Italy beckons many riders. Although some might be put off by recent reports of punitive noise regulations and reduced speed limits, those restrictions only apply on a few roads in the summer or near urban areas with high air pollution. The Italian Dolomites is still one of the best regions in the world to ride.
The Brenta mountain range is situated in northeastern Italy in the province of Trentino. Lying, as it does, to the west of the Adige River, it is often not considered to be part of the Dolomites geographically, although geologically it clearly is. Either way, the whole area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and makes for some sublime touring.
Last September, my wife Liz and I decided to base ourselves to the west of the Cima Tosa (the second highest peak of the Brenta range) in the off-season ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio. At around 5,000 feet, it makes for a great base with spectacular views of the mountains to the east.
Nothing Like the First Day Out
It’s early morning and we have planned a circular route, which should take us right around the Cima Tosa and back to base easily in time for the sunset—depending on how many stops we make and how long we linger over lunch, of course.
The sun has just risen above the mountains and backlights the jagged peaks in receding layers of misty morning haze, whilst twinkling dewdrops adorn the roadside grasses. We stand on our pegs as we bump down the cracked and narrow lane from my tiny apartment before heading south on the SS239 (Viale Dolomiti di Brenta).
We soon pass a circular ornate stone emblem marking the town limits and descend through a series of hairpins and forested sections until we reach our planned turn onto the SP53. Before we get there, we pass numerous signs advertising Speck, either to eat in restaurants or to buy by the pound (or kilo, this is Europe). Italian Speck is a type of prosciutto, which is basically a dry cured, lightly smoked ham. We make a mental note to experience it in more depth later.
The sun is climbing in the sky as we roll farther down into the valley and our shadows repeatedly rotate around the bikes as we navigate the hairpins. We already know it’s going to be a great day! The valley descent slowly flattens out and we turn left to cross a bridge over the Sarca River (famous for fly-fishing) before entering the pretty town of Pinzolo.
After a few more miles of slow urban riding, we leave the SS239 via a left turn onto the Via Chiesa Nuova. This is a road I had been researching the previous night—the riding should get more interesting from here on. We climb gently away from the main road and pass through the delightful, narrow cobbled streets of Bocenago. The old town center feels like a place time has forgotten. Aging wooden shutters are set into decaying stone walls with arched doorways and barred lower window apertures. An old man leaning on a stick as he watches us pass with no change in his expression completes the scene.
The route still roughly parallels the main road below to our right but, after passing through the villages of Fisto and Ches, we climb higher into the forest on SP53. The road is narrow, cracked, damp, and strewn with leaves. In places, it is quite dark as the trees have grown over and almost turned the road into a tunnel. A low wall to the left of the road is coated with lichen and moss. The road surface itself is green in many sections. We are enveloped in an emerald world. It’s quite eerie at times.
Pleasant Pastures and Lakeside Lunch
We continue to climb through a series of hairpins and luckily meet no traffic going the other way. The higher we get, the more the trees start to thin out, letting flashes of sunlight penetrate the dense cover to strobe-light the road. Suddenly, we burst out into a veritable Shangri-La—a grassy clearing bathed in warm sunlight slopes up to our left and the forest to our right is carpeted with fungi. We decide to stop and let it all soak in.
After leaving that small taste of paradise at the top of this little pass, the ride down the other side is of a completely different character. The road surface is relatively new, the scenery is more open, and we pass numerous roadside houses as we descend toward the valley floor. A pair of steeply dropping hairpins brings us through the village of Montagne and, soon after that, the real twisties begin.
A beautiful series of 10 switchbacks delivers us down through the forest to Preore. We decide to stop and put the drone up for some aerials. Sometimes this is the only way to really capture the beauty of these roads.
In Preore, we turn left onto SP34, once again avoiding the main road. A very pleasant ride with sweeping bends takes us through the villages of Ragoli, Coltura, Stenico, and the picturesque Sclemo, before joining SS421 toward the beautiful Lake Molveno and a stop for lunch. We pull into the Lago Park Hotel and enjoy an excellent meal of fish with orange slices and spinach gnocchi on the lakeside terrace. This body of water is always included on lists of the prettiest lakes in Italy. Sunbeds and umbrellas on the stony beach beneath the terrace, combined with the amazing aquamarine blue water, lend a feel of being somewhere in the Mediterranean.
We lingered for longer than planned—it’s best to savor the really good things as they come.
Back on the bikes, we climb out of Molveno on SS421 and for the next 10 miles or so enjoy a great ride on sweeping bends through forested sections just barely showing hints of the fall soon to come. The woodland stretches are punctuated by rolling grassy hills and small, beautifully kept towns. The roads are good and the traffic is light—most overtakes involve tractors.
Between Cavedago and Spormaggiore, we pass the imposing ruins of Castel Belfort to our left. Although looking like a relatively recent construction, it was actually built in 1311 to protect the districts of Andalo and Molveno. Subsequent fires and rebuilding have removed many of its medieval features. A little farther on, as we approach Spormaggiore, the countryside to our left opens up into a wide valley with apple plantations stretching far into the distance. They are planted in regular arrays that at first glance look like huge vineyards, but closer to the road, they are revealed to be rows of apple trees in full fruit.
Yet, the sight doesn’t last long, as we soon enter a more mountainous region and a series of descending hairpins drops us rapidly down to the valley floor and the Noce River. Our route takes us briefly north on SS43 before hanging another left on SP55 at Cressino.
Now we are really in apple land! Trentino is one of the most important high-quality apple-producing regions in Europe. Cultivation, quality checks, and the sale of the apples is regulated by cooperatives. The main varieties of apples cultivated here include Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Stark Delicious, Braeburn, Royal Gala, and Fuji. Most are produced organically.
Fully ripe yellow and red apples festoon the plantation rows on either side of the road as far as you can see. Large green plastic collection crates litter the roadside in preparation for the coming harvest. We turn left on the old SP55 in the direction of Lover. Presumably, anyone who lives here must be an apple “lover” as there is precious little else. A beautiful winding road leads us through manicured plantations, with occasional glimpses from higher parts across rolling hills of apples. It’s a bit like being an insect making its way through the bristles of a hair brush. We are having so much fun, we take a random tour around the area and get lost in the scenery pretty thoroughly.
The Home Run
Back on the planned route, we continue to follow an apple trail through Flavon and Tuenno, then rejoin the main road at Cles. We continue north on SS43 and the scenery changes once again. The apple plantations drop steeply away in terraces to Lake Santa Giustina below us to the right. Once we pass the lake, the fruits give way to forest on both sides of the road’s sweeping curves. We soon cross a bridge over the Noce and turn left on SS42 in the direction of Madonna Di Campiglio—the home run begins. We have come right around the Cima Tosa and are heading southwest back down the valley with the mountains now to our left.
The sun is dropping ever lower and the light is getting ever warmer. This fast, sweeping road is a joy to ride in these conditions. We slow to 30 mph for the villages along the way, but the sections in between are clearly loved by the local sport bike riders as many of them fly by in both directions.
By the time we reach the town of Malé, the valley has bottomed out and the ride is relatively flat. Traffic slows our progress as people head home from work. It’s not quite rush hour, but it is more traffic than we have seen all day. We turn left on a roundabout as we enter Dimaro and soon begin the climb back up the Passo Campo Carlo Magno to Madonna di Campiglio and our temporary home base.
The sun is really low, the road is freshly asphalted, and everything is either bathed in warm light or obscured in deep shadow. We have restaurant reservations for this evening and are running a bit late. We already know this pass quite well as we have been here a few days now—all in all, it’s a recipe for a spirited ride and a fitting end to a great touring day.
Facts & Info
Approximately 95 miles
The Trentino region in Italy’s South Tyrol has stunning mountain roads and breathtaking scenery. Due to the altitude on some of the roads, the best months to ride are between June and October. It is always advisable to check whether particular roads are open or not. Speed limits in Italy range from 30 mph in urban areas to around 60 mph on minor out-of-town roads, 70 mph on major out-of-town roads, and 80 mph on motorways. There are many speed cameras in all the villages, but some of them are plastic dummies.
Roads & Biking
The roads in the Italian Dolomites are generally in very good condition and all roads on this tour are paved. This is a mountainous area so expect tight curves, narrow sections, and steep inclines. As there are towns and villages scattered all along this tour, access to fuel is not a problem. The same goes for coffee and lunch stops. Lane discipline in much of Europe is not good and car drivers habitually cut corners. It’s therefore very important to maintain a good road position well away from the center line on left-hand bends if you want to avoid the risk of head-on collisions.
Motorcycles & Gear
2018 Triumph Tiger 800 XRT
2018 Honda NC750X
Helmet: Shoei Neotec
Jacket: Held Cool System Leather, Helite airbag vests
Pants: ProBiker Textile
Boots: Alpinestars New Land GORE-TEX
Gloves: Vanucci Viscolab
Luggage: Givi XS307 tankbag
Comm system: Sena 20S Evo