Food & Fuel
My latest fruit fuelled adventure was cycling all the way around Lake Como in Italy. Just over 100 miles in two days. This is the furthest I’ve cycled. 10 years ago I cycled around the Isle of Man, and whilst the scenery was wonderful, fitness wise, my lungs were burning, my legs were on fire, my knees ached horriblly and I don’t even want to describe the pain I experienced from the saddle. It was two days of tears and desperation with my hand twitching to call for a taxi back to the starting point. In the end I dug deep and somehow made it round.
Starting off from our campsite on a 105 mile route around Lake Como – glorious morning! (got sunburnt on my back though – doh!!)
Cycling last week around Lake Como was an altogether different experience. The whole foods diet and regular fitness activities over the last 2 years really paid dividends and this trip was pure pleasure from start to finish. It was one of the most joyous explorations, with visual delights and physical elation. I ate fruit for breakfast and snacks (cherries, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, peaches), drank fruit juice along the way, topped up with a couple of chocolate bars and one or two lemon sodas. In the evening, although I was dreaming about eating cherries and drinking water, in order to be able to dine out with my cycling buddies I had to succumb to restaurant meals and in Italy as a vegan / vegetarian that means pasta – I must say, in Bellagio I had the most delicious pasta I have ever eaten – fresh and simple, with caramelised onions and sundried tomatoes – the flavours poured through.
Hungry Cyclists. This restaurant served the best pasta I ever, ever tasted!
Prepping The Night Before (Tourist Info)
We parked our camper van at the stunning Gardenia lakeside campsite in Domaso where we relaxed by the water and got ready for the next day. The tourist information was a 10 minute walk away (to find it turn left on exiting the campsite entrance and follow the road to a small area / lay by next to the road on the left hand side). There we received excellent advice, a map and ferry timetable (there’s a get out clause to chop off the bottom left “prong” of the lake and cut the route short if it all feels too much, as there are ferries from Bellagio to Varena and Menaggio). After that Wigs made sure our bikes were set up, tyres pumped, lights mounted, water bottles filled, panniers attached, and he double checked the route he’d planned. In the morning we woke up to a glorious, sunny morning and the scenery around the campsite filled my body with a sense of expanse.
Spectacular scenery around the campsite
The Route (Tunnels, Roads & Cycle Paths, Climbs)
Since driving / cycling is on the right hand side of the road, we set off clockwise to Bellagio. Cycling in this direction meant we could be closer to the lake and to made it easier to stop at viewing points.
Domaso is near the top
There are ferries between Bellagio, Varena and Menaggio (middle of the map, between the “prongs”)
We cycled 47 miles on the first day (Damaso to Bellagio). I did a another 3 that evening to have a look around. The route was mostly on scenic, fairly quiet roads and almost all of the tunnels were avoidable. Entrances to old side roads were just in front of the tunnels and headed off to the right, running parallel with the tunnels. They took us through beautiful towns with venetian style buildings, picturesque alleyways, quaint cafes and local shops.
There were two tunnels right next to each other on this leg near Bellagio that didn’t have old side roads and so we had to go through them. Together they were around 4 km in total. They were lit, but did have some very dark patches (do make sure you have front and rear lights and reflective gear for this, and take the opportunity to stop and take your sunglasses off before going through). A few hard core Italian cyclists in sponsored vests blasted through without lights, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it! The drivers were all very considerate and moved right over to give us at least a car’s width distance, some gave even more. The scariest part was the sound! In our van, driving through those tunnels we barely heard a thing. On our cycles, fully exposed we heard the menacing sounds of war of the worlds alien spacecraft rumbling in the distance, getting louder and louder as they closed in, locking their targets, ready to plough us down (only to see it was a Fiat 500 tootling past)!
Day 1: 47 miles
Day 2: 52 miles
Day 1: Climb at the end
Day 2: Climb at the start
The route was fairly flat, with one hillier section around mark 3 (first map above) and the biggest climb hitting at the end of the leg around mark 8 (first map). Why are steep climbs always at the end of the session?
On the second day we cycled 52 miles and the climbing was at the start, all the way up to point 3 and to Como (second map above). It was baking hot, the sun was beating down on my back and despite the sunblock, for the first time in my life I got sun burn! I wish I’d had factor 50 with me instead of factor 30 – but I’ve never stayed in the sun that long before to need it. Now I have a lovely reminder of a racer back outline between my shoulders, from where my skin was covered and where it was exposed – and it’s still peeling a week later!
The winding, climbing roads were quite narrow for cars, so I kept my rear light on and I was grateful that all the motorists waited for suitable passing points to give us plenty of room when overtaking. Some of the larger vehicles such as lorries and buses honked before going around tight corners to let others know they were coming. This leg, had a few more town roads (nothing worse than cycling through Birmingham), especially around the ferry port, but it also a had a very large section of quiet cycle paths once it got flatter. Like the old roads, we found these diverting off to the right just in front of the main tunnels. We only had to go through one enclosed tunnel on this day coming into Como town (from memory it was about 0.5 km).
Enduro’s ! Ha!
Accommodation & Clothing
Wigs had pre-booked a cool roof top apartment in Bellagio which was right in the centre and had a fantastic lookout from a delightful roof terrace. We freshened up, sat back and gazed over the buildings to the lake sipping sparkling water. Immersed in the cinematic ambience of an Italian romance, I wondered if I might see Woody Allen walk past with Scarlett Johanson discussing his latest quirky script about observing people’s stories and relationships across balconies. I packed super light as it was so hot even in the evenings. I only took a pair of shorts, a merino camisole, flip-flops and a merino mid layer for warmth just in case. Our friends treated themselves to a night in one of the hotels on the water front, but I loved the personal feel of “our home” for the night.
Our Rooftop apartment in Bellagio
Keeping our cycles safe
The dining area
A second little balcony
We kept a relaxed pace on both days and made lots of stops to absorb the beauty around us. With breaks for photos, snacks and lunch, we took roughly 6-7 hours each day to get round. I was truly thrilled that I felt completely well and that if I’d wanted to I could have pushed myself a lot harder to complete the routes faster. But instead of doing that I enjoyed feeling free, flying around on a cycle without being concerned about my body or any niggles. I also wanted to be cautious about exercising in such strong heat (which I’m not used to), especially as our our friends did end up boarding the ferry to cut their route short which was a shame. So to celebrate completing both legs and cycling the full route, as soon as we got back to our van, I munched on some juicy grapes, dived into my wetsuit and went for my first open water swim in the campsite lake, saw some fish along the way and zig-zagged about as I tried to learn sighting without lane lines!
Lake Como Cycle Trip
Wigs keeping us on track
More delicious food for my eyes & soul
Lake Como Cycle Scenery