San benardino was a gem. A small yet beautiful lake sat atop the pass, opposite a small aged hotel/inn. Cresting the pass, I began the downhill hairpin circuit, sucking in the beautiful view of the alps resting on the horizons edge. I lanced about the area with my eyes, looking for a place to camp for the night, but couldn’t find anywhere that I could park Trumpet next to the tent. For some reason the whole green grassy areas on the pass had been roped off (to stop campers like me I’d imagine). So on I rumbled towards Bellinzona and Northern Italy.
With the sun going down, and everywhere fenced off (thanks Switzerland!) I rolled into Bellinzona after making 3 stops at 3 different towns on the way. Everyone was booked out or had no room! Also it turned out, Italian is the lead language in this part of Switzerland. I found a ‘cheap’ (cheap by swiss standards is not cheap by everyone else’s standards) hotel in Bellinzona, bought a couple of beers and kicked back on my bed. Musing over maps of northern italy, I was keen to get there – switzerland is an expensive place to stick around in!
Getting an early start, I went completely the wrong way, heading west instead of east. By the time I’d realised this, I was already at Simplonpass! I was still wondering my gps was taking me through strange turns and taking me off national roads – I still hadn’t adjusted the settings yet! No wonder I kept looping roundabouts, entrys and exits next to every highway! Well, at least I was enjoying the road…
Entering Northern Italy
The landscape changed to peaceful churches sitting amongst orchards and grape fields. Every single town I passed through in northern Italy had a beautiful church stapled to it. The houses were a little bent, and the roofing groaned as if they were sick of holding themselves up. It went on and on like this for hours. The national road towards Lago di Maggiore was a delight to ride – tightly twisting through the mountains of northern Italy, next to the rushing river and overlooked by the old arched tramway bridges. Trumpet sung loudly that afternoon on the way back into Switzerland.
Being me, I’m great at taking a wrong turn. So, in some tiny town, I took a nice wrong turn and ended up at closed road on the cliffs edge. Switching off the motor, I stripped off some gear – I was sweating a storm inside my jacket, it was bloody hot! I could’ve put out an aussie bushfire with all the sweat leeching out of me. Finding out a way of getting back on track, I went to start Trumpet. Her motor kicked over but no idle held her true. I started her again. I waited 10 mins and kicked the engine over again. Nothing on an idle. What was wrong?
Stepper motors – triumph’s annoying invention for a dual terrain bike. Here I was getting ready to take off the tank and get to work cleaning the stepper motor of dust and crud that had accumulated in between the pin and runner. Just before I stripped everything off, I gave the stepper motor a good hit of WD40 from the outside of the frame, hoping I’d get enough in there to sort out my woes. 5 mins later, Trumpet was purring like a kitty cat. WD40, my old friend, had saved the day! Well temporarily anyway, but it was enough to have me on my way.
Curving roads continued hugging the mountains amongst the old tramway bridges built out of stone. Lovely riding was the name of the game that afternoon, even if the heat was stifling in my vented suit. Getting back into Italy via a series of short tunnels through rock, it was time to find somewhere to stay. Slowly alongside Lago di Como I went, masses of traffic on the way northbound. Cars everywhere on the tiny Italian streets, it was a hotbox of exhaust fumes and humidity. After almost an hour of this crappy, tourist congested traffic, I finally zoomed out and got to my auberge on the other side of the lake. Hidden away in the green forests, I got my hard earnt peace and quiet. A good bowl of pasta too.
South Tyrol – Trentino
The weather took a turn the next day, and I copped some rain as I made my way to Bolzano via Sondrio (check). Getting in touch with Davide, we made plans to meet in Reggio-Emilia (the agriculcultural centre of the north) for a couple of nights. I’d met Davide a while back in Portugal and he had invited me down for whenever I could get there. So I charged into Sondrio, to ride the the reknowned Stelvio Pass, the supposed gem of northern Italy’s Alps.
I’d always had this picture in my head that Stelvio Pass would be the greatest pass I would head through in Europe. Read every forum, every great road article and you’ll find they all say Stelvio is in the top 1% of the best passes. Off I went, up this reknowned pass in the pouring rain. The best thing about the rain, is that you get the road all to yourself. The higher I Trumpet and I climbed, the colder it got. After a long sequence of tight switchbacks, I made personal history and got to the top. Sure the views were great, but I can comfortably say it was nowhere near the amazing pass I had believed it was. Nufenen pass, furka pass, passo giovo, sustenpass… these were all much more fun to ride!
While I sat eating my bratwurst overlooking the Stelvio Pass in northern Italy, masses of thick white fog began to muster at the foot of the pass. Growing steadily higher, it wouldn’t be long before the whole pass would be covered in fog. Sure enough, within minutes, everything began melting into the fog and northern Italy had turned into a white nothingness. I didn’t fancy being stuck in this white fog on the road, and considering I could barely see the guys metres away from me, it was convenient that I had already stopped for a break!
I made it an early afternoon, found a relatively cheap auberge at the foot of the mountains, and called it a day. After a meal of peanuts and bananas, I fell asleep fairly quickly. From the Stelvio national park, I took the road towards Bolzano, not envying the saturday traffic that was headed the opposite direction, heavily laden with campers and sunday drivers. The rain came back for an hour between there and Bolzano, so I stopped by for morning tea at a petrol station in Bolzano.
Trentino to Emilio-Romagna
Leaving the rainy roads of far northern Italy, I headed south through the winding roads of Trentino. Throughout the orchard and vineyard filled regions, the rain still pattered down softly, and continued to the mountains surrounding Lago di Garda. From here the weather slowly began to let up, before drenching me in rich golden sunlight. As I began the the last 80kms to Reggio Emilia, the humidity rose, as did the abudance of farming and agriculture.
The mighty moustached Davide greeted me outside the university in the small but classic Italian looking town. After an espresso and a brief chat, we headed for his home in Scandiano, a suburb between Reggio Emilia and Modena. Lopping out some stronghino sausage and parmesano cheese, we sat and stuffed our faces (actually, I ate almost the entire thing). With it, came the cool, rose Lambrusco, a kind of red wine.
That evening while Davide put together his legendary pizzas at the local restaurant, I pored over the huge menu. With me sat new friends Michele and Chiara (Davide’s childhood friends) who were nice enough to hang out with a sweaty aussie bikie. After the delicious dinner of pizza’s and weißbeer, I was given a night tour of Reggio Emilia by Michele. A very simple old town, the colours of the buildings come in faded pastels. Students wander the cobblestoned streets to the next bar, before they leave for the summer holidays. We stopped for a whiskey where we ended up meeting a circle of Davide’s friends, and chatted about dangerous Australian animals for the night.
Sunday put Davide on the back of the bike, where he gave me directions into Modena. Passing old, crumbling barns and green vineyards, we arrived in Modena a half hour later. Davide then gave me a great day tour of the colourful city, between stops for espressos. Similar to Reggio Emilia in its pastel variety of colour but a deal bigger, we aimlessly wandered the streets while Davide told me about the area. Leaving in the late afternoon, I kicked back for dinner with Davide’s folks while he left for work. Communicating only by google translate, Davide’s parents and I managed to get both an interesting and funny conversation going over breaded salmon and salad. Davide and his family couldn’t have been more perfect hosts!
Full of italian goodness, I left at 7am the next morning, back towards the north, this time to experience the dolomites. Weather was all clear, so I skipped the rather expensive highway toll, and took the national road back the way I had come, into the swerving mountain roads surrounding Bolzano. Green orchards went on for miles and miles up and down the slopes of the italian mountains. There was a nostalgic tiny church resting on small hill, in each and every village I passed through. Before long, I chased the mountain pass back downhill, to Merano, and into the arms of a pretty surfer girl named Stef, a friend who I’d first met in Norway.
After an envious stroll around the public pool which Stef managed, we hit the road for an afternoon ride through some of the passes right on our doorstep. Up, down and all around, we discovered some new italian towns even Stef hadn’t known existed. As we climbed up and down the curving passes, a brewing storm thundered in the distance. Defiantly, we headed straight into darkening clouds of northern Italy, which was nothing more then a light shower and alot of noise. Rolling downhill from the final pass, Steph guided me to a hidden lake, where we kicked back and breathed in the serenity of the area.
So tuesday had dawned, and with it, an absolute killer view of a hundred mountains outside the doors of Stef’s apartment. With everyone still sleeping, I headed downstairs to gear up and get on the move to the dolomites for a day trip. While planning the route overlooking the mountains, Phillip woke and set me up with a few fresh brews of Italian coffee. We sat and sipped our coffees as the sun rose, planning out the route together. And then I was off!
Every rider dreams of those perfect days, good weather, light traffic and millions of curvy s-bends and switchbacks. Those perfect days where you know you’re carving up everything the road throws at you. I was granted that on the ring of the dolomites, which consits of four passes, each more beautiful then the last. Along the way through, gorgeous tiny villages soaring with tourism appear along the way. Every town was taken out of a storybook it seemed. And the dolomites themselves… well I think the pictures say enough, don’t you?
Every moment in Northern Italy was as pretty and picturesque as the last. I could have stopped 100 times and taken a beautiful picture everytime. I definitely fell in love with northern Italy, the people were so hospitable and friendly, even with my very limited Italian and mostly English conversational skills. As always, every day on the road is proving to me that people are what make my journey, not the destinations themselves.