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Note to Seasoned Travelers: As of September 2007 it is no longer possible to hop on a train in Italy and buy your ticket from the conductor. Riding without a ticket or without validating your ticket before boarding makes you vulnerable to a 50€ fine.

Italy - Northern          Primarily from 2005 - 2007 though added to annually.     (See Italy - "Dolomites" for the eastern Italian Alps)

General Information
    Italian drivers are legendary but we found them to be quite careful with all cyclists on the road. Don't weave in and out of parked cars and obstacles on the right side of the road but chart a straight course and stick to it--that's what they expect you to do and that's what the local riders do. Otherwise you lose your place in the flow of the traffic. When making a left turn across traffic, slowly drift out into the lane rather than smartly making a sharp angled turn--watch the older people on their beater bikes in town to learn the technique.
Bikes can go on many regional (slow) trains. Look for the bicycle symbol on the big sheets of paper listing departures by time and destination to determine which trains you can board with your bike.  Be sure to buy a ticket for your bike (3.50€/day) and validate both halves of the bike ticket: 1 goes on your bike, the other in your pocket. In May of 2009, we discovered that the situation for bikes is no longer fixed. On 3 different train rides, we had 3 different situations. One used the familiar 2-ticket system for bikes; one used a single ticket that needed to be validated and kept in hand; and on the third trip there was no charge for the bikes.
 Venice is a delightful city to visit, but is decidedly un-bike friendly. Bike riding is banned and walking a loaded bike is a nightmare over the arched stairways that traverse the canals.  Leave your bike in one of the handful of budget hotels in nearby Mestre and take the commuter train into town as a pedestrian to enjoy this iconic city.
If you are traveling in the northern province of Trentino, ask and ask again for the "Cicloquide del Trentino." Bill was eagerly given a copy of "#5 Valli di Fiemme e Fassa" in Cavalese by a tourist info woman that seemed thrilled to finally give one out. The lovely little booklet with a plastic carrying case was of course in Italian, but about 1/4 of the pages were maps and it wasn't difficult to figure out that "in costruzione" meant "under construction." The maps weren't entirely accurate as to what was completed or not, but it was a huge help in locating the growing and extensive network of bike routes. Some would have been impossible to find without the map as they never intersected with a through road and there were no signs guiding cyclists to them. The few we rode were lovely dedicated paths. In the back of the booklet were listings of bike repair shops, lodging for some communities and  information about other resources. Here are the websites listed on the back of the booklet: www.ripristino.provincia.tn.it, www.trentino.to.
 Do be forewarned that dedicated bike routes in northern Italy offer no guarantee as to the ease of the route. Some that started out looking like what I'd call "family routes" suitable for children showed no mercy and would dish out grades as high as 25%. I don't think we were on a single bike route that didn't have grades into the teens. The locals take them in stride and just hop off and push their bikes up the stiff grades.

In 2011 we discovered an excellent website for the weather: www.3bmeteo.com. Only in Italian, but it is pretty straightforward. Look for "ora per ora" on the upper left to get the hour by hour report.

     Often you'll need a special electrical adapter that is different that the rest of Europe in northern Italy as the pins on their plugs are a little smaller in diameter and the ground pin is in the center.

Grocery Store Finds
    We always look forward to their inexpensive seasonal fruit, the flavorful and cheap bottled waters, and the abundance of tasty jarred pasta sauces.  The stores which operate under several different names that carry the "Coop" brands carry our favorite 60% bittersweet chocolate bars for bargain prices of about 60 cents for 100g: "cioccolato, fondente extra amaro, cacao 60%, coop".

Unlikely Holidays & Hours
    Other people's holidays are always a problem for us as they can unexpectedly close the food markets, change transportation schedules and make lodging expensive and scarce. The assortment of holidays before and after Christmas and Easter are always a headache but there are 2 less expected ones that encroach on the traveling season:
    May 1, Workers Day is a big holiday in much of Europe
    June 2, Republic Day also closes many markets and jams the holiday areas in Italy
    Long lunchtime closures are quite the nuisance for the traveler and in Italy they can be 3 to 4 hours duration. Even the cable cars in the Dolomites close for an hour and a half or more for lunch, so be sure to check their schedule before you hop on.
    "Rest days" for supermarkets can be a nightmare for hungry 'self-catering' travelers. There is no predictable pattern as to the day selected for rest. In parts of southern Italy and on Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, Wednesday afternoons are often the closure time. Up north, the in the city of Trento, Monday mornings were the time off for many retail markets, including bookstores. As we moved farther north towards the Dolomites, a number of village markets were closed on Thursdays. The best clue is to look at any posted store hours but that won't tell you what the routine is in the next political region. Fortunately, we've never hit day after day of closures as we moved through the week.

Misc. Lodging
   (also see Italy-Bed & Breakfasts)
Biella Hotel
    Should you find yourself in Biella on your way north to the Lakes, track down the Hotel Agata. At 55€ for 2 for a night it was a wonderful deal. The large, new rooms were as nice as those at twice the price in the Lake District. The bikes were kept outdoors but in their secured compound on a quiet back street. We didn't inquire about their internet service but my guess is that it is free. Their new phone system looked up to handling keypad controls needed for using a phone card. And the owner/hosts are very, very friendly.
 Though right in the city center, the hotel is tucked away and a little hard to find. We came in on via Ivrea and from there you turn right on to via Fornace, across from the Coop Supermarket (another plus factor for the neighborhood.) Very quickly you'll think you are in an industrial area and make the unlikely sharp right and you're almost there. If you arrive on the street paralleling via Ivrea, via Rigola, there will be a sign pointing the way. Their address is Strada Fornace, 6A, 13900 Biella. Tel 015 40 50 17; Fax 015 849 26 73; www.hotelagata.it.

Borgo San Dalmazzo: Hotel Oasis (6/09)
This was a treat after a string of almost-not quite right hotels. A large firm mattress of good quality was a joy after small, worn-out mattresses in France. The spacious, remodeled room with a balcony, frig, and air conditioning made us decide to stay a second night and do a day ride into the mountains. 60€ for 2 without breakfast. Via Po, 28; Tel: 0171/262121; www.oasihotelcuneo.com. There is a large supermarket within walking distance that is closed 12:30-3:30 and on Thursday and Sunday afternoons. The bikes were kept in the garage. It's easiest to unload the bikes in the garage near the hotel entrance and use the elevator from there to go to your room.

Borgo San Dalmazzo
Tourist info here was a gold mine of information. Tell them you are on bikes and ask for the lodging booklets for the region.

Genoa (2009)
    If you are in Genoa around a holiday weekend, like Republic Day on June 2, the business class hotels have great internet specials. We stayed in the 4 star Star Hotel-President across from the Brignole train station in central Genoa for under 100€ a night with a fine breakfast. In contrast to the reviews, our room was fresh and modern, though small. The bikes stayed in the small luggage room. We were going to stay at the Accor Novotel for about little less but they wouldn't guarantee an indoor space for our bikes. Lonely Planet's recommendation of the Hotel Cairoli Tel: 010 246 1454 www.hotelcairoligenova.com was about the same price and they would accommodate the bikes. Later in the month we scored a great online special  of 84€ for 2 at the new Holiday Inn by the port but declined their 20€ per person breakfast.

Menton, France on the coastal border with Italy
    In 2009 we were in and out of Menton, France a couple of times; Menton is close to the Ventemiglia area of Italy. We stayed at the Etap Hotel just across the border in France. The Etaps are one of the 2 budget offerings in the Accor Hotel chain and the rooms are usually cramped like a cabin on a ship. This one in Menton was a bit better in than it had small balconies and bathtubs. It seemed a bit expensive for what it was, 63€, but we needed a place in a hurry. It's right on the main road near the port promenade and the smaller of Menton's 2 train stations, Garavan, is around back. There is a large Super U/Marche U supermarket within walking distance towards the city center on the sea side of the road. It does get a lot of road noise on the ocean side of the building.  The free internet available in the lobby is for 30 minutes of continuous use on your own laptop and requires a European cell phone number to complete the registration. 57 Porte de France: Tel: +33 (0) 8 92 68 07 58 www.accorhotels.com or www.etaphotel.com (hotel code 2610).
    Vacanciel Orangeraie,  at 15 rue Partouneaux is near the center of town. It has a long, narrow gardens area that gives it a grand look, along with a large, open lobby area. Tel: +33 (0) 4 92 10 41 41; www.vacanciel.com. Bikes can be kept in the garage. That's where we will try to stay the next time we are through town for a night.

www.provincia.torino.it is the site for the province in which Torino/Turin resides.

Cuneo Province in the Maritime Alps (6/09)

Stresa:  Side Trip Details From Lago Maggiore With and Without Bikes - 2005

-Stresa Itself-
  Stresa on Lago Maggiore is a great location as it is at the base of the Alps but has excellent train access to the northern cities. Stresa (stray'-zah) is an hour's train ride from Milan and it's only about 3 and a half hours to Venice on the same train line. From there one can take a bus north to Cortina to access the eastern Alps, the Dolomiti.
    Mid-June is a great time to visit this area as it is not yet high season in the Stresa and Zermatt areas and things start opening up in Cortina about then. Read more below about timing issues for taking the buses in the Cortina area.
While not perfect, I would stay again at Hotel LaLocanda about a 15 minute walk from the heart of Stresa and 5 minutes from the lake. (Phone or fax within Italy: 0323.31.176, no e-address) It's a small, recently renovated hotel that's moving up from 1 star to 2 and has excellent prices for the area. High season, double room rates are a bargain at $70. The beds are a little too soft, the shower stalls cramped enough that it's hard to bend over and some rooms get a lot of noise from the nearby by train tracks. But by Italian standards, it is a quiet hotel and it is clean and fresh in a lush neighborhood. They charge extra to park cars and motorcycles but bikes park for free. No TV's in the rooms but internet-compatible phones were a big help to us. Of course, the grand 4 and 5 star hotels are lovely and face the lake if you want to go for the glamour.

-Lake Loop from Stresa-
    If traveling without bikes, there is a popular outing that combines a 3 hour boat trip north to Locarno, Switzerland covering a bit more than half the length of Lago Maggiore. You then transfer to a scenic rail line that travels due west to Domodossola, Italy, where you hop on a second train to return southeast to Stresa. It's all set up as a day outing costing about $35 per person. I'm sure you can learn more on their website www.lagomaggioreexpress.com You can also do a similar loop on the roads by bike as we did for a different perspective on the same scenery. 

-Simplon Pass & Zermatt from Stresa-
    For $80 you can make a 12 hour day bus trip to Zermatt over the 6500' Simplon Pass and see the Matterhorn, with a 6 hour layover in the Swiss town for sightseeing on your own. Though this costs a bit more than taking the train from the Swiss town of Brig (72 SFR) it does give you the benefit of startlingly cheaper lodging and food prices than are available in Switzerland while taking 1 of the 3 excursions higher up the mountain. This organized bus tour and the local Swiss bus are both great ways to see the stunning Simplon Pass on a clear day. The train goes through a 12 mile long tunnel, bypassing the drama. The tour bus stops at the top of the pass for breakfast so there is time to take it all in. We did this route by bike which was phenomenal but we had the good fortune of a rare road closure that kept the trucks off the narrow road (see 2005 files "#7 Switzerland-Part 1" for our journal about this ride).

-Macugnaga from Stresa or Piedimulera-
    Another great day outing from Stresa, with or without bikes, is to Macugnaga (mac-un-ah-gwaw). Macugnaga is at about the 4,000' level and is south of Domodossola on a dead end road going up from Piedimulera.. From Macugnaga you can get stunning views of Monte Rosa on a reasonably clear day. There are group tours from Stresa for $43 but you can put the trip together yourself for about $13 per person using the local train and bus service with a little preplanning the day before.
    We liked the views of the mountains and charming villages so much that we did it a second time with our friend Mulvey visiting from Portland. The first time we rode up with day loads on our bikes. It was hot day and it took us about 5 hours (including our mandatory picnic lunch) to ride to Borca, just short of Macugnaga. When we did it with Mulvey, we combined a train ride with a bus to get us to the top of the road, a little beyond Macugnaga and took in the views riding back down.
    On our first roundtrip up the mountain on our bikes, we did it as a day ride from a motel. We left most of our gear at the Motel Monte Rosa (Tel: 0324 83520) between Vogogna and Piedemulera at a freeway truck stop. It lacks charms but is wonderfully clean and comfortable at $65 a night. It was just too long a ride for us to do it from Stresa.
    If you want to use the train and bus to get you and your bike up to Macugnaga and ride your bike down the mountain to Piedimulera to catch the train back to Stresa, you'll need to preplan it. You can get the bus and train schedules to create your overall plan in Stresa. Look carefully at how the number of departures varies from day to day. Select a train trip time that meshes well with the bus schedule. Plan on boarding the train in Stresa in the morning with your bike and getting off at Domodossola.  Getting from the train to the bus is a snap in Domodossola as you walk across the street from the train station to the small bus plaza that is in sight to your left. You'll buy the bus ticket from the driver who drops you off at the end of the line in Macugnaga.
    The tricky part of the plan is that you must have a reservation for your bike for the bus from Domodossola to be assured of getting it on the bus. They limit the number of bikes to 2 or 3. We solicited the help of our hotel staff in Stresa to call the Italian speakers at the Domodossola bus station to reserve space on the bus for our bikes the day before.
    You can set-up your trip to catch the bus at Domodossola or Piedimulera, but you need the reservation to guarantee a trip for your bike from either stop.  We rode the extra distance on the train to Domodossola because that is where the bus originates and drivers are always more tolerant of bikes when they are parked for a while vs when making a stop on the side of the road.
    You'll also need to do a little research to locate the Piedimulera train station if you take the train back to Stresa as we did on our second outing up the mountain. Take a close look at the map as there are 2 train lines in this region and one goes to Stresa and the other doesn't. There was no staff at the train station when we were there so it took some good guessing to figure out which track to be on.
    Taking the train and then bus up to Macugnaga from Stresa and then taking the train from Piedimulera back to Stresa so you can limit your riding to going down the mountain is tricky but it does work. With some careful planning we were able to make it work the first time we tried it.
    There is an extra fee on both the train and bus for bikes, but our train-bus-train transportation costs were about $17 per person, which was riding the bus up the mountain and biking it down.

Lake Garda - 2009
Check-out www.gardaonbike.com for bring-your-own bike company that operates half day and whole day guided bike rides that run under  50€ for most. They are active from April to November in Torbole sul Garda at the north end of the lake. We only saw their flyers and info board at their departure point but their info in English, German, and Italian made it look like they knew what they were doing.

Ambassador Suite Hotel at Riva del Garda, www.ambassadorsuite.it, Tel: +39 0464 550358. October 2010 we had a nice room for 2 for 55€ without breakfast. They have various studio's and apt's for as low as 52€ for 2/night or 269€/week. Minimum length of stay for apt's varies with the season. Wash & dry a load of clothes, including 'powder', for 5€. BBC on the TV, secure storage for bikes, quiet neighborhood, and nice views.

Sud Tirol - 2009, 2010
Vipiteno/Sterzinger (near Brenner Pass): Centrally located places to try next time:
    Albergo Hubertushof; Tel: 0472 765 683; www.hotel-hubertushof.it; 3 star hotel.
    Garni Fδrbe; Tel: 0472 764 123; www.garni-faerbe.com; 2 star rooms & apartments.
    Pension Villa Maria; Tel: 0472 767 622; www.pension-villa-maria.com; B&B.
    Most of the rooms at Hotel Sterzinger Moos were tiny; some have balconies and would be better.
  2010: The above were booked in August (high season) so we stayed 1+ km north of Vipiteno at Hotel Zoll 42€/person/nite minimum. The rooms at that price are in the old building right on the busy main road. Some are remodeled and some have balconies but the 2 that we were shown were dreadful firetraps. Our room had 2 clouded skylights in a low sloping ceiling as the only windows. The alternative was in the musty basement with the only window being barred with a view of tailpipes in the parking lot. Limited availability meant we had to leave a day early to be in the new building for more money. Definitely a better room but our balcony there had a solid wall that was chin-high for me--still pretty boxed-in feeling for $110.  The free wifi worked intermittently; the water pressure was quite variable; and there was no hot water one night. (Funny, but the hosts didn't smile much.)

Mittewald/Mezzaselva (a tiny village downstream of Vipiteno, upstream of Fortezza): Hotel Zur Brόcke, B&B:  70€/night for 2 in August 2010 for the unremodeled rooms; 80€/night for 2 in the updated rooms; 86€/night for 2 in double-sized, just remodeled rooms. High season for them is mid-July to mid-September. Lovely grounds; nice people, bread for sale in their meat market in the same building. www.zur-bruecke.it  Tel: 0472-458644.

      Moos is the place to be if you want walkable access to the "Cabinovia" lift from Bad Moos to the best hiking in the area but much of the tourist info labels both the Sesto and the Moos abodes as being in Sesto. Sesto and Moos are 2-3km apart. Looking for places on or near Heideckstr/Via Heideck in Moos gives you a range of quiet places from which to choose that are about 1 km from the lift and should have a least some rooms with nice views of the mountains. Ask for south-facing balconies or windows from this street for mountain views. Next time we'll consider (high season prices given):
Haus Barbara, #20 Heideckstr, new 3 star apartments with balconies, around 70 €/night for 2. www.appartements-barbara.com. Tel: 0474 710 206.
Haus Elisabeth, 2 star new B&B, #13 Heideckstr. 60€/night for 2.  pfeher2@akfree.it. Tel:0474 710 406.
Landhaus Holzer, 2 star older B&B  @ #4 Heideckstr. 60€/night for 2. Confirm room isn't in basement & is southfacing. www.landhaus-holzer.it; Tel: 0474 710 642.
Tschurtschenthaler Elfriede, #21 Heideckstr, 2 star apartments + B&B. Ask for 2nd floor, south facing. About 50€/night for 2 either way. elfriede.tschurtschenthaler@dnet.it, Tel: 0474 710 367.
Tschurtschenthaler Margareth, #11 Heideckstr., 1 apt for 3-4 people 75€/night. www.margareth-guest.com, Tel: 0474 710 222.
Garni Martina at #23 Heideckstr. looked good; no other info.
Haus Bergblick #12 Heideckstr. was marginal. The north side 2 rooms, #6 & #7 had no balconies; our #7 had windows that started at the top of my head though the room was newly remodeled. Try for 1st floor rooms if you must.

Other Hotels

Bressanone/Brixen: we stayed at Pension Heiseler in a pinch. Newly renovated rooms, though not the bathrooms. Spare, fresh, and bright but the new flat screen TV didn't work, the new balcony door was almost impossible to close, the sink dripped on the floor (only a little bit), and the shower head had to be held as it sprayed the wall instead of the bather. Sound proofing is OK if the guests are well-behaved. 60€/2 without breakfast; bikes go in the "Keller" (German for cellar) if you insist. We'll stay again as it is an expensive town and this was a good value in a hurry. Close to the center of the old town, closed on Thursdays. No credit cards accepted. Moody, older host doesn't speak English. On one of the main streets: Vittorio-Veneto Str 8 (becomes Dante), near old town. Tel: +0472 832 363. 60€ without breakfast.

Next time in Bressanone : Bring up either the EuroSpin or Lidl on Google map--both are upstream from Bressanone--to look for lodging. EuroSpin is on the main road, the Lidl is up the hill (away from the river) from the EuroSpin. Look for lodging options around this area, especially around the Lidl, which is on the edge of a residential area. It rapidly becomes steep above the Lidl store, so lower the better on bikes but this area might be cheaper than in town itself--and close to the markets. It looked like where the German hiking crowd was staying.

Brunico/Bruneck: Hotel Corso. 80€ for 2 without breakfast except July/August. Charming owner(?) speaks excellent English. Small, nicely decorated rooms though half must have their single window facing a dark alley; insufficient heat on a freezing night in October in 2010; bikes in a locked room across the alley on the back side of the hotel. BBC on the TV, free internet connection in the lobby only. This was by far the cheapest option close-in. Minutes on foot from Tourist Info in (adjacent to?) old town, across the street from the upper entrance to the EuroSpar supermarket.  We stayed again for 1 night in early July of 2011 and got the same 80€ rate though on the website they indicated that there was a 3 night minimum--always worth asking in Italy. At Graben 16 Bastioni; Tel: +0474 55 44 34. www.hotelcorso.com. The Lidl is 'downstream' in the newer part of town near the train station. The EuroSpin is farther yet downhill on the right.

Chuisa/Klausen: Albergo/Camping Gamp. Gris #10, slightly up the hill and across the RR from town, above the bus station. 64-68€/2 year round, including a good breakfast. Insufficient heat in October; updated but not rewired except for a single reassuring plug in the bathroom; so-so mattresses. BBC on the TV. Campground receptionist speaks excellent English but mama at the guesthouse does not. Only 5 rooms, so call ahead in season. Tel: + 0472 847 425. www.camping-gamp.com .

Rovereto: Hotel Rovereto on the main street with tourist info. Check online for internet specials. Beautiful, smallish rooms for 75€ for 2 without breakfast in October 2010. There is a medium-sized supermarket a block or 2 towards tourist.

Bike Routes
Pustertal/PusterBike from Mόlback/Rio di Pusteria to Winneback/Prato Drava (connects with Austria's Drau Radweg).
    Almost entirely paved, mostly on multiuse paths or low traffic roads. Several segments of wicked 15% grades about
    1km west of St Lorenzen around Pflaurenz/Floronzo, mostly easy going by the time you get to Erhenburg.
Side branch of PusterBike from Innichen/St Candido to Sesto/Moos: mostly gravel. We took it downhill from Moos;
    would be tough going uphill; might do the road again instead of the path from Innichen to Moos.

Bolzano to Sterzinger (almost Brenner Pass). A joy from Bolzano to north of Brixen (beyond Chiusa/Klausen) where the
    path became a very steep, gravel farm road on the west side of the river. From there north it is on a very steep, very
    rough mountain bike trail for several km on which we had to push 2-to-a-bike on the worst of it until it intersects with a
   wonderful, paved, dedicate route for a few km. BikeLine guide book suggests skipping this section, which we will do
   next time. They recommend heading north from Bressanone/Brixen on the east, rather than the west side of the valley,
   going through Kloster Neustift and eventually joining B49 just north of Schabs/Sciaves. (See Map)
    North of where the path intersects with the PusterBike at Franzenfeste/Fortezza train station the
    paved path achieves several segments of 20+% grades. Next time we'll take the newly paved old road that parallels the
    freeway and river to about 1 km south Mittewald/Mezzaselva where the path descends out of the hills and again parallels
    the road. It has shoulders part of the way.  The stretch from Mezzaselva to Vipiteno has a posted 17% grade for those
    going up stream; a posted 12% climb for those going downstream.
Sterzinger/Vipiteno to Brenner Pass and into Austria
    We were on the main road for most of it, which had 10% grades going each way, though the northern bound effort was pretty tame. Much to our surprise, there are segments of completed bike path along the way, but none of it is identified as such and none of the tourist info offices had a clue about it. If coming from Austria and going into Italy, look for the new asphalt path behind a small building which is a part of a small park/sports field that is connected to the EuroSpin parking lot in Brenner. That path goes for miles. We only did part of it, so don't know where you pick it up if heading to Brenner from the Italian side. We saw other segments on the Italian side but never found the access points. The Brenner, Italy EuroSpin discount supermarket is open 7 days/week. No closure for lunch on Monday-Saturday; closes for the day at 1pm on Sundays. There is a huge factory store mall in Brenner. We didn't take time to go in but it could provide a good opportunity to replace or upgrade gear.
Bolzano-Merano-Reschenpass/Passo Resia portion of the Via Claudia Augusta.
    This much needed bike route is mostly completed as of July of 2011. Parts of it north of Bolzano always seem to be under construction and a "deviation" dumped us off the route but didn't adequately direct us to the alternate route. We rode in traffic farther than we needed to and inadvertently took the long way through Merano but it was still worth the aggravation. Miles and miles of dedicated multiuse path are a dream to ride on. Occasional shaded picnic areas are available and water in a couple of places. The Merano to Schlanders/Silandro route is a huge improvement over the terror we knew in the past on the road. A posted 14% grade and a 7 switchback section made us wish we were going downhill like almost all of the other loaded tourists, but it was sweet nonetheless. Close to Schlander we were thrown out on to the road, but there were signs of route under construction along part of it.  We took the Burgeis branch instead of going through Mals, which may have been a mistake. It was shorter but very tough. Below Burgeis there were many 15% grades and a couple of 20%'s on a narrow paved track with blind curves. Almost all of the considerable traffic was going downhill, which made it hard for us uphiller's with our heavy loads. The first minutes uphill of Burgeis are difficult too. The west side of Reschensee is up and down--the east side looks to be easier from the map. The downhill route from Mals to Merano has become a heavily traveled family route for good reason: it is lovely and there are many shuttle services to haul private and rental bikes by train or trailer to Mals as well as luggage shuttle services.

Delights in Trentino Province Aside from the Dolomites   -  2006

-Bike Path East From Passo del Tonale-
   This is the second year we have traveled east from Ponte di Legno over Passo Tonale and then northeast towards Malι. There is absolutely nothing special about Passo Tonale except that it is a bike-able pass to get through the mountains. Each time we have missed the entrance to the evolving bike route down the mountain east from Tonale, so if you are headed that way, you might look for it.
    According to the nice booklet we picked up a little too late, we should have been able to hop on it at Fucine, about the point where the route heads up another valley to Peio. The "Pista Ciclabile" ("path-cyclable") goes along the Torrente Noce (river), which comes down past Peio. We spotted an unmarked segment of the route somewhere past  that point, but there was no break in the barricades to allow us on it. The next day, after getting a booklet of the route from tourist info, we enjoyed a short segment from Mezzana to Mestriago, which was all asphalt and very pleasant. On a previously unplanned loop back to the area a few days later, we picked up the route from the southern end and rode parts of it to Mestriago. There was 1 10' long stretch of gravel on a steep grade and a segment we could not ride because of the serious construction work on the route. There are some steep grades on the route and a few stretches out on the main road, but it is overall a delight. There are even some enclosures with Plexiglas windows should you want to seek shelter in a summer thunderstorm.
    The Booklet to ask for is "Mountain Bike: 20 Suggested Mountain Bike Tours" if you can find it in English, otherwise it is called "Mountain Bike: 20 Proposte di Itinerari in Bicicletta". It's focus is itemizing the 20 mountain bike routes, but the "through" route is also shown on the centerfold map. The route may be on the regional website: www.valdisole.net though we didn't had a chance to look. It is in the Val di Sole region of Trentino.

-Other Trentino Routes: 2008, 2010-
    www.ripristino.provincia.tn.it is a website for the north-south route Pista Ciclopedonale Valle dell'Adige which merges with the long distance route Via Claudia Augusta that goes into Austria. (2008)
    The Pista Ciclo-Pedonale Mori-Torbole sul Garda
is a posted route that links the Adige valley with Lake Garda. There was no website listed on the info board but in the future we'll search for one. (2008)
       www.ciclavili.provincia.tn.it/tracciati_ciclopedonali has all the bike routes in Trentino Province (2010)

Val d'Aosta in NW Italy: Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) & The Matterhorn - 2006

-When to Go- 
    We arrived the last week in May 2006, which was an awkward time--June would be probably better. Timing is a little tricky as ski season is from December until May. May 1 is a big holiday in much of Europe (worker's day) and it appeared that the establishments in Courmayeur, the major Italian town at the base of Monte Bianco, stayed open for the holiday. After that, it was anyone's guess as to which businesses, including hotels, were open. The information that the tourist office had about who was open wasn't accurate either.
    May to mid-June is the interval when many of Courmayeur's businesses appeared to take 2-6 weeks off. We were told that the cable car up the mountain had reopened on May 15 but never heard how long it was closed.
    Even though we were in Courmayeur May 22-25, which appeared to be the depths of low season, the few hotels that were open were charging hefty mid-season rates. Presumably the prices would remain about the same through June and then go up in July and August for the summer sports season. Many of the hotels start closing again in early or mid September and most reopen again by the first of December. A few are open year-round, though they might 'step out' for a week or 2.
    The bike-able passes around Monte Bianco into Switzerland and France were supposed to be open in May but were still closed due to heavy snow pack at the end of May. They were expected to reopen in mid-June. We had no interest in the 5 km tunnel at St Bernard pass, so ran our route in reverse down the valley.
    And one more timing issue, Wednesday afternoons seemed to be the preferred day for a little rest, so best not to arrive in Courmayeur then expecting to do a lot of shopping.

-Finding (or Avoiding) the Back Roads Up the Valley-
    We arrived in the autonomous region of Val d'Aosta from Ivrea. We were able to take the small road paralleling the freeway from just outside of Ivrea all the way to Quincinetto, though our map didn't show it going that far. The ending of the road forced us to cross back over the river and rejoin the main road, SS26. The main road conveniently lead us to the very helpful tourist info office at Pont St. Martin on the left side of the road in a 2 or 3 storied brown building that looks like a ski chalet. Their "AIAT" sign also displays the region name Monte Rose/Walser. (www.laportadellavallee.com) They take their role as greeters for the big valley seriously and answered all of the questions on Bill's long list. This main road also took us right by the old Roman road on the far side of Donnas, which was signed and worth a look.
    You can leave the main road just outside of Bard. After you pass by the backside of the 19th century castle cascading down the slope towards the river, cross over the river on the second bridge, which will be to your left. The next back road is hard to find but take the first traffic circle 3/4's of the way around and take the unlikely steep, short downhill road that aims for the river. Turn left at the bottom. After a few hundred meters, turn right just before going under the railroad tracks. This little but paved road will keep you out of traffic from outside Bard to Berriaz. Just before Berriaz you gain must cross back over the river and rejoin SS26.
    Ten percent grades will soon greet you as you begin the climb up the valley towards Chatillon. We tried taking the back roads on the west side of the river out of Chatillon as we had done south of there, but it was a terrible choice for us. We took the little road that goes through Pontey and bailed after accumulating hundreds of feet of gain for little reward. If you are traveling in a group with some riders always chomping at the bit, send them on this road to wear themselves out. They can rejoin you down the road after they are satiated. The 20 miles of road from Chatillion past Aosta was a very unpleasant truck route but was preferable to the unforgiving minor road. The main road wasn't so bad that we wouldn't do it again but bad enough to take the joy out of the ride. The traffic improves well past Aosta. 
-Cable Cars On Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc)-
    Bill routed us to Val d'Aosta and Monte Bianco specifically for the cable car ride and it was delightful. It was expensive--100€ or $128 for the day for 2 (1€ =$1.28)--but cheaper than last year's Zermatt excursion which set us back $200 for the various transportation options.

One of the views to be had from Aiguille du Midi.

    Since this was a big event for us, we checked the weather report with tourist the afternoon we arrived in Courmayeur. Two days later was expected to be a good day for views, so we settled on doing a day ride up one of the valleys the next day. On our layover day, we checked 3 different online weather reports to track the conditions and they all agreed, the day identified by the tourist office would be the best day for the entire week. 
    We began the panorama day by taking a local bus from the bus "station" in front of the Courmayeur tourist office at 8:30am for 80cents each, which took us about 5 km (3 miles) up the 10% grade streets to La Palud. Tell the driver where you are going and he will drop you off a little short of the Funivie (cable car) office.
    At the office, look at the electronic reader board above the cashier for the current conditions. We had our electronic Italian dictionary handy and had learned a few weather words, so we were able to sort out that it was clear at the top with good visibility--just what we had hoped for. The few light clouds around the peaks were troubling, but since the weather was expected to deteriorate over the coming days, we proceeded as planned. They also noted that it was -5°C (23°F) at the top--before the significant amount of windchill.
    But before buying your tickets, scrutinize the temporary signs in the cashier's window for messages regarding the functioning or nonfunctioning of the cars to or from Punta Helbronner. We didn't know it before going, but the best views are beyond Punta Helbronner and I wouldn't spend the money (32€ each, round trip) if I couldn't go the whole way.
    Keep your ticket handy as you will get on and off several cable cars on your way up to Punta Helbronner. We lingered at each station, but the observation platforms were small and left us wanting a way to extend the experience. The icy bite of the wind made it hard to just stand in one place to look around and yet there really was no where to walk to.
    At Punta Helbronner you are on the Italian-French border and must pay more to go on. Pay the money--the best is yet to come. We opted for the 18€ round trip tickets to Aiguille du Midi at 3842m rather than the 54€ to Chamonix and back. The tourist info folks at Courmayeur said the views weren't anything special going to Chamonix and given the hefty premium, we were glad for the tip. The views and total experience at Aiguille du Midi were the high point of the entire excursion.
www.montebianco.com is the site listed on the cable car brochure.
www.aiat-monte-bianco.com is the Courmayeur tourist info office.
www.regione.vda.it/turismo for Aosta Valley
www.valledaostapass.com for a free hotel booking office (we didn't use) or dial 39 0165 230015.

-Side Trips from Courmayeur-
  Bill had planned 2 day rides up the steep valleys. The road up Val Veny roughly to the west was completely closed due to snow. We were able to ride in the opposite direction part way up Val Ferret, which was a menacingly steep road but yielded some satisfying views. It did what it was designed to do, which was give us some exercise while we waited a day for the weather to improve before taking the cable cars over Mt. Bianco. 

-Cervino or The Matterhorn from the Italian Side in Val d'Aosta
    Bill designed the trip up the steep valley to Breuil-Cervinia  without realizing that the mountain at the end of the valley, Cervino, was actually the Matterhorn on the border with Switzerland. When we paused in the village of Antey-St. Andre, "the Matterhorn" popped out of his mouth at the sight of it, but we didn't know if it was really true. By the end of the day it was clear, indeed it was the Matterhorn.
    The relatively short trip of 17 miles from our lay-over town of Chatillon would of course be a snap for those traveling by car. By bike is was a good day ride, though challenging to say the least. We accumulated over 5000' in elevation gain, did long stretches of 10% grade and had a few intervals of 14% & 15% grade in those few miles. Traffic was at an acceptable level and much better than the valley to Monte Bianco (Monte Blanc) between Chatillion and Courmayeur.  The road number was SR46 for most of the way and it heads almost due north out of Chatillion.
    Aside from the challenging grades, the trickiest part for bikes is the first tunnel out of town that looked too treacherous for bikes. Bill managed to find us a back street bypass to avoid the long, narrow tunnel with too many trucks rolling through at threatening speeds.  There are a half dozen more tunnels on the way up, a couple for which we found bypasses. Flip on your tail lights for the ones you can't avoid. We traveled through them all on the quick trip back down the hill as we were going at a good clip then.
    There is one public toilet on the way up the valley, which is at Antey-St. Andre. On a clear day, it is right where you'll stop when you realize you are seeing the Matterhorn for the first time. Otherwise, look for a strip of car parking on the right side of the road that parallels the river. Across from the river and up you'll see a small sports field and a lush children's park above it. Now look back down at the river and the parking area just across the river. Under the sports field is a sheltered area for garbage dumpsters and to the left of it are the unsigned public toilets. They are free, clean and well stocked with soap and paper products.

.-Mountain Biking-
    There are many mountain biking opportunities on the Italian side of Monte Bianco in Val d'Aosta (oh-stah) and the tourist office at the town of Pont St Martin had some great route books for free. Here are the names of the booklets and some websites on the handouts to explore:
"MTB La Thuile-La Rosiere: exploring the region by bike" booklet with 16 routes, rated for difficulty and distance www.lathuile.net  & www.larosiere.net.
Valle d'Aosta Mountain Bike leaflet with 12 routes.
Pila Mountain Bike Map with routes: www.pilaturismo.it, www.aiataosta.com
. We didn't try them out as we stick to the asphalt as much as we can and have enough unplanned, off-road adventure as it is. 

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