Local Heroes | Lake Como’s Steep Descents
“Unique in their awfulness,” is how Diana sums up the trails at her home spot by Lake Como. So awful in fact, that the local scene has even christened the flow sections on the eastern side of Lake Como (or rather, ‘Lario’ as the Romans called it) with a unique name. “Although ‘Lario flow’ doesn’t really imply flow here, it’s more the case that they’re not quite so bad…” she admits. Diana’s perspective on her area has to count among the least glamorous that our editorial team has ever received – and that’s exactly what got us hooked! Instead of patriotic eulogies, she’s outlined the true nature of her local trails and given insider tips for any fans of steep, technical, rough, rocky descents and Mediterranean flair.
After relocating to the eastern side of Lake Como ten years ago, Andi and Diana have formed a pillar of the local MTB scene together with Sergio, Alberto, Mauro, Simone and Nicolo, although their riding styles vastly differ. While Andi prefers it ‘enduro-style fast’, the long-established Italians have moulded themselves to fit the topography. True mountain bikers, these Lario riders claim: “Fast is good, but preferably technically steep and a bit vertride-style.” On their long weekend rides the Italian dolce vita reigns, taking it nice and relaxed. Less experienced riders don’t get dropped and a picnic is a compulsory part of any ride. Conversing at the tops of their voices while maintaining a decent pace, they ride up the small mountain roads to the desired starting point, heaving the bike onto their shoulder at times.
Diana refers to herself as a ‘flower rider’, but surely given the topography of the location, this must be a vast understatement? These Lario trails don’t sound the least bit suited to a ‘flower rider’. “Worst case scenario means you just get off and push,” explains Diana, “so that gives you chance to admire the incredible nature here as there are loads of rare orchid varieties.” Ah, ok, that covers the ‘flower rider’ name now.
What makes your trails amazing?
“They’re rocky, gnarly, steep, rough, unkempt – just COMPLETELY natural and barely signposted. After one of the many downpours we get here, they’re usually nastily washed out. Big and small boulders from the Karst mountain range constantly tumble down onto the trails and in autumn it can get really exciting when the surprises are hidden under slippery and wet layers of leaves. As soon as it’s wet, these limestone trails transform into steep, soap-suddy slides, and after a windstorm the fallen trees make an often-lengthy appearance. In summer it’s usually unbearably hot, in autumn and spring too wet – and too cold in winter. The trails are so steep that riding up is virtually never an option. For those who do try it, it’s just torture.”
Conclusion: “The trails are unique in their awfulness!” is how Diana sums up the subject of her home trails. The ‘Lario flow’ concept that unites the local bike scene becomes understandable after Diana’s account. But is it really that bad? “Of course, the Mediterranean flair and the views are equally spectacular,” she elucidates. “The trails are neither built nor shaped, neither looked after nor made for riding. If you like it steep, stony, stepped and technical, then you’ll love it here.” What’s more the locals are meeting up more and more often to clear the trails to ensure more fun – until the next rainstorm that is…
What sort of bike is most suitable?
“A fully with at least 150mm travel – ideally a lightweight enduro bike.”
What’s on the agenda post-ride?
“The Italians usually head home straight after a ride, as their pasta is waiting for them – and you know that it’s going to taste good! For visitors though, a dip in the lake is an absolute must, perfect for washing off the sweat and relaxing those aching muscles. The beach at ABBADIA LARIANA at the CAMPING SPIAGGIA is ideal with hours of sun, a bar containing everything you need for the après-bike, and first-rate pizza, of course. At the ‘EXTREME-FACTORY’ you can try out various other leisure activities like surfing, paddle boarding and wakeboarding. They’ve also offer bike shuttle here, definitely recommended to avoid the tortuous climbs. In the evenings the bar and terrace overlooking the lake and its encircling mountains is a popular place to hang out, with live music often accompanying the views. Other than that, Lecco, Varenna and Colico have picturesque old towns to wander around, shop, and eat ice cream.
“Andi’s home trail is in the south of Lario and heads up from ABBADIA LARIANA to RESINELLI. It’s the ideal introduction for anyone new to area –immediately acquainting you with what’s to come. It climbs steeply, and then descends even more steeply and unevenly. Both the climb and descent are traffic-free, riding on tarmac, gravel and many forgotten trails and mule paths.”
Set off from the small car park at the end of Via del Castello. Follow the direction denoted by the hiking sign towards CAMPELLI/RESINELLI, then the route climbs immediately. Sometimes steep, then very steep – and then f***ing badass steep! Hats off to those who pedal all the way up. Fortunately the track is paved on the steepest sections but the 30% gradient is still a proper challenge!
Up at RESINELLI: Your best bet is to head into one of the bars to let the uphill sink in and re-boost your energy levels – you’re going to need it for the descent.
The start is on the left behind the church in RESINELLI: you’ll follow a tarmacked road at first, which turns into a bumpy fire road. This will eventually take you through a stream. Directly after the final house, head left. Now the fun begins! Set off down the narrow pass full of loose stones; there’s a steep, technically pretty washed-away mule track to follow. After a particularly gnarly section you’ll reach an intersection: take path number 12 towards MANDELLO, it’ll head right with a slight incline. At times you’re going to get some pretty nice ‘Lario flow’ sections. At the next intersection – once again after a pretty gnarly section – take a left turn (downhill). You’ll reach a meadow eventually, then you’ve above MAGGIANA. Go left and cruise though the little village until you reach the road to ABBADIA/CREBBIO. Follow it briefly, before turning right at the cemetery onto a nice path. After the bridge over the motorway, take another right. Beginning by the church, the SENTIERO DEL VIANDANTE will take you back to the car park in ABBADIA.
ALPE DI ESINO:
“Moderate uphill – two gnarly variants for the descent.
Begin from the small village of VARENNA. Behind the village stream take a right on a tarmacked road towards ESINO. Once in ESINO, turn left towards ORTANELLA, immediately after the junction take another left onto an old, steep mule track. This leads up to the Alpe, the perfect rest stop where a picnic is optional but worth it.
The descent: at the start it’s a bit bumpy, but there’s an amazing view over the lake included. At the junction, the choice is yours:
A) Hiking trail n. 71 or ‘BRENTALONE-VERT’: only recommended for experienced riders who like it steep. Once you reach the lakeside road head left back to VARENNA.
B) Follow the undulating path further towards ORTANELLA, turn left onto a gravel path, and take a right after a picnic table onto the SENTIERO DEL VIANDANTE to get back down to VARENNA. This will start with a pretty washed-away rocky path, then you’ve got a decent section of Lario Flow with just a few nasty bits, before it rounds off with a tricky, slow riding, rocky narrow trail. During this you’re going to be treated to what is irrefutably the best view over Lario.
BOCCHETTA DEL PRADA
“An Alpine-style, long and exhausting ride in the GRINGE-MASSIV
The descent has everything, and although it’s not marked, it’s easy to find. There’s a pretty steep zig-zagged path across a meadow before you’re back in the forest. You’ll follow a very steep and technical trail with some moments of flow trail too. Certain points do need genuine care – danger of falling! Stay on path n. 17, and bear right once you reach an opening in the forest. You’re almost done once you reach the little Santa-Maria church perched high above MANDELLO. On weekends there’s coffee, cold drinks and other refreshments. But mind the Grappa: the worst might be behind you but no one would define the remainder as ‘easy’. The bumpy path passes the religious stone cross and heads towards MANDELLO. Keep right as you enter the village and follow the path that’ll take you to the SENTIERO DEL VIADANTE. This’ll take you to just above the lakeside road to LIERNA and from there, just cross the road and ride back to VARENNA”.
The king’s route:
“We couldn’t keep this absolute highlight a secret. The king’s route is a really demanding full-day ride and takes you to one of the lake’s highest summits, the MONTE LEGNONE. Standing at 2,609 metres high, you and your bike can get virtually all the way to the summit.
Start: From DERVIO just follow the road up into VAL VARRONE. Behind TREMENICO the old mule track swings to the left, then there’s a long stretch of countless curves through the forest before reaching the meadow up to Alpe GRIERE (rest option). After a certain point only trial champions will still be pedalling, while the rest of us push for about 1.5 to 2 hours. Once you’ve reached the saddle, the path swings around the summit, more or less rideable – I prefer to push for safety.
While the descent is exposed and predominately rideable, rainfall has caused a fair bit of damage to trail, but by spring it should be on the mend. The further down you get, the more flow you’ll enjoy. Even from high above you’ll spot the mid-waypoint of RIFUGGIO LEGNONE, a more than welcome refreshment stop. From there, take path n.123. Have fun crossing the meadow and then back into the forest – the Lario Flow is back before you know it. To my excitement I even heard hikers bestow the great ‘complementi’ on me for my courage last time I rode it! That makes a flower rider happy. Follow the ‘Biker’ signs in the forest until the fun ends when the fire road comes into view. Keep your eyes peeled and look out for the path that branches off this fire road. If not, just hammer out the rest of the descent on the track, down to DELEBIO, PIANTEDO and COLICO. To reach the start again, you can either join the chaos that is Italian traffic on the lakeside road or take the train.”
Saving the best until last:
“The trails from the Lombardia-Enduro-Cup in COLICO: PROVE SPECIALE 1,2 and 3.
Used for the Lombardia-Enduro-Cup in COLICO: PROVE SPECIALE 1,2 and 3, these were the best trails around. But, as is so often the case, they’ve since fallen victim to mother nature’s tantrums and become the usual ‘bumpy-helterskelter-style-fingers-crossed-this’ll-work-out’-type trail. Anyway, the trails are quite frequently put back in order so if you’re lucky that might not have been too long ago.”
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Words: Diana Weidner / Hannah Röther Fotos: Diana Weidner