The Lake District: Valbrona to Franciacorta

Holy Saturday brought clouds and afternoon thundershowers. Emauele and Olmo went out during the day, but basically, we all worked indoors. I read and wrote; my hostess did chores and read. It felt good to rest, and to turn in early.

Easter dawned as gloriously as promised, both by the bible and the weather forecasters. With unlimited visibility, I knew that I could take some decent photographs. The road from Valbrona tended downhill for the first 2 km, then I began to climb from the edge of the town of Asso. It was a gentle climb until I was about 2.5 km from the Ghisallo Pass, near the town where the purple dinosaur lived. The traffic was very heavy, almost all family-filled automobiles driving to the Easter luncheons offered by the various restaurants along the valley.

At Barni, the road rose sharply, maybe 10%, and did not ease until I reached the Sanctuary itself. I expected a flood of bicycles and bicyclists, but my first impression was that the Auto Show of Torino had moved to the country. A vast parking lot was filled with cars. I realized that this was a very popular destination for day drives from Milano, Como, and other cities, and a high point for people touring the Lake District. Indeed, the views from the overlook (and the two restaurants at the parking lot) were stunning.

In the distance at the north end of the lake, the Alps remained eternally snow-capped, while the shady places above Lecco held white streaks that never seemed to melt either. The lake seemed as placid as a mirror, but at this elevation (574 m), I think that I would not have been able to see whitecaps if it were rough.

The modern Museum reminded me of the layout of the Charles M Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, which is a very effective design for curating different sized items in a collection. There are famous bicycles from European race history, but also sections of wooden bikes, military bicycles, urban bicycles and recreational bicycles. Maybe one day I’ll donate the Brodie to start a section on long-distance touring: it’s the only thing missing. I did not buy a jersey or a hat, but I did spring for a pendant for my head tube, which I will install later.

Having promised Marieke to be home for Easter dinner, I left the museum after only 20 minutes. It took me exactly one hour to climb to the Ghisallo, including photo stops, and 25 minutes to get back. The 66-kph downhill was my reward for the climb.

Marieke’s mother had joined the family for lunch, which was a hearty two-course affair. Marieke and her family have been vegetarians long enough that dinner at their house is always nutritious and filling. I did not miss the meat at all. They also make tisanes (from herbs that they raise) and orzo instead of tea and coffee. Nice not to have to make excuses about what I do and don’t drink.

That evening, I walked to the local parish church for Easter Mass. I was impressed: they had leaflets and hymnals, which I had never seen before in an Italian church. All the voices were in tune, and the priest celebrated a full solemn missa cantata, with homily, in 55 minutes. Most of the hymn tunes were familiar psalm tones or old (English) melodies. It felt very familiar and comfortable. However, it felt strange to come out into full daylight. I am not a fan of daylight saving time.

The day after Easter, Pasquetta, may be a bigger holiday to Italians than Easter. Some places open on Easter, but almost all commercial activity stops for Pasquetta. I worked in the morning, because my hosts in Olginate would not be home until 1600 and they were only 24 km from Valbrona. After a delicious lunch of risotto allo zafferano, I packed up and headed out. I really enjoyed hanging out with Marieke, Emanuele and Olmo; one of the sad sides of this life is saying goodbye so much.

I stopped at the “Water Fountain in Honour of the Cyclist” to fill my bottles, then headed downhill. The ride that took 2 hours on Friday to climb from lakeside took 17 minutes today. I rolled into Olginate with time to stop at the Bennet supermarket for a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to contribute to dinner. During the last 200 m, Enrica passed me on her way home from work, so the timing was perfect. I followed her into the parco. She has a lovely, three-story home with a garden and orchard behind it. I was assigned to daughter Emma’s room, as Emma is in New Zealand. Everyone else in the family is nearby; they all work at the family metal-working firm making custom machine parts. Officina Bonacina belonged to her father, and it looks like her eldest son is interested in staying with the firm. I love to see generations take over a family business like that. Husband Roberto joined us for dinner and gave me interesting information about easy places to cross the Alps. He is an alpinista, a mountain climber, when he is not working in the metal shop. If I had known what I learned that night, I might have planned a very different trip to Budapest: over the ancient Roman route at the north end of Lake Como to the Inn River, then down the Danube to Budapest. Or perhaps to the true source of the Rhine (still in Italy) and from there to Lake Constance and the Eurovelo Route to the North Sea. A third idea would be to sneak through the Alps past the Stelvio and the Dolomites, using a big piece of the itinerary from the Italy Cycling Guide. Maybe a future trip?

Everyone was off to work early, but I had instructions on how to leave the house, so I packed up and used the extra time to make my way to the Calolziocorte train station on the other side of the Adda River. Enrica had warned me that the road to Bergamo was neither scenic nor fun, being the only route for heavy truck traffic in and out of the area. I took the train to Bergamo with plenty of time to visit the beautiful Upper City (Bergamo’s three-star historic center), and then ride to the Franciacorta wine country.

The Adda River is the historic boundary between the old Duchy of Milan and the lands controlled by the Republic of Venice. Indeed, Lecco used to be a smuggling port on the border between the Venetian territory and the lands to the west. In Bergamo, I saw the first signs of the Venetian influence, with the Lion of St. Mark on the Duomo and most public buildings. The Duomo was closed, but I was enjoying the sunny day in the historic center with the other tourists, so I did not mind. After a tourist menu near the Duomo, I coasted down the streets made of bricks and river stones to the edge of town.

Franciacorta is famous for its bubbly white wine, which competes credibly with Champagne and Asti Spumante on the world market. It’s what you serve instead of prosecco, when you want to impress and can afford it. The local vintners also make a still red and a still white, but they are not as remarkable. The focus is on the bubbly.

I checked into the Locanda della Franciacorta in Corte Franca by 1700. The translator get-together that Giovanna had tried to arrange had fallen through: too many people out of town in the week after Easter. She invited me to dinner at her house, where I met her two daughters, and enjoyed home cooking. I had her give me the recipe for the Easter colomba she made, which I sent to my son Daniel. He now has recipes for the Easter specialties of both Northern and Southern Italy.

Giovanna drove me back to the Locanda. It was a chilly night, and I was glad that the hotel had turned the heat back on and that the towel-drying radiators in the bathroom worked. I was sound asleep shortly after midnight.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


3 thoughts on “The Lake District: Valbrona to Franciacorta

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