Published on: 16 March 2013 | Last updated: 25 December 2019
A road tour that takes in five lakes: the Lago d’Orta, Lago di Mergozzo, Lago Maggiore, Lago di Lugano and Lago di Como. The route avoids the busier roads and there are sections of cycleway. There’s relatively little climbing, except for one classic climb to the chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo - patron saint of cycling. This is a loop, so you could avoid it, but it would be a shame to miss the great views of the Lago di Como.
The tour makes use of a ferry and a boat at a couple of points. This is not just to cut out stretches of riding that would otherwise get pretty samey (yes it is possible to have too much of a good thing) but also because the boats are a good way to see the lakes: many of the grand lakeside villas were designed to be seen from the lake, and there may not be very much to see from the road. The ferries and boats are fairly cheap (eg 5€ for a cyclist and bike to cross the Lago Maggiore). The car ferries have plenty of space for bikes, but on the smaller boats there’s a limited amount of deck space; generally this should be fine unless you’re planning to travel in a big group.
Note: This route takes the quieter roads where this is possible, and avoids tunnels and roads where bikes are banned. However sometimes the price you pay for the fabulous views from the lakeside roads is that you have to put up with a certain amount of traffic. I enjoyed this route a lot, but if you are nervous in traffic it may not be for you. If you are looking for get-away-from-it-all day-rides in the area then your best bet is to head for the hills: see the suggested day rides: Into the Valley of Painters … and Chimney Sweeps, Lago d’Orta day-ride and the Madonna del Ghisallo day-ride.
Map and altitude profile
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|Orta San Giulio to Mergozzo
|Mergozzo to Cannobio (ferry to Luino)
|Luino to Lugano
|Lugano to Menaggio
|Menaggio to Como
|Como to Bellagio
|Madonna di Ghisallo loop
|Menaggio to end
The route includes two loops in the area of the Lago di Como - so there are plenty of options and variations.
The Lakes of Lombardia and Piemonte route offers an option for continuing on to the Lago d’Iseo and the Lago di Garda. You could also combine it with the Mountains of Lombardia route which would take you to the border with the Trentino and, if you still have time and energy, there’s my suggested Dolomites (West-East) route which takes you from the Brenta Dolomites to the Friuli Dolomites.
When to go
Probably the ideal time to visit this area is in June and September outside the main tourist season when the lakeside roads should be quieter.
Maps to print out or view offline
About the maps
The maps are in two versions: A4 portrait format - for printing and maybe also for viewing on an iPad, and A5 for smaller tablets and smartphones. (A4 and A5 are international paper sizes).
Links open in new windows unless you ‘save as’ etc.
- Tour of the Western Lakes gps files
(.zip file containing 5 gpx track files)
- Italy Points of Interest
POIs are like waypoints, but while you can usually only store a limited number of waypoints on a device, you can store thousands of POIs. These files include information about campsites and hostels, bike shops, train stations, drinking water sources as well as warnings for tunnels and roads where bikes are banned. Please check the ReadMe file for instructions. Updated April 2018. The file format is only compatible with Garmin GPSes .
Places to stay
Hotels and B&Bs
There are a huge number of hotels around the lakes. For the best deals avoid the more-famous towns (for example Bellagio on the Lago di Como).
Find and book places to stay with Booking.com
Booking.com area pages:
About these links
If you use these links to book accommodation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.
I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirmation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.
I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the opportunity to let me know if there’s a problem.
Many properties offer free cancellation but it’s a good idea to check the conditions as these vary from property to property.
There are hostels at Verbania, Bellinzona, Lugano, Menaggio, and Como.
There are plenty of campsites along the route; but prices for campsites in the Swiss sections of the lakes seemed generally pretty steep.
Transport and services
Train and ferry services
There are rail stations at Sesto Calende, Sestra, Baveno and Verbania to the beginning of the route and stations at Como and Lecco at the end. There are also stations at Locarno and Lugano.
Ferries are definitely a practical option enabling you to avoid busy roads or tedious detours. There are a couple of car ferries, but most services are smaller boats. These usually have space for a few bikes, but may not be able to accommodate larger groups. You can download copies of the ferry and boat timetables from the Navigazione Laghi website