Riding in Northern Italian Lakes - Como area - advice

Hi anyone advise on a good base town / bike rental in the Como area - we will travel by train from Milan so connecting nicely to that would be another positive there are two of us going for 4 days and hoping that folk who have been can offer some help .

I have traveled with my bike extensively in Italy throughout the past decade. In 2013, I stayed in the Como area in early Oct to ride and watch Il Lombardia. I stayed in a tiny town at the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo, called Magreglio. This is where the famous “bike chapel” and Madonna del Ghisallo bike museum is. I would highly recommend riding there and visiting the chapel and museum. Magreglio is pretty easy to get to from Milan, but there wouldn’t be any bike rental there. I do know there is a place down the hill in Bellagio that rents bikes, as well as a place in Como as well (Bianchi with Campy last I heard). If I were to go there again, I would absolutely stay in Magreglio again, but we always bring our bikes so that’s a non-issue. To get there from Milan, you would take the train from Milano Centrale to Asso. From the train station in Asso, its a quick bus ride up the mountain to Magreglio. I don’t know when you’re going, but if you’re there for Il Lombardia in a few weeks, I’d highly recommend staying on course. Magreglio is a great spot because you can walk down and see them come up the final steep switchback.

Riding from there is excellent. The Madonna del Ghisallo is a great climb and it’s easy to get down to Bellagio to connect on the ferry to other towns along the lake. When I was there, I climbed the Ghisallo at least four times (it was the way “home” and had to do it once in the dark because I got too chatty with some other tourists). I climbed from Nesso up to Sormano (this is the climb that is usually descended in Il Lombardia, where Remco crashed in 2020). I did the famous Muro di Sormano, as well as other climbs out of Varenna and Menaggio over towards Lago di Lugano. I have all these rides up on Strava, and I’ll gladly dig through and share them with you if you want.

Also, if you are interested I did some write-ups on my blog (www.Sali-scendi.com) if you dig back to posts from Oct. 2013.

Finally, be prepared for changing weather in the north of Italy at this time of year. One day you can be out in shorts and a jersey, the next it might be rainy and you’ll be glad you packed the base layer, long finger gloves, and wind/rain jacket. If you have any questions, ask away, I’d be so glad to help!

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Here are some of the rides I did. I don’t know why they weren’t longer. I think when I was traveling solo back then (this was my first cycling trip to Italy) I didn’t go out for anything too epic. Much different than our trip to Molise last month.

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Lucky you! There’s a reason Lake Como has been a highly desired destination for centuries. It’s very beautiful. Not only that, a bike is a great way to savour it, whether riding along the lakeside or up into the mountains.

Two easy options by train are Como itself and Varenna. I’ve stayed in both places and in other Lake Como towns.

Como is a busy place and to make the most of the lake and mountains you’d be doing rides of 60km +, riding north out of town up the lake, west over to Lugano or east to get up to Madonna del Ghisallo, Bellagio and the eastern branch of the lake. Como has a great range of retail and other tourism services.

Varenna is smaller, more charming and much easier to deal with. It’s also well-positioned for the mid-lake ferry network, linking it with Bellagio, Menaggio and Cadenabbia. So all lake rides can be done from there, as well as some good rides east of the lake.

All of Lake Como is wonderful and there are weeks worth of excellent rides. Drivers are very used to cyclists and once out of Como itself, dealing with the inevitable traffic is not particularly difficult. Once off the main roads, it can be pretty quiet, and local drivers are used to cyclists.

Absolutely agree. Especially now, it’s past peak tourist season. When I was there for Il Lombardia, I saw more cyclists than cars. Of course when I got there, the hotel I was staying at closed up its restaurant for the season, and I was the only guest there for most of the week, so they gave me a key to the front door and just let me use the restaurant kitchen for myself.

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I know the area reasonably well as my wife’s family lives in Lecco and we have spent every summer for the last 20yrs there.
I would recommend you to rather stick to the main towns ie Como or Lecco than venturing into smaller towns. Both are much easier to reach by train and you have plenty of options for going out after the rides. Of the two Como is more charming and touristy (though Lecco is undervalued IMHO).
I would suggest you check out lakecomocycling.com for rental and guided rides. You can find him on Strava as well and on Instagram (lakecomo_cyclingtours) where you can get inspiration for great routes apart from the obvious Ghisallo, Sormano etc
My personal highlight rides outside of these:

  • from Lecco up to Morterone (super nice switchbacks on very quiet roads esp on weekdays, just lacks a mountaintop finish), need more climbing? Add in Pian dei Resinelli afterwards
  • from Como along the coast to Argegno then up to San Fedele Intelvi and on to Rifugio Venini which is a amazingly located mountain hut overlooking Lake Como & Lake Lugano (last bit is gravel, hut serves great food)
  • from Lecco to Calolziocorte (not so great) and then up the super steep Valcava climb and from there to Bergamo (have to go to città alta, the old town up on the hill)
  • from Lecco up to Ballabio, Pasturo and get into Varenna from the back from there either on the coast back or by ferry to wherever you came from
  • get up early and just do a flattish run Lecco-Bellagio-Como along the coast and soak in the glorious morning sun

Ah, perhaps the guys from ‘sartoria ciclistica’ in Como can help or advise regarding the bikes as well.

Enjoy it!

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Are you traveling by train from Milan the city or Milan Malpensa the airport (which is nowhere near Milan in reality)?

You guys are great thanks so much for the guide work it is excellent . Using your info we are compiling a plan just now and I will let you know once we are agreed . Cheers folks .

Milan MXP airport Yes