Published on: 24 March 2013 | Last updated: 25 December 2019
The first part of this section of the tour follows the Sentiero Valtellina cycleway from near Sorico on the Lago di Como, to the town of Tirano on the border with Switzerland. The sentiero is almost entirely off-road although there are some road sections in Morbegno and Tirano itself (note: bikes are banned from a number of stretches of the main road to Bormio, the SS38).
From Tirano the route starts to climb through the Val Bernina to the beautiful Lago di Poschiavo and the town of Poschiavo. If you have good weather you should have magnificent views of glaciers and lakes as the road climbs to the Forcola di Livigno.
This valley is also the route for the World Heritage Ferrovia Retica (Rhaetian railways - RhätischeBahn). You can see for example the helicoidal viaduct as you climb towards Poschiavo (in order to reduce the gradient, the rail line loops over itself). If you have the time, a ride on the trenino rosso (little red train) is a memorable experience.
The train parts company from the road after Poschiavo and climbs high through a series of dramatic switchbacks, before eventually reaching the top. A yellow sign marks the watershed – up to this point all rivers and streams flow into the Adriatic, after this point they drain into the Black Sea via the Danube. For more information see the Practicalities tabbed panel below.
You could opt to continue on the Sentiero Valtellina to Grosio and from there make the climb to the Passo Mortirolo (1851m also known as the Passo di Foppa). From Grosio the climb is 14.8 kilometres long at an average of 8.3% (height gain: 1222 m). It has a fearsome reputation: vying with Monte Zoncolan in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia for the title of the toughest climb in Italy.
Map and altitude profile
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Places to stay
There are lots of hotels - especially in Tirano and Livigno. Many hotels in the area are part of the Alta Rezia Bike Hotels consortium.
There are relatively few campsites between Sorico and Livigno: there are a couple of decent ones near Poschiavo (I stayed at, and can recommend, the Camping Cavresc’ at Le Prese). There’s also a nice campsite at Sondalo (Campeggio Pradella). There are several campsites in Livigno - I’d recommend the Camping Aquafresca which had a decent-sized grassy area for tents.
Transport and services
Train and bus services
There are two train stations in Tirano - one offering connections into Italy and the other services into Switzerland.
Some buses in this area were equipped with bike racks, so buses might also offer a transport option.
The Ferrovia Retica
The Bernina Express is the name of the tourist service that runs trains with panoramic carriages. You have to pay a supplement of 12 CHF each way for these trains – in addition to the basic return fare of 58 CHF. There are no facilities for carrying bikes. There are also regional trains on the same lines. There is no supplement for these trains. The return ticket is also valid for the whole day so you can get on and off. The regional trains also have the advantage of windows that you can open – so better if you want to take photos (and you will). On days with good weather the company also runs open-top carriages – if you can get one with one of these they really are the most exciting option.
There are also lots of bike spaces on the regional trains (but check the timetable for the specific service you are interested in). A one-day bike ticket costs 18 CHF – although if the normal fare is less than 18 euros you can get a single ticket for that instead.
For timetables and fares see the RhätischeBahn website.