Orson’s Travel Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Liguria

Italian Lake District

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Fall 2008

team orson managed to get one last ride in before winter’s icey tendrils gripped the Italian landscape. We decided to stay close to home and explore the Italian Lake district in the foothills of the Alps. After retrieving my Guzzi from Moto Guareschi in Parma, we made our way north via the backroads under sunny blue skies.

The first lake encountered would be Lake Garda. The southern end of the lake is a bit touristy, including the kitschy Gardaland, an italian takeoff on Disneyland. However, once you head north along the lake shore, you encounter many quaint villages, some with their own medievel castles.

Stopping for a leisurely lunch at the town of Garda on the east side of the lake.

Climbing up into the hills that surround the lake provide a better view.

At the north end of the lake, in the town of Arco, stands the imposing 12th century Castello di Arco.

Heading south on the western shore of Lake Garda, the road spends half the time cutting thru tunnels due to the steep cliffs.

The plan had been to head west towards Lake Como. However, at a gas stop in the town of Storo, just west of Lake Garda, the Goose began running on one cylinder. Fortunately, there was a car/motorcycle garage right across the street. The mechanic couldn’t do anything for me, but offered to load up the bike in his truck and take me to the Guzzi dealer in Rovereto.

I found a hotel room for the night and returned to the Guzzi shop the next morning. As they weren’t making any headway, they offered to let me take a new Moto Guzzi V7 for a ride. never one to turn down a free test ride, I jumped on it before they had any second thoughts. I headed southeast from Rovereto on SS46 thru the Passo Piani di Fugazzi. This is quite a spectacular pass with freshly paved tarmac and the little Guzzi performed admirably. Unfortunately, it had no place for my camera, so no pictures 😦

Returning to Rovereto, they were still having no luck diagnosing the Guzzi’s electrical problem. With the weekend looming, I didn’t want to be stranded, so I called Mr. Guareschi to come rescue me, since I was only 2 hours from Parma. For those who haven’t heard of him, Papa Guareschi is to Moto Guzzi as Pops Yoshimura was to Suzuki 🙂

Returning me and my Guzzi to Parma in his van, and seeing the next day was a Sunday, he kindly offered me the use of his new Moto Guzzi Stelvio. Top bloke. I stayed in Parma the night before continuing my vacation the following day.

Not willing to lose any more precious time, I blasted north to Lake Como via la autostrada. Lake Como is the spiritual home to Guzzisti the world over. Every Guzzisti is required by his faith to make the pilgrimage to Lake Como at least once in his lifetime 🙂

Heading north to Bellagio

Lake Como is shaped like an upside down Y with the idyllic town of Bellagio at the tip of a peninsula where the Y comes together. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and Bellagio was bustling wth day trippers from Milan, including a wide assortment of bikers.

I also saw quite a noticeable contingent of Harley riders. Not the wannabe badasses seen in North America. These were the style with the wide beach bars. I call them George Clooney clones, as Mr. Clooney has been known to partake on the Lake Como roads on his Harley from his nearby villa.

An Aston Martin Vantage V-12 is like honey to a bear for Italians 🙂

The following morning, I hop on one of the numerous ferries to Menaggio on the western shore. Looking back at Bellagio off the ferry stern, the good weather was still staying with me.

I follow the old road north along the lake.

From Menaggio, I continue west to Lake Lugano. Italy shares Lake Lugano with Switzerland, however, wanting to avoid border crossing delays and snooty Swiss border guards, I decide to stay in Italy. I trace the southern shore of Lake Lugano before heading south into the hills between Lake Lugano & Lake Como.

October is a wonderful time to visit Italy. Most of the tourists have gone home, leaving the roads and the sites relatively traffic free. A soft, autumnal light caresses the landscape giving everything a portrait quality.

Climbing the road into the hills with Lake Lugano in the background.

Tiny villages cling to mountainsides.

The further I got into the hills, the narrower, the road became. It was probably a good thing I was on the Stelvio, as the road became a veritable goat path.

After about 20 kilometers of this, I finally made it over the ridgeline and began decending with Lake Como stretching out below me. Typical narrow streets encountered in the small mountain villages. Yes, trucks and busses pass this way.

With the sun sinking in the west, I tried to capture an image of the steep Lake Como hillside near the town of Pigra. Apologies for the poor lighting.

This was the best shot I could get of the road that clings to the lake shore near the town of Argegno.

Making my way back to Menaggio, it’s late afternoon by the time I hop on a ferry back to my hotel in Bellagio. Approaching Bellagio on the ferry.

You’d be hardpressed to find a lovlier village than Bellagio…

Narrow shopping street in Bellagio.

A park and a weir at the tip of the Bellagio peninsula looking west towards Menaggio.

Another narrow alleyway opens up onto a view of the lake.

A quiet lakeside cafe

I head south towards Lecco at dusk to capture the image of the road carved from rock. Apologies for the poor lighting. The ever-suffering team orson photographer continues to whine that he can’t work with inferior equipment.

Another ferry approaches Bellagio. The ferry service is quite efficient as I never had to wait more than 15 minutes to catch one. The Italians love for speed is evident in the super cool hydrofoils that ply the lakes.

Disclaimer: team orson regrets having to post these images of rampant hedonism. It is hoped that by publishing these images, we can better understand the mindset of the hedonist.

Sunset over Lake Como from the hotel balcony.

Watching the news, it is evident that an imminent cold front is approaching from northern Europe and bringing rain with it. team orson is forced to make an executive decision and drop down south to a defensive line along the Ligurian coast. The next morning still has blue skies, so we make time for a quick dash eastward via Varese, skirting Lake Varese to the Lake Maggiore ferry crossing at Laveno.

Crossing Lake Maggiore looking towards Verbania on the opposite shore.

Staying ahead of the cold front, we follow the western shore of the lake heading southwards to Arona, before jumping onto la autostrada for a quick 3 hour dash to the Ligurian coast.

The Isola Borromee are a trio of islands that have ornate gardens and palaces built by the Borromee family since the 1650s.

Regarding the Lake District as a motorcycling destination, in all honesty, the roads aren’t conducive to sport riding. The roads are very twisty with lots of traffic and few places to pass, even for a motorcycle. There are few roads inland from the lakes, as the mountain terrain is so steep. Mr. Clooney’s idea of cruising around on a Harley make more sense. If you can’t go fast, you may as well go slow and enjoy the lush views.

Approaching Genoa on the coast, I find myself tiring of the autostrada and beat a quick exit for a road following the coastline in the hills above Genoa. It turns out to be a fortuitous decision as the road turns out to be a freshly paved supermotard track. Unfortunately it’s a track that contains four-wheeled competitors so care must be taken on blind curves 🙂

I have to say…Gawd, I love Italian riding. Motorcycles can get away with anything short of murder and cops just look the other way 🙂 You pass where you want, when you want and nobody honks at you. Solid white lines are meaningless. There were times when I would fall back into American riding, trundling along behind slower traffic, only to be buzzed by a sweet young thing on her moped.

I’m old enough now where my manhood isn’t threatened by such things. In one town a young thang zipped by me, while waving to a friend she saw. At least she wasn’t texting and waving. I stayed behind her on the narrow road to Portofino. Coming around one corner, we met a bus that took up most of the road, leaving a three foot gap between the bus and a wall of granite. Miss moped didn’t bat an eyelash, kept the throttle pinned and shot the gap between the bus and the wall. I stayed in her mirrors just to preserve my masculinity 🙂

Approaching the coast overlooking the town of Santa Margherita.

I decide to head for the quaint, if touristy village of Portofino and find a hotel that can make a martini. I strike paydirt, scoring a nice hotel near the mouth of the harbor.

The road leading to Portofino.

Last time I visited Portofino was in May of 2002 and I had gotten a bad vibe from the place from the rampant tourism. In October, it was a different story. With the throngs of tourists gone, you could almost squint and imagine what a lovely place it once was.

My plan to escape the rain had worked, as I had awoken to overcast skies, but no rain. After the funfilled supermotard track of the previous day, I decided to head up into the Ligurian hills and explore. I was finally encountering some motorbike worthy roads.

I came away very impressed with the hills around Genoa. I must make it a point to explore this region with more thoroughness 🙂

The final day on the road dawned with cloudy skies yet again, but the clouds had yet to unleash their damp revenge. After a leisurely breakfast with one last dossage of Italian cappuccinos, I head towards Parma across the autumn-hued Appenine range.

Trip route:

[IMG]http://i19.photobucket.com/albums/b173/Orsoni/image_map-7.gif[/IMG]

Mileage: uhmmm…I lost track. Maybe close to 2000 km in 8 days.
Carabinieri encounters: 1
Puckers: 1 (sand in curve)
Bee stings: 0

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Tuscanny, Spring 2007

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Spring 2007

I flew into Milan and grabbed a cab for the Estacione Centrale to catch a train to Parma. Cue picture of Milan’s cavernous train station…

Arriving in Parma after about 2 hours, I grab another quick cab ride to Moto Guareschi. Home base for my Gootsi where they lovingly fondle it and whisper sweet nuthins into its ears to get it to purr contentedly.

After paying my bill and renewing my insurance, I’m ready to hit the road. I didn’t really have a route planned other than to try to loop south through Tuscany. I hadn’t made it 5 kilometers before I realized I forgot to put my ear plugs in. While stopped, a guy comes running up to me gushing about the Guzzi and wanting to take a picture with his cell phone. The fame of Guzzi ownership is something you never get used to. If only it had this effect on young women!

Making my way westward out of Parma, I soon came upon the beautiful Torrechiara Castle, built over 500 years ago in the Parma Valley.

About 30 minutes later I came upon the ruins of another castle whose name escapes me.

Continuing westward in the Province of Parma…a medeivel farming village in the foothills of the Apuan Alps…

I continue climbing up over the Apuan Alps and into Tuscany. I’m surprised to see there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground. Unfortunately, the day is overcast so I didn’t think to take any pictures. The sky turns menacingly dark in spots and for a few moments I worry that I’m about to get drenched but alas, my fears are unfounded and I’m spared.

While studying the map, I notice the Cinque Terre region on the Ligurian coast. Hmmmm. In an instant, a change in plans. Tuscany would have to wait a day. I’m this close to the Ligurian coast, why not? This is one of the reasons I don’t book hotels in advance…I never know where I’ll end up! I grabbed a hotel room in the seaside resort of Portvenere and enjoyed a nice seafood meal.

The Cinque Terre region is named after five villages precariously perched on the rocky shores of eastern Liguria. Kinda has a California Highway 1 vibe going…

The village of Riomaggiore.

more coastline…

I think this is looking down on the village of Manarola. They have toll booths set up before you get into each town. I can’t say that I blame them or otherwise they’d be swamped by tourist traffic in the summertime.

I think this is a picture of the village of Vernazza with the village of Corniglia in the distance.

It was midday by the time I reached the last village of Monterosso so, I turned around and headed back south towards Tuscany and the Apuan Alps. The Apuan Alps are impressive indeed. While they don’t reach the same heigths as their more famous namesake, they seem impressive enough just the same and the roads are no less a challenge. The northern part of Tuscany is more rugged and mountainous than the south.

An abandoned farmhouse in northern Tuscany

Where’s that confounded bridge? The last time I was in Tuscany, I spent a few hours trying to find this bridge. It was right here the whole time! The Ponte di Maddalena near the town of Lucca. It was built over 700 years ago. It was one of the few bridges not blown up by the Germans during World War II because they didn’t think the Allies could get Sherman tanks across it.

I stopped for the night in the beautiful town of Bagni di Lucca. Before I left Parma, Vitto Guareschi had invited me to a track day at Mugello. Not being no fool, I quickly took him up on his offer. It might be the closest I ever get to a GP!

Leaving Bagni di Lucca for Mugello, I came across another ancient looking bridge.

Determined not to use the Autostrada, I forced myself into downtown Florence, determined to make my way north. I’m a Luddite who refuses to use such aids as GPS so I plowed ahead. Unfortunately, I ended up getting lost big time. Each time I decided to retreat to the relative safety of the Autostrada, I’d spy another sign that would only lure me deeper into its clutches. I finally gave up after about an hour and made my way north along the Autostrada to Mugello….

When they aren’t working at Papa Guareschi’s Guzzi shop, Vitto Guareschi is Ducati’s Moto GP test pilot. Nice work if you can get it. Gianfranco Guareschi races the MGS-01 for the Guzzi factory. On this day, Vitto was testing tires on a pair of new 1098s

I left Mugello at 3 p.m. as it was a gorgeous day and I wanted to get some more riding in. The hills around Mugello offer some great roads, including the famous Paso di Futa, where Ducati test riders ride from nearby Bologna. The Paso di Futa was also part of the famous Mille Miglia road race.

The sun was getting down to that golden hour time and yet, I didn’t want to stop riding. I pressed on through the golden sunlight

This isn’t a side street. This is the main road through this small town…beautiful

A sunny day in Tuscany on a motorcycle…does not suck.

Tuscan twisties

Finally, around 6 p.m., I called it quits and found a hotel near the racetrack. The next day would be my last and I would have to make my way back to Parma. But I still had time to enjoy the Tuscan roads until heading north at midday. I made my way through the hilly terrain to the beautiful town of Stia. Stia has a wonderful medeival town square.

I finally ran out of time and began heading north. Unfortunately, I had to use the Autostrada to make time but, you have to take the good with the bad. I left the bike with the Guareschi boys, bade my farewells and made my way back to Milan.

Total distance- 1450 kilometers / 900 miles in 4 days
Pucker moments- 0
Cop sightings- 1. I saw two policeman standing on the side of the road with their lollypops ready but they seemed involved in an animated discussion about soccer or women and ignored passing traffic.

One more for the road.