PEZ Rides The Ghisallo – Civiglio – Lake Como – Bellagio
The Civiglio Climb in Como is often the launch pad for race winning moves at the Giro di Lombardia, and after years of just watching, I finally rode it to see for myself how technical and steep this one is.
The 2023 edition of the race however, starts in Como and bypasses this beautiful little climb, but it remains a must-do any time you’re in the region.
I’d intended to ride the Civiglio climb out of Como in the same direction as the Giro di Lombardia raced it in October 2022, but in the end – descending it made for a much more interesting video, and was a whole lot easier than climbing the 5km, 10%+ grade climb.
The climb figured as a key spot on my loop at Lake Como that began at the Hotel Il Perlo (the best place to stay in the area), then up the Madonna del Ghisallo climb to the famous church and museum, took in a brief stop before carrying on with the fast and long descent down to the Civiglio to approach Como from the west, then a pizza in Como, before a late afternoon ride back up the lake. All in it was around 80km, and a perfect way to close out my season.
Late Fall is really the best time to visit Italy – the weather has been great every time I’ve visited, temps in the low to mid 20’s (Celsius), and the summer time crowds are gone.
I first rode this climb in 2010, on a round the lake jaunt where I met up with 3 riders who I convinced to take me up the Ghisallo…
This was just part of a Top Ride – that started in Bellagio at the Hotel Il Perlo, climbed up to the Madonna del Ghisallo, descended to Como, climbed the backside of the Civiglio, pizza by the lake for lunch and a 30km roll back up the lake to the final 2km climb back up to the hotel – what a day.
The best bike hotel anywhere near Lago di Como is right here: Il Perlo – punching way above its “2 star” rating”.
I first did a version of this ride in 1994 – almost 30 years ago – on my first journey to see and ride some stages of the Giro. That was early days for cycling travel, but my trip still had some 20 or so cyclists on it. Our first ride was from Como up the west side if the lake, over a climb and descent into Switzerland (which is right there), then back to Mennagio and a ferry ride across the lake to climb from Bellagio to the top of the Ghisallo.
That day after the climb, we drove off the top, and I vowed to get back one day to take in the 12km+ descent south from the top towards Como. I did that a few years later, and have travelled the route several times since, chasing Giro stages and various Giri di Lombardia. But I’d never ridden from Como back up to Bellagio, nor had I ridden the front of the Civiglio like they’ve been racing it in recent years. …And so my plan was hatched for this Top Ride.
A solid start to the day.
The Fall weather in Italy is usually pretty nice – and this trip was no different, except that it was a couple degrees warmer than usual. No complaints here.
I was officially In Italy as guest of Campagnolo, who’d invited a few of the world’s cycling media to tour their factory in Vicenza, and then stay on to participate in the Dreamland gran fondo in Bassano del Grappa. But that’ll be another story.
The view from part way up the climb, you know when the day looks like this, it’s gonna be a good one – and weather in Fall here is usually excellent.
My ride for the day was from HERSH Bikes – a local builder based in Milan, offering custom frame sizes, colors, and build kits across a range of different models from road to gravel to mtb – even e-bikes and TT machines. They’re stocked in the Il Perlo service course in a variety of sizes (both road & e-mtb) – so you can even “try before you buy” when you’re staying at the hotel.
Now let’s ride…
Below is my Strava map – starting from Il Perlo, about 79kms, with stops at the Ghisallo Church and Museum, and of course lakeside pizza in Como for lunch, before the 30km rolling ride back up the lake.
About halfway up, the climb levels, and offers a stunning view down the southeast arm of Lake Como.
Summiting the climb of the Madonna del Ghisallo is never short of breath taking for me. There is truly something magical about this place – the home of the patron saint of cyclists.
Inside the tiny space is a huge collection of cycling jersey’s famous bikes, photos and other amazing memorablia.
Especially notable is Fabio Casartelli’s red, white and blue Merckx he was riding at the time of his death.
Outside, this statue of a fallen cyclist is also breathtaking, as are the views to the mountains to the north.
Inside the Museum, located next to the church, is an amazing collection of cycling artifacts celebrating mostly racing, over the last 100 years. Naturally there’s a coffee bar, whereafter some cajoling, our host emerged with this bottle of local amaro. Even at 11:00am it’s never too early for an amaro with your espresso.
After our coffee, another divine stroke of luck intervened, when I was introduced to Fabio Casartelli’s grown children, who were here to pick up a bike they’d loaned to the museum.
The stop here lasted much longer than I’d expected, and reminded me that extra time is recommended to fully soak in the history and magnificence of the church and the museum. But we still had 70+ kms of riding ahead, so it was time to roll. About 5-6 km south of the Ghisallo summit is a church and cemetery I first found in 1997, and make a point of stopping each time I pass by.
From there, our ride took us around the bottom end of the mountainous ridge that splits the west and east side of the lake, and onto the bottom of the Civiglio climb. Our route brought us in from the opposite side of the climb, which ended up reversing my plan to climb the Civiglio from the same side as the race in recent years. But by now it was getting onto lunch time, and the idea of pizza motivated a new plan… Since we had to climb up to the summit anyway, taking in the decent to Como became a much better idea. Hence my video at the start of this story…
After lunch, I was starting to feel the fatigue of the last few days, so my ride back up the lake was definitely at “tourist” pace, with a few stops to enjoy the views.
The last couple of kms climb from Bellagio back up to Il Perlo are on a 10% grade road, which was a grind at this point. But I was still back in plenty of time to enjoy the sunset, a celebratory negroni, and a delicious dinner.
Dusk from Il Perlo – looking north towards Bellagio.
Recent renovations at Il Perlo have upped the ante from the in-house kitchen. This charcuterie board had enough bressaola, prosciutto, salami and guanciale for a lot more people than just me.
They pour a fine negroni too.
Definitely worth the visit – Hotel Il Perlo.