World's Best Routes: Lake Como Ghisallo Loop

Next in our series of the greatest one day rides is an absolute classic in Lake Como. This whole area is a cycling paradise headlined by the two climbs of the Ghisallo & Muro di Sormano. At the top of the first climb is the famous Cycing Church where you can stop and visit both the church and Bike Museum next door, all with amazing views of the lake and mountains. This route has a great mix of history, difficult climbs, stunning lakeside miles, a trip through the town of Como and finishes with a ferry ride home. With over 3,000m of climbing packed into 100km, this is a tough but amazing day on the bike. 

In Summary

Start - Bellagio, Italy

Finish - Mennagio, Italy

Distance - 106km

Elevation - 3,280m

Key Climbs - Passo del Ghisallo, Muro di Sormano

The Ride

One of the great things about cycling in Lake Como is you can jump on a ferry at the start or end of the ride and explore different areas of the lake in a loop. So it is with this classic ride as we ride for 100km from Bellagio to Como and up to Lake Lugano before jumping on a ferry back to Bellagio at the end. Lake Como is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe due to it's stunning views, pretty towns and incredible food. In the world of cycling, the area is often used in the Giro d'Italia but is more famous for the Tour of Lombardy, the Race of the Falling Leaves. This is one of the five biggest one day races in pro cycling with a route that typically starts or finishes in Como taking in the two major climbs of this ride.

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We start out in the delightful lakeside town of Bellagio. We are in Italy, so the food & coffee is the best in the world. Before the ride, we grab an espresso at Nene Cafe and then we roll out. The first kilometres are all uphill as the start of the Ghisallo (10.6km at 5.2% avg gradient) begins just out of town. To get to the start of the climb there is a short drag out of town and from a roundabout the climb proper begins. This is one of the toughest parts  of the climb with long, straight ramps and a tough 14% section. The road slightly levels off to around 8% after a few kilometres as we hit the tight hairpins that give better and better views down to the lake and Bellagio. Quite quickly we are away from civilisation and into a more rural setting. After the hairpins, the road becomes flat with even a short descent before hitting the final sector - four perfect hairpins at 9% to get us to the church at the summit.

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The top of the Ghisallo is well worth a long drink stop. The bike museum needs a separate visit deserving an hour or two, but the famous Church (pictured above) which has been blessed for cyclists by the Pope, is an amazing spot with a range of old bikes on the wall dating back from the early 1900s. From the top we have a 6km light descent until the turn onto the Sormano. This part of the lake us rugged with very little flat and we climb to the village of Sormano before turning again to a narrow track and the hardest climb in cycling. The Muro di Sormano is only 2km long but requires high power the whole way up with an average of 15% gradient - several sections are over 20%. There are a couple of very tough corners and longer steep straights, all bottom gear stuff and some record breaking low speeds. Getting to the top of this in one piece is quite an achievement!
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After the lung busting climb of the Muro di Sormano, we are very glad to see a long descent. This is a technical, at times dangerous, descent down to the lake with some tight corners. At the bottom of the descent we turn right onto the lake road and follow the coast for 15 glorious kilometres. The road here is relatively flat compared to the rest of the region but it still rolling, mostly downhill fortunately so we fly into the main town of the ride, Como. This is a decent size town and at the weekends or rush hours can be busy with traffic. We stopped for some lunch here at the woderful I Tre Mori just on the outskirts of town, well worth the detour. After a great lazy lunch, we ride out of Como along the lake on an even flatter section. 

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After 20km of pretty flat riding through some picturesque towns, by the most famous Villas that originally made the lake famous and with the water by our side the whole way, we turn off the lake road and up the climb to Lake Lugano. After a long lunch and then an unchallenging flat 20km, it is a bit of a shock turning onto another very steep climb. The first section is over some tight hairpins as we get out of Argegno which feels harder than it should. The gradients calm down quickly and it is lovely to be back in the wild on traffic free roads. The total climb is 9km averaging 6% gradient and gets us to close to Lake Lugano which is part in Italy and part in Switzerland. After a fun descent, we hit the lake road and then ride the final 10km on rolling terrain back down to Lake Como. 

The only way to finish a ride like this is to take a ferry across the lake. Finishing at Mennagio, we grabbed an ice cream in the sun waiting for the ferry. Yeah, rides dont finish any better!