I went down to Liguria two weeks after taking part in the Ötztaler radmarathon to join a meeting of like-minded mountain cyclists. We are all members of the BIG bicycle club for cycling up any number of 1000 selected mountain road destinations around the world, with the Alps perhaps being central, while there are lists of climbs in all regions of Europe. The club has been growing quite a lot lately.
I was invited to attend the meeting by the organizer, the very nice Gabriele Brunetti who is also an expert on cycling in the Ligurian mountains. He has written two books with good descriptions of the main attractions in Liguria for cyclists. The books can be obtained from Ediciclo.it – there are two books, one for each part of Liguria: Il Levante and Il Ponente. The later covered the area we were exploring during this meeting and is also the place for the second home (after Milano) for Gabriele.
The meeting was in Varazze (ca. 30 km west of Genova) where I stayed at Gabriele’s house. Gabriele was kind enough to pick me up himself at the airport in Bergamo. The meeting was for three days and would consist in lots of cycling and then meeting up at the evening in Varazze for dinner. There were two basic plans for the attending cyclists, depending on whether they wanted to cycle off road or on road. Gabriele thought I qualified for doing a few things of both and some extra, but more on this later on.
The plan for the Friday was rather easy for the road cyclists, while the mountain bicyclists had a more ambitious program. Gabriele had suggested that maybe I could do most of the mountain bike prgram with my race bike (knowing of my trips in the Alps of unsurfaced roads), but I was not 100% interested in the road choices here as it included the Colle di Tenda (1872m), which I have visited two times already and even if it is very nice, I would still prefer to see some of all the roads I had not visited in the area earlier. I had an idea that maybe, maybe I could manage to get to Col de Andrion (1681m) which is the highest pass in the Alps that (I know for sure) to be asphalted that I have still not been to (and it should be quite nice too), but it was a bit too far away really and the closest road via Col de Turini was closed at this time.
I came up with another idea that we discussed and finally decided to do that, even if not quite as planned. I followed the mountain bike guys on their car trip toward France in the morning, but asked to be dropped off at Albenga by Enrico Alberini (also helping with the organizing of the event). Enrico was also driving me back home later in the day from Molini di Triora and a lot of thanks to him also for his kind help!
Albenga (20m) was a perfect starting place to explore some interesting roads in the Ligurian Alps. It was a splendid day with perfect weather for cycling. I got quickly on the right way up to some houses at Martinetto (72m), where a small nice asphalt road takes off up a narrow valley toward Capruana. At first this climb is very easy for ca. 8-9 km and I did not have to get down on the small front chain ring until somewhere before Nasino, I think. I was going in a good speed most of the way to the top of this climb, but it is a very long climb at over 28 km. I stopped for two photos one the way to the top. The top is not very easy to understand where it is until one comes close to it (even then I was not quite sure it would be the top). This road has not much traffic and is quite nice and good, especially higher up on both sides.
The villages are tiny and did not seem to have any shops. At Colle Caprauna (1379m) one is met with the first views of really high mountains when coming from the east. Now you can see some of the real Alps of the Ligurian Alps and the views are quite fantastic! I had two photos up here.
The road down to Prale was great! On the way down there you will visit the Passo di Prale (1258m), which is often the only pass shown on this road on some maps. Gabriele had challenged me to find it on the way down to Prale as he doubted I would do so. I really did try and figure out where exactly it was and tried to spot some signs maybe giving a hint, but it was in vain. I did not see it, but looking on satellite maps at viamichelin.com I understand where it is, but the geography is a bit confusing up here when you are here. That this is the pass marked on maps is because it was the main old walkers pass over the mountain ridge here.
Somewhat quickly I was down at the main road over Colle di Nava (936m) – the first road crossing of the Alps from the west in this part of the Alps that is entirely Italian. It is prhaps 2 km from Cantarana (783m) to Ponte di Nava (816m), where I stopped for lunch outside a little grocery shop (the lady suggested a different cheese than I decided to have on the sandwich, which looked like something that has been laying around much too long, but maybe it would have been tastier … ).
Ponte di Nava is the start of a very nice little road up to Upega and from Upega a stille narrower road continues now much steeper up to Colletta Salse (1627m) (often only called ‘Colletta’ on maps). This is the highest asphalted pass road in the Ligurian Alps. You have many nice views on the way up to Upega. From Upega it is wooded with serpentines. The traffic is quite low on this road.
The views opening up south from the pass are not as spectacular as one might have envisioned on the way up there, but they are far reaching. The road is quite sweet down through the tiny village of Salse and further to Piaggia, where you re-enter the region of Alta Briga for a short while. Here you see a nice road leding high above up some ski pists to the mountain ridge that marks the border with France. Passo di Tanarello (2052m) is reachable on a gravel road up from Monesi and it should be easy to reach with a road bicycle, but as I had not really planned to go up here, I was not sure of the state of the roads up here and also the weather did look a little gloomy up in this direction. But in retrospect I should have gone up there instead of travelling over a well-known pass to me from before (Passo della Teglia). I could have gone up there and maybe also have visited Passo Basera (2036m). Then I could meet up with the other guys at Colle Garezzo as planned (and I would even had time to go back and forth on the direct road to Colle di Nava that I did go on). If so, I would have managed to get two more passes for the day (and above 2000m!) + I would actually had manged to get all the way to Colle Garezzo, which I did not quite reach now. Oh well, things could have turned out bad if the weather would have gone worse, so hard to say I was unwise in retrospect. (I had not been planning much for these days ahead and had decided to take things as they came.)
Monesi looked a bit gloomy as it was laying in the shadows. I went on to Colla San Bernardo (1263m), which is a crossroad where I could have gone up to Colla Garezzo (1795m) on a road that is asphalted at first but then gravelled and it is somewhat bad around the pass height. One could also go down to Mendatica. But I had decided to take the ridge road over to Colle di Nava with plenty of passes in a short distance.
The road goes a little up and down and passes by the following passes: Colla (Poggio Forcarau) (1289m); Colla Rinella (1281m); Colla del Fieno (1242m); Colle di Cosio (tunnel) (1277m) and Colla dei Boschetti (1229m) before descending abruptly to Colle di Nava (936m).
I stopped for a coke and ice cream at Colle di Nava and took the photo of the funny vegtables (further down the page here) that I do not know the name of – maybe someone could enlighten me? Now I had some thought about going back to Colla San Bernardo (1263m) and climb up to Colla Garezzo (1795m) from there as I had planned to do. I called Enrico (or maybe he called me …) to figure out when they might start on their climb up to Colla Garezzo from Molini di Triora. They were behind their schedule (as I suspected) and it takes some time to drive with a car (too) to Molini di Triora. It looked like maybe I could manage to get to Triora before they started out on the climb, but tat turned out to be a bit wishful thinking.
Anyway, the descent from Colle di Nava to Pieve di Teco (229m) was quite fun on a fast and wide road (with much traffic). Down there it was a bit hot and now I felt like I had to hurry on and tried my best to go as fast up the valley to Rezzo (563m) and Passo della Teglia (1387m). I was already quite tired at Rezzo and stopped for another quick and expensive coke at a bar there and then hurried on again up the narrow road.
This road only becomes steeper and steeper the closer one gets to Passo della Teglia. This side is a very hard climb! According to salite.ch it is harder from Molini di Triora, but then it is over 10 km shorter! It is a 22,5 km climb with 1166 height metres to conquer. I was nearly out of energy when I finally got to the pass. I was calling on the way up and said they did not have to wait for me as I would be late and would go up as far as I could to meet them maybe on their way back down.
The views from Passo della Teglia (1387m) are quite good! I was looking forward to descend the other side as I had remembered that it was newly asphalted when I climbed that side back in 2006 (?). But now it was not as nice and it was a bit of a bumpy ride down here. It also has some dangerous blind curves (so maybe it was good I could not go quite as fast down anyway).
When I reached Molini di Triora (460m), I looked around but saw no cyclists. I stayed again at a pastry shop and got another coke + some dry cake (no good) near the good hotel where I stayed the last time I was here. Then again I hurried on, hoping that maybe I could catch up with the other cyclists, but when I was getting closer to Triora (798m) (the village above) all the cycling for the day started to take its toll on me and I just had to stop at Triora totally exhausted now. I think I called again and learned that they were still on their way up, but I was just too tired to be able to catch up with them now.
I waited a little and had a bad ice cream, then I started out slowly up the road to Colla Garezzo. After a little while I started to feel fine again and went in a good speed, but was now helplessly behind the others. The views on thsi road are quite lovely and I was happy to learn that it was asphalted for far longer than I had thought. I think it was asphalted up to a first little pass called Passo di Gorda (1252m), then it was a decent gravel road that became a little better when it turned less steep a bit higher up. I passed by Passo Grimperto (1379m) and Passo del Pellegrino (1398m) and then reached the crossroad where one turns right up the last stretch to the Colla Garezzo (1795m) (or Colle del Garezzo). Just at the start of this road I crossed the only pass I knew of beforehand along this road – Passo della Guardia (1461m). After climbing up a little more to get a good view of the tunnel of Garezzo on the now much less good gravel road, I saw the first cyclists coming down from the pass. I had a photo (third to last one here), but the tunnel is hard to make out in the photo.
I did not really feel like trying to get up to the pass and have the other wait for me later on, so I just waited until the first guys came down and then started to roll back down (as they had mountain bikes and would catch up with me on the gravel part of the road anyway).
They told me the last bit was still worse with much loose gravel on the road making it slightly hard even with mountain bikes. It was a lovely evening. They all passed me by on the gravel section even if I played with them a little on the best section where I could go faster than them. I went down as quickly as I could on the asphalt section, but stopped to take another photo above Triora as the views in the evening light was wonderful. I managed to overtake the last guy just before reaching Molini di Triora. Then we had a nice drive back in the car to Varazze.
Later this evening we were down late for dinner at a good one star hotel where some of the others stayed for the night in Varazze. They had quite good food. I showed some photos from my previous trips on my computer after dinner and talked as good as I could with people from Italy, Belgium, France, etc.