Travel: The Stelvio Bike Experience
I first wrote about the Hotel Funivia a few months back when piecing together a week of riding for the PEZ-Crew to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. After a fantastic few days in Bormio, I can report first hand on the experience. This is an easy one to write because they really have it dialed for cyclists wanting a high level of riding and attention, and a low level of distractions.
This story first run a few months ago but is a great reminder that now is the time to start planning next year’s ultimate cycling holiday – The Stelvio perhaps? I’m going back!
Bormio’s natural setting between four valleys makes for an excellent base camp.
The Perfect Base Camp
The town of Bormio has long been known for its famous thermal springs, and after its importance faded as a trade route to Switzerland, reinvented itself as a world-class winter ski resort. While the Hotel Funivia is one of many in town that has long catered to the winter crowd, it has in recent years developed special summer programs specially for cyclists.
The hotel is managed and run brothers Giacomo & Daniele Schena, and Daniele’s wife Elisa. The original hotel was built by Elisa’s grandfather in the 1950’s, then handed down to Elisa’s father Guido (he’s mostly retired now but still maintains a presence.) This is good because the best hotels in Italy are family run.
This is how the family has chosen to make its living, and their pride in hosting guests is clearly evident. All of the staff we met were very friendly, most of them speak English, and I truly felt like they really wanted us to enjoy our stay. There’s no question guests are made to feel like they’re staying with family.
Giacomo (center) and his brother Daniele (right) are both gracious hosts and accomplished riders. How many hotels do you know who have their own kit?
It’s also important that Giacomo & Daniele are keen cyclists – and very fit. They love to ride and do so several times a week leading guests on the many fantastic and challenging routes in the area.
The property is recently remodeled, with all mod cons, comfortable beds, down quilts (it can get cool at nights), new modern fixtures in the bathrooms (including the rain-shower nozzle), satellite tv, and big rockin’ views of the surrounding mountains from every room.
Downstairs is a steam sauna, massage room, and a huge secured bike storage locker & workshop that’s stocked with pretty much any tool you need. (If they don’t have it, the local bike shop does.)
Worth a mention too is their daily laundry service for your biking kit. Each of us received a large mesh sack when we checked in, and then deposited our dirty kit into the designated bins (one on each floor) by 6:30PM each day. Our cleaned kit was returned to us each morning. They do use a dryer, but I really appreciated the convenience of not having to wash my kit in the room sink – and judging by the amount of laundry being returned each morning – so did the other guests.
We’d arranged our week to start off here in Bormio, and I wondered if my “early season” fitness would be enough to take on the best of what the area offers – Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo – big 5-7 hour loops are not uncommon for the guests or guides – so you need a reasonable amount of riding in the legs before you go.
Each day’s ride plan is posted on a board in the lobby the night before, and you can count yourself in with the handy color coded signup tags – conveniently located right on the board. Every morning everyone meets for the guided ride – starting with a group photo in front of the hotel at 9:20, then rolling out at 9:30.
The pace depends on the group (which by default of the location means everyone is pretty fit), and there’s always at least one guide on the front and one at the back – so no one’s left behind.
We rode three consecutive days, and our two long rides were van supported, and they all included a coffee stop or two along the way. Bars, bananas, sandwiches and water are in the van, and the van bail-out is always there if needed. (I used it after we logged 100km and 5+ hours on our first day – just wasn’t ready for that last 30km uphill to Bormio!)
Our “easy” day included a 9km climb up these switchbacks to Lago di Cancano.
Taking on those big three climbs on successive days may not be for everyone, and after gauging the reaction of the riders after day 1, our plan was switched to an easier day 2 – which still took in a 9km climb to Lago di Cancano – but was only 35km round trip over a relaxed 4 hours – including the requisite coffee stop.
As part of a week-long combo package with the Garda Bike Hotels on Lago di Garda, our third day’s ride took us up the Stelvio, then down the Umbrail pass through Switzerland to the lunch stop back in Italy at a sports center in Sluderno where we showered up, grabbed some lunch, and transferred into the waiting Garda Bike Hotel vans for the drive down to Garda.
Gord Cameron gets himself into some thin air near the top of the 2700+ meter Stelvio.
This was a huge day, and for me required the added logistics of getting my rental car over the mountain while I was on my bike. No problems though as our hosts had it covered – Team Lampre pro Davide Vigano took my car to the top, where he hopped on his bike and Daniele took over to drive it down the Umbrail. Fantastic service.
Once again – all I had to do was enjoy the ride while our hosts covered the details.
Here’s where staying with guys who actually ride really pays off – so while the food in Italy is generally (and rightly) considered the best you can find, it’s even better for cyclists under the care of other cyclists – especially when those other cyclists are Italian. I can describe how good everything is, but I think the photos will get the point across just fine…
I was also assured that the food was top notch here by two guests I’d met in Belgium back in April who had stayed here before. They were right.
Breakfasts are served buffet style, and laden with the kind of assortment you wish you had at home but don’t have the domestic staff, budget, or time to prepare… I like to take my time and enjoy a few trips to the buffet table over the course of the meal. So round one is getting my juice and coffee – and this bears a sentence of its own. Anyone who’s been to Italia knows the coffee is like nowhere else – sure you can bring the beans or coffee home, even buy an expensive espresso machine and all that, but in spite of what Starbucks and other coffee sellers want you to believe – there’s just no way to replicate that creamy, delicious Italian coffee outside of Italy. I know because I’ve been at this for years and have indeed tried all the above mentioned points.
It used to be that a waiter would disappear into the kitchen and return minutes later with a steaming cup of whatever coffee you ordered – (or whatever coffee they decided to make you), as you sat at your table. But in these modern times, the self-serve espresso machine has evolved to be even better than the hotel-supplied barrista. Now all coffee requests are handled self-serve style from the push-one-button-and have-it-any-way-you-want from the espresso machine.
Caffe (espresso), caffe lungo, caffe macchiato, cappuccino, caffe latte, cioccolatta, latte (milk only), Americano (or Dutch coffee)… the list is long and if there’s not something there to satisfy, then you’d best hop back on the nearest plane back to your local strip mall… My personal choice swaggered between a caffe latte with an extra shot of espresso, or a cioccolatta with a shot of espresso (your basic mocha).
Looking forward to a fine day on the bike really is better when you get out of bed already knowing an amazing cup of coffee awaits…
The rest of the buffet is typical (for better European hotels) fair – a big assortment of fresh baked pastries (croissants, brioche, buns, etc), whole grain cereals, yogurts, cold cut meats (prosciutto, cured ham), sliced cheeses, more traditional style breads for toasting, jams, it’s all you need for a big pre-ride fuel. I requested scrambled eggs and the waiter was happy to make me some.
Dinners are chosen from a set menu the night before, and served to your table by the staff. The typically include an antipasto plate, a primi (first course) of a pasta or rice, then a secondi (main) of meat, poultry, or fish, and desert.
Wine was our own choice, selected either from their menu with more choices & price points than you’ll need, or simply left in the hands of the waiter (my preference, which saved me the delay of sifting though the menu, and he already knows what’s good.)
Without fail the food was excellent – every single meal – and this was a unanimous decision confirmed by the rest of the guests on the next day’s ride.
On the third & final night of our stay, our hosts treated us to the meal we’ll all remember. We piled into the van for the short but impossible-to-ride-your-bike-up steep drive up the mountain to one of their two alpine huts for a traditional Valtellinese meal of homemade polenta, a mixed grill of meats, grilled vegetables, lots of wine, espresso made in stove-top pots, grappa and a digestivo I’d never tried before – Tenada (apparently Bormio is the only place you can get it – so I promptly bought a bottle for my Italian father in law back home).
Elise’s father lives up here much of the year – no doubt admiring the gorgeous views of Bormio below and across to the valleys we’d ridden this week – and manned the grill while his daughter looked after making the biggest batch of polenta I’ve seen. The traditional way to stir the polenta is by hand with a wooden spoon the size of a small paddle, and they let me have a go for the gag photo.
This was my most memorable meal of our stay, not only because of the fantastic food, but because our hosts prepared everything themselves, and after two big days of riding with the other guests, we’d all become friends, and it really felt more like a family meal.
We stayed for three days as part of a combo package with their partners from GardaBikeHotel.it, but they offer a variety of stays and packages to suit whatever you desire to get your climbing legs into shape, or test yourself on the big climbs of the region. The details of our rides are best served in another story, but suffice to say the riding (like our whole stay here) is excellent, but be prepared to go uphill as the big draw are the climbs of the Gavia, Mortirolo, and Stelvio.