Wow, what a trip! I’m just about recovered and caught up with all the life admin (i.e. laundry) that builds up when you’re away, so here’s a few words about what went on.
This was a bespoke trip with Saddle Skedaddle for a group of nearly 40. A much larger group than I had dealt with before, but there were also seven guides to help things along. Even so, it was non-stop, very hectic and a lot of fun!
First, vans were picked up in Penrith and driven to north London where we stayed the first night.
The next morning we loaded the vans with customers’ bikes, navigated the M25 anticlockwise and arrived at Folkestone in time to acquire GB plates and headlight deflectors before boarding Le Shuttle. The sun was warming this corner of the world and on emerging the other side of the channel the mercury continued to rise.
All the signature elements of a trip through France were ticked off: driving on the right; (huge) distances in kilometers on the signs; aires de repos; and those pylons that look like cats. The vast expanses of agricultural north and eastern France perspired in the heat of the day. The check-off towns of Reims and Troyes came and went. Some time after 9pm, technology was consulted and I called up a likely looking auberge. At 11pm we arrived and slept well after a big chunk of cheese and bread.
The following day we crossed the Alps and descended to Italy, traversing the dustbowl of Milan in 38 degree heat and eventually arrived for dinner in Arco, near Lake Garda.
We had a day spare to meet up with the other guides, go for a ride to scout the first day route and do the big shop for the week. Having checked the weather forecast for the week it looked potentially stormy; the hot conditions we had experienced so far made it feel as though it needed to break soon.
The first day of the guided riding was a wake up call to the heat. Taking a combination of roads north of Lake Garda and a purpose built cycle path that seemed to cling to the side of a gorge, we made our way through dramatic mountain scenery. This sort of description was to become a common theme for the week.
Threatening clouds appeared every day, but luckily they had the decency to afford us dry conditions until later in the evening when some spectacular displays of heavy rain showers and lightning cleared and cooled the air for riding the next day.
The second and third days unveiled more stunning scenes. We cycled through acres of fruit orchards, some of them with stalls full of fruits, juices, preserves and other delicious things.
We continued, climbing by the side of torrential rivers engorged with meltwater, until we arrived at Silandro. This was our final night before tackling the main event of the trip: Passo dello Stelvio.
The Stelvio Pass is famous for its 48 hairpin turns from Silandro and is one of the most notorious climbs in the Giro d’Italia. Once you get above the treeline, it seems as though a wall is presented in front of you as the remaining corners all come in to view at once. It’s a great climb to get stuck in to. The descent to Bormio is an exciting mixture of more hairpin bends, longer straight sections and a few tunnels for good measure.
I was driving the van this day, so on the final guided day of the trip I managed to sneak in a climb up from Bormio. Seeing the switchbacks on the other side, I decided I had no choice but to descend to the treeline and climb back up to the top and descend back to Bormio. A good way to build an appetite for lunch.
After saying goodbye to the guests it was time to repack the vans and start making our way north. We opted to return via Austria and Germany; with friends in Innsbruck this worked well. We even managed to hire mountain bikes and get a good ride in South Tyrol.
The long drive back to Penrith went smoothly, a good end to a trip full of amazing riding, company and food.
For an entertaining and detailed account from a rider’s perspective, have a look at the June archives of The Mamil!