The network of roads created to connect the glacial lakes between Italy and Switzerland provides the perfect setting for road cycling adventures, amongst alpine foothills and lush valleys. The area has a bit of everything. There are are plenty of options and variations. You can ride roads relatively flat along the lakes, a few undulating sections, or tough climbs.
Cycling around seven lakes in two countries
There are three major lakes – from West to East: Lake Maggiore (a part is in Switzerland), Lugano (a part is in Switzerland), Como and four smaller basins: Lake Orta, Monate, Ternate, Varese.
Easily accessible from Milan and from Switzerland. The Italian and Swiss Lakes boast some of the prettiest scenery in Europe that one could never bore of. It is possible to cycle in this part of area at most times of the year. The best time to ride is between March and November.
Situated on the southern most end of the Alps the area, among Lombardy (Italy), Piedmont (Italy) and Canton of Ticino (Italian speaking part of Switzerland), is probably best known for it’s wonderful lakes and mild Mediterranean climate. Gorgeous lakeside towns with more than a hint of glamour line the shores of Lake Maggiore, Lugano and Como so the area has gained something of a reputation as a rich person’s playground, quite possibly also thanks to its close proximity to fashion capital Milan.
There are a few loops you can do, allowing you to go back to hotel in the afternoon for the post ride lunch. This is a flexible area offering you the opportunity to ride through back roads, to extend or shorten the rides depending on your fitness level.
The best cycling routes for roadies
We have local guides on hand who know the area intimately, so much of the ride is on roads through quiet woodland. 90% of the traffic is on the main roads, once you turn off you can go hours without encountering another vehicle. At times you can ride through tiny and secluded villages, some with cobblestones paths, others with roads wide enough for one car only.
For example: the grand resorts of Stresa and Pallanza and the famous Borromeo islands (Bella, Madre and Superiore) that lie between them is considered by many to be the “must see” destination in the whole of Italy.
However it's very crowded, so we suggest to cycle a little bit towards North in Switzerland around Locarno and Ascona on Lake Maggiore. It’s such an attractive area that you find it hard to keep my eyes on the road rather than the view. Find out the routes around Locarno and Ascona.
You can ride through terrain so rarely visited by the cycling masses. The roads following the lakes can get a little busy in the height of summer but there are many easy to access climbs that take you away from the shoreline and deliver a double opportunity of views and seclusion.
There are also little known routes around Lake Lugano: Find out the routes around Lake Lugano and between Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano.
Three routes on Strava to get to the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo close to Lake Como.
Thanks to the vastness and diversity of our territory, you will easily ride along the banks of the lakes, or you will toil to climb the valleys of our region.
the area around Italian and Swiss Lakes is well known to European-based Aussie riders. The AIS European Training Centre is located at Gavirate on the the shore of Lake Varese.
Don't ride side to side with other cyclists
The Italian and Swiss drivers are used to see many cyclists here and generally they are patient.
You can bump into many different groups out for a ride: some looking like pros, some who seemed to be pros and people of all ages. However we suggest that you don't ride side by side with other cyclists, but in a row.
The drivers can become angry.
The toughest road cycling climbs close to Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano
The Alps are a place of legend for road-racers and enthusiasts alike. They offer some of Europe’s most gruelling yet glorious cycling climbs, however theay are a little bit crowded.
The Swiss-Italian Lake District is a good place to be based, if you want to try your hand at some challenging climbs without the crowds you’d find in nearby iconic alpine climbs. Don’t just take our word for it though.
The region features a number of challenging ascents that will really test the legs. You’ve probably never heard of them, but there’s some massive and excellent climbs in the area, sometime can be very steep, so come prepared! For example here are some ones:
- Alpe Neggia from Maccagno: 21.8 km – 13.5 mi, avg. 6.4%, max. 11%
- Passo Forcora from Maccagno via Lake Delio: 13,5 km – 8.4 mi, avg. 7.4%, max. 12%
- Lake Naret from Bignasco: 31.2 km – 19.3 mi, avg. 6%, max. 14%
- Passo Cuvignone from Cittiglio: 9.5 km – 7.2 mi, avg. 8.5%, max. 12%
- Monte San Martino in culmine from Cuveglio: 10.2 km – 6.3 mi, avg. 8%, max. 11%
Find out the 10 toughest climbs around.
Cycling around Italian and Swiss Lakes: how to get here
By car and by train, the Swiss-Italian Lake District is accessed from the North via the Gotthard Pass or via Simplon Pass througt the Swiss Alps. From the South via Milan or Bergamo. It's also well-integrated into the Swiss rail network and into the Italian rail network. There’s Milan Malpensa Airport, Milano Linate Airport, Milan Bergamo Airport and a small airport in Lugano with flights from Geneva and Zurich.
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Learn more: How to get here