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II Around a Couple of Lakes from Italy to Switzerland

Milan, Como, Gravadona, Menaggio, Lugano

When we planned our trip to Italy a few months ago, renting motorcycles in late November seemed silly, but I had checked the weather compulsively, and up until this week temperatures were still in the mid 60's.  I reached out to a couple rental outfits, though I was waiting till the last minute, expecting the weather to go bad.
Our route from Milan to Switzerland.  We actually backtracked from Gravadona to Mennaggio, then over to Lugano.
Our original plan was to rent a couple of Italian bikes (preferably a Scrambler), but the forcast for Monday and Tuesday dropped twenty degrees. Saturday afternoon we finally got in touch with Claudio of CIMT, telling us he had two brand new BMWs, an F800GT and a F800GS.
The heated grips would turn out to be both necessary and amazing. Claudio turned out to be a really nice guy (though he thought we were a little bit crazy), and we were on the road out of Milan by 10:30 Sunday morning.
Leaving Milan
I have heard about Italian drivers all my life, but driving here seems tame compared to trying to get around New York City on a Ducati superbike. There are tens of thousands of bikes in Milan, and motorcycling is simply ingrained in the culture, whereas in New York I operate under the assumption that every other driver is actively trying to run me down, every time I get on my bike.  There are nearly as many women on the road as men, and everyone splits lanes. HOWEVER, signs and traffic laws in Italy seem largely optional. There are so many variations in traffic patterns, lane sizes, different vehicles and different transit needs, that no federal traffic mandate would apply to the totality of transportation.  And, if there were strict traffic laws, I also don't think Italians would pay them any mind. There is a different sense of personal freedom here, and a lot less dependence on the government regulations to ensure personal safety.
(Me) Tigh Loughhead
Como is only about 45 minutes north of Milan, but my bike needed gas, so we pulled off in an industrial area and tried to figure out how to transact for petrol.  For any aspiring Italian moto-tourists, BEWARE small gas stations.  Purchasing is done at a separate pump, needing a cryptic sequence of buttons to dispense gasoline.  I put a fifty Euro note into the machine, which did not return change; only a reciept with my balance (of about 30E), which we found out later could only be recouped at that particular gas station.
A little before noon, we reached Como, where mountains towered in the distance. We rode past the city, through a series of tunnels (there are hundreds, if not thousands of miles of tunnels), emerging near Cernobbio to one of the most dramatic sights I have ever had the opportunity to see. 
 A piercing blue lake was situated in the middle of a mountain range, with one town after another built upon the shores, then up the mountainside.  Roads wind around the hills, and switch back and forth up the hillside, ascending hundreds of feet in a few miles.  
One little picturesque hamlet after another surround the drive around Lake Como, each with a separate charm, architectural style, and history.  Palm trees dot the waterfront, and many of the colorful towns have an almost tropical feel, even though it’s mid-November.  In fact, Alex and I are amazed at how green everything looks, as many of the trees are still green with leaves.  

One turn after another, endlessly snaking around the river; stopping only to take photos.
We passed through Menagio, and up around the lake, finally to Gravedona, where we stopped for lunch.
The weather was in the mid-fifties, and we were actually warm riding.  With several hours of light ahead of us, we decided to try to backtrack down the lake, and cut off over to Lugano to spend the night.  We made a hotel reservation at a bed and breakfast outside of Lugano called Grotto Flora, and were on our way. 

The road from Menaggio to Lugano was perhaps the most breathtaking ride I’ve ever done.  Straight up a city of slicing switchbacks through the town, then over the apex of the mountain, down into another grassy valley, where smaller lakes were framed by drastically hulking rock structures on either side.  We crossed the border into Switzerland without even stopping, which surprised us given the non-stop terrorism alerts for Milan we had seen on CNN over the previous several days.

We reached the Swiss side of the lake at dusk, and incredibly, the mountains here seemed to defy the laws of physics, rising out of the lakes as if giant rock formations had been thrust into the lakes themselves.  The roads in Switzerland were pristine, and as we road into and around Lugano, roughly every third car was a Porsche. 

It was nearly dark before we found our B&B, a quaint 300+ year old hillside manor house, owned by a woman named Flora, who had thousands of Christmas kitsch and delicately arranged knick-knacks all around the building.  However, when we arrived, she was nowhere to be found, and when we called she was out at a birthday party.
We hopped back on our bikes to explore a little more of Lugano and find dinner, but the Lebanese bar we found seemed less than appetizing, so we got some bread and meat at the local gas station.  Arriving back at our cozy little B&B, the restaurant was bustling, and Flora was eager to tell us about her local specialty: ribs from a suckling pig.
After a generous liter of wine, three layers of ribs arrived, barely seasoned, and Alex and I agreed that this might be the best pork we had ever tasted. The entire house smelled of buttermilk and polenta (also delicious), and after a little too much food (which is becoming a bit of a theme on this trip), we laid down our weary heads on the lacey sheets draped over antique bedframes and Persian rugs.

Via Olmo Park



Santa Maria


Crossing over to Switzerland


Grotto Flora

NEXT: III. Lago Lugano around Lago Maggiore to Varese

© 2015 Tigh Loughhead


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