking to take the bicycles out. He confirms the caretaker will be there.

Day 14, Bologna – Forlí, 83km

At 9:15 without signs of the caretaker of the apartment, we decide to try to get the bicycles by ourselves. Miguel manages to get into the garage just as a car leaves and before the gate closes. Once inside, without phone coverage, he cannot ask Eva to come and help. Anyway, he manages to take the two bicycles out via the emergency door without letting the door close in between. Eva comes down and we start cycling across Bologna to the east. The owner writes us at 9:40 asking about the bicycles and we inform that we left, and the payment is in the room. He is not happy. Neither us. To change spirits and bring something new, the GPS sends us to a mountain bike single track and then points us to a river which we must cross pedaling. Miguel manages with dry feet, Eva not so much… The day ends in the town of Forlì.

Crossing small river with recumbent
Piazza del popolo, Faenza

Day 15, Forlí – San Marino, 62km

The next day starts passing next to the bankrupted “international” airport of Fiorì. At midday, we arrive at the first hill after several days. It is steep. From the top we finally see our main target of this trip: San Marino. We are already very close though. A few more kilometers and we enter the microstate. One downhill and then a steep road impossible to cycle until the campsite of San Marino. Soon after checking in we understand it is a Dutch run camping. Toilets and showers are impeccably in good condition and clean. We go for a spritz next to the main road of San Marino. It is like a highway climbing a mountain: cars going fast on a zigzag multi-lane road. As we are quite far from the city center, we go back to dine at the restaurant of the campsite.

Steep ramp to arrive to San Marino

Part 5: Visit San Marino

Entering San Marino

Day 16, San Marino – Rimini – (Codigoro), 23km

The owner of the campsite almost expects that we want to leave the bicycles there while going by bus to the top of the rock of San Marino: the roads in San Marino are all crazy steep. The touristic center of San Marino is just a shopping area selling not even local products. We check the castle, buy mosquito spray (Eva got several bites the evening before) and look for an ATM, but most of them do not work. The microstate does not look in very good economical shape. We recover the bicycles from the camp site and cycle the main road down to Rimini where we take the train North to Codigoro. Today works both as a rest day and a method to avoid a probably tedious cycling along the coast. In Codigoro we take a room at the only open ‘albergo’. It is above a restaurant; the almost toothless owner gently shows us a room and where we can leave the bicycles by the staircase. We discover an Irish-style pub-restaurant where we have dinner. These middle of nowhere villages have always something to discover.

Bicycle compartment in the train to Codigoro

Part 6: Cycling in Venice region

Day 17, Codigoro – Punta Sabbioni, 95km

Taking the vaporetto in Lido

Quickly we arrive to Chioggia, the beginning of Venice region. The monuments are different, there are carved lions a bit everywhere. There are not so many people and we decide to have lunch at one of the terraces. The afternoon is spent doing hop-on hop-off from the ‘vapporetto’ boats linking Chioggia to Pellestrina, Lido and Punta Sabbioni. It is great to cycle though the islands, almost without tourists, see Venice from the boats. We stay at Agrocampeggio Mose, one of the few open campsites in the region. The campsite’s restaurant is already closed, and we have to cycle 3km to Ca’ Savio to eat.

Around Venice

Day 18, Punta Sabbioni – Treviso, 71km

While we go around the lagoon of Venice, we pass huge campsites already closed for the season. It should be a different feeling in the summer. We do a short break to touch the sea. There are a few surfers profiting of the waves. Because our good friend from Bergamo is back there, we decide to take the the direction of Bergamo for the rest of the trip. We start crossing Treviso and find the town welcoming. After sitting down on a bench on a square and a few moments later we have two policemen saying we cannot park the bikes on the square (the bicycles are just in front of us). We ask where to put them, we point out that there are parked bicycles under the arcades. Without knowing what to answer the policemen accept that we move the bikes 10 meters, so they are under the arcades. We look for a hotel and cycle there. As we stop the bicycles in front of the door, the girl from the reception comes and asks if we are staying at the hotel and immediately guides us to the room where to park the bicycles. We are impressed as it seems not unusual in Italy to have a bike garage in hotels. Treviso has many canals and a good not-touristy vibe that we enjoy.

Some abusive signing in Jesolo, Venice
Canals of Treviso

Day 19, Treviso – Vicenza – Alte Ceccato, 86km

Between Treviso and Vicenza there is an old train line transformed into a bike path. For the whole length of the 70km we cycle almost always separated from traffic, in a quite straight line. And this until the city center of Vicenza. As it is quite early, we cycle a bit around town, take a café and croissant before continuing for some kilometers more in the direction of Verona. We take a room in a business hotel in an industrial area of Alte Ceccato and dine there.

Straight cycle path between Treviso and Vicenza
Piaza dei Signori, Vicenza

Day 20, Alte Ceccato – Verona, 52km

Cycling westwards of Vicenza has nothing to do with the arrival yesterday from East. On this side there is no bike lane and just a large road with quite some traffic. Fortunately, we can leave the main road and go through the vineyards of Soave wine. We arrive at Verona at lunch time. The hotel we choose lets us take the room and park the bicycles in the garage. We visit the city during the afternoon. There are many more tourists, however mostly around the Teatro Olimpico.

Teatro Olimpico de Verona
View of Verona

Part 7: Back to Lombardy

Day 21, Verona – Desenzano del Garda – (Brescia), 51km

Rain. That is the forecast for today’s cycling. The weather is still fine in the morning as we cycle to Lago de Garda. We go along the south shore of the lake when it starts to rain heavily and arriving to Desenzano del Garda we are completely wet. There is a foccaccia place where we eat before buying the train tickets for the next train to Brescia where will stay. We walk around Brescia with our rain gear on.

Recumbent without hands, it is getting better.
It reminds us of something back home…
Unfortunately it is not day of “cycling for free beer”

Day 22, (Brescia – Bergamo – Milan – Domodossola – Brig – Bern), train

There is ‘scioppero’ – strike – today in Italy and we have planned to meet our friends in Bergamo. We check on the phone and luckily there is a train running that takes bicycles. We take it, without knowing if we can continue the trip back to Bern. In Bergamo we leave the bicycles at the small workshop next to the station, the mechanic is very interested and happy to keep our bicycles. We meet Giovanni who shows us the town where he grew up. For lunch we have a slice of pizza from a shop of an old school colleague of his. We confirm that there is a train to Milan and then to Domodossola which runs and takes bicycles. We go for it, as it is Friday and there are less bicycles on the trains. Every Italian train is a bit different but most that accept bicycles have a specific spacious compartment for them, through a narrow door which gives some challenge, especially for recumbents. In Domodossola the Swiss train to Brig is already there, we get in. Miguel goes and buys a beer and an ice cream while we wait.

Cycling in Northern Italy was much better than we expected. There are many bike paths next to the roads and drivers are mostly careful of cyclists, overpassing with enough distance. We can greatly recommend it!

Map and Statistics

Click on the map to see the detailed path
Day#DateDestinationLodgingKmHoursSpeed
104.Okt.2019Interlakencamping674.3815.3
205.Okt.2019Guttannenhotel414.0810.0
306.Okt.2019Hospendal (+train)hotel323.638.8
407.Okt.2019Bellinzonacamping835.0716.4
508.Okt.2019Malnatecamping725.3313.5
609.Okt.2019Abbiategrassohotel583.8715.0
710.Okt.2019Miradolo Termehotel754.5316.6
811.Okt.2019Cremonahotel654.0815.9
912.Okt.2019Mantovahotel895.3316.7
1013.Okt.2019Mantovahotel
1114.Okt.2019Ferrarahotel1025.9217.2
1215.Okt.2019Bolognahotel594.0014.8
1316.Okt.2019Bolognahotel
1417.Okt.2019Forlihotel835.2016.0
1518.Okt.2019San Marinocamping624.4314.0
1619.Okt.2019Codigoro (+train)hotel231.5514.8
1720.Okt.2019Punta Sabbionicamping955.7816.4
1821.Okt.2019Trevisohotel714.3716.2
1922.Okt.2019Alte Ceccatohotel865.5515.5
2023.Okt.2019Veronahotel523.1716.4
2124.Okt.2019Brescia (+train)hotel513.3215.4
2225.Okt.2019Bern (+train)home
Total126683.6
 Average  66.634.415.0

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