Cycling between Italy and Switzerland in the footsteps of Bonatti and the merchant caravans
This year, there was snow at altitude until early summer, but now the conditions are right for mountain biking the cross-border part of the Laghi&Monti Bike route, the Italy-Switzerland Interreg project between Upper Ticino and Upper Piedmont.
An itinerary between the upper Formazza Valley and the Bedretto Valley, much of it on dirt roads built in the first half of the 20th century, at the time of the construction of the large Alpine reservoirs to supply hydroelectric power stations. The route offers a panorama that sweeps from Monte Basodino to the St Gotthard Massif.
In the footsteps of Bonatti
The starting point is the Centro del Fondo in Riale, a hamlet of Formazza, at an altitude of over 1,700 metres. To reach it, you have to go past the Toce waterfall, with its spectacular drop, and then continue for another couple of kilometres. From the car park at the Centre, get on your MTB (traditional or electric, depending on your legs) and cross the river Toce on a small bridge, then follow the dirt road with a series of hairpin bends to the Maria Luisa Lodge. A small anecdote for mountain enthusiasts. It was here that the famous climber Walter Bonatti, in 1956, during the first ski-mountaineering crossing of the Alps (an up and down journey of over 1,700 kilometres), joined the group of another great mountaineer, Bruno Detassis, who had set off from Tarvisio, a few days before him and his team. An agreement was made to continue together. And so they reached the Col di Nava, accomplishing a memorable feat. But let us leave the skis and return to the wheels.
From Maria Luisa, continue along the dirt road. Reach the dam of Lake Toggia and continue along the lake. The road ends at the San Giacomo Pass, which marks the border between Italy and Switzerland and where a bike-barbecue facility will be built in the next few months, creating an excellent stopping point halfway along the route.
On the route of the packhorse carriers
For centuries, the pass has been the link between the communities north and south of the Alps. The first "customs" agreement was drawn up between Bedretto and Formazza as early as the middle of the 15th century, regulating tolls and the routes of the packhorse carriers, who transported goods across the pass on their mules. Cloth, wine, cattle, cheese and salt were the most heavily trafficked goods.
Swiss descent and ascent
Let’s leave the packhorses to the past (although in these places, via Gries, there is an annual commemoration of the old packhorse route through the Alps in August) and continue our journey.
Following the signs, we take the path that descends to the San Giacomo alpine pasture, with its characteristic little white church, and then, remaining halfway up the mountainside, we reach the arrival point of the Grandinagia cable car with the completely buried artillery fort of the same name. After a steep winding stretch, followed by a nice half slope, we arrive at the Stabiascio alp. To the left, we take a forest path that winds down to the village of All'Acqua. From here, we continue along the cantonal road until reaching Ronco. Immediately after the junction for Ronco, we cross the Ticino river and climb up to the Valleggia alpine pasture. Once there, we turn left along a track and follow the signs for Stabiascio. From here we retrace your steps back to the San Giacomo Pass, then take the dirt track and return to Riale.
This is a difficult but very satisfying route, ideal from July to September.
The total length is 40 kilometres, with a difference in altitude of 1,220 metres (both positive and negative). The highest point is the San Giacomo Pass at an altitude of 2,315 metres, where you can find yourself with one wheel in Switzerland and the other in Italy.