ITALY STELVIO PASS: Most 'wow' ride on earth?

Click on images to enlarge them.

(Someone else's photo downloaded.)
Part of the ride in Google Earth. Click to enlarge actual photo from sattelite.

So good it warrants its own blog. Here's a map [link] with mountains shown, gives you an idea of riding glory; it goes up to 2,750 metres = 9,046 feet [source link]. That's high enough for a guy who gets elevation sickness, but fortunately encountered none ...

Best edgy ride on earth? The Stelvio Pass or Passo dello Stelvio is in the top handful of the best rides on this planet.

Here's one site with many maps/photos [link]; take a few moments, go to this link and play the videos!

As a biker, a life experience. Up-down, 9,000 feet to 1,500 feet and in between just so much mountainous beauty. This is a no-kidding driving challenge on two wheels; a car doesn't lose balance.

There are once-in-lifetimes everywhere, but this road ranks high on any list. Stunning, a literally edgy thriller, both as scenery and driving, breathtaking.

The turning radius is for bikes smaller/nimbler than a Wing, especially with luggage and two-up, although a Wing can do it, slowly. Crotch rockets and other light bikes pushed the envelope way more than I could. A mid-size Mercedes we followed was having trouble making some of the tightest twists. So was I.

Countless turns in 1st gear, a few in 2nd, none in 3rd; use the engine brake; easy on the brake pads and clutch. Scraped Black Bike's foot pegs a couple times, more aggressive riders will scrape more.

In several places one must stop to allow oncoming traffic for one-car blind corners. One tunnel on the edge of a cliff is single-lane with no signal lights natch; it turned into 5 minutes of comedy, with cars backing out of the tunnel to let more stubborn oncoming get through. It was a personality test where some not-so-British-gentlemen types revealed themselves as stubborn me-first egotistical pigs – and that's being kind to them. Horn-honking, arms waving, contest-of-wills, and some pretty colorful Italian language we assumed. I shook my head a few times at the illogic – 'You came on this skinny dangerous twisty road, why? Because you are in a hurry?' We encountered not many, but just a few amazingly rude idiots in whom machismo overshadows intelligence.

At the very peak, a gathering point and coffee stop is largely populated by bikers with some small cars smattered in between, checking out other each others’ rides.

Numerous bicyclists too, with camping gear yet – those people are in jaw-dropping good shape. Hats off to them.

A few bikers glanced furtively at the somewhat out-of-place GL1800 up there, others wondered aloud what it was like to ride such a bike through this, but for sure ours was by far the biggest two wheeler.

We encountered a warm wonderful group of adventure riders from Estonia, associated with the #1 TV channel there, Kanal 2. You can see their videos here [link] – we and Black Bike are in it, at minute #8, plus very nice biking footage of Stelvio and other areas. This Estonian group does an annual ride and video, reporting back for the home audience, this time visiting Estonian peacekeepers in Kosovo. They interviewed us on-camera in superb English and in all seriousness invited us to visit them, even giving us two mini bottles of Estonian grog: Vodka and Vanna Tallin (sweet desert liquor.) Darned nice of them to gift their treasure, hauled by bike from Estonia!

We seriously hope to visit them: Indeed, once we decided a few months later it was feasible to continue all the way around the world, the idea lingers that we just might do a second trans-Atlantic flight with Black Bike, just to do north Europe and Estonia – perhaps in the summer of 2011?

Some experienced bikers in the mountains were hot-dogging it on light crotch rockets, but experience be damned, one error or loss of traction, and over the cliffs you go.

Wonder how many die by being too macho; we did see occasional evidence of broken guard markers or missing rocks/rails, someone had gone sailing over the edge to see the cliff bottom sooner.

It has to be experienced to be understood but I confess to being darned nervous in flashes. Caught myself a few times in a mantra to self 'do not look over the edge.' Not being one who suffers from vertigo, still, I found myself drawn towards the edge a few times – so I forced myself to look away and stay close to the middle.

I was exhausted at the end, and somewhat relieved I confess. But we took movies on the easier part on the way up; will eventually edit the movies and post some here.

OK, so more experienced, younger and better equipped bikers than I, are allowed to consider all this a sissy-ish confession. Regardless, I’m not a total wimp – and this is not a drive for biker wimps; we heard stories from other experienced Wing riders of more difficult Alps passes, but this was challenge enough for us.

Indeed we both loved it. Will we do it again? Yes, if at all possible, we will. Except next time we'll leave all our heavy luggage in a hotel, ride as light as possible, with new tires and have more fun throwing the bike around.

By way of comparison of what's available back home: Twice I tested myself a bit on 'The Dragon' at Deal’s Gap, Tennessee [link] on both a BMW K75 solo, and last Christmas with Thao on this same Black Bike. The Dragon is allegedly North America’s most challenging ride – 318 switchbacks in 11 miles. HA! Although great fun and lovely, Deal’s Gap is a cake-walk by comparison and far safer than Stelvio Pass.


Writing this blog from not far outside Merano, [map link] [photos link], where my late beloved Uncle Robert lived his final years with Rosetta in her charming boutique hotel; he passed away a couple years back, was such a great guy, a brilliant character; he was top brass for UN Dept of Fisheries and had a Columbia MBA decades before they were in vogue. We'd visited him here, and really miss him, especially here; several tears to the eye.

The whole Merano area, being so close to Austria, about 15 km by air, has a very Austrian-Germanic flavor visually and culturally, much more so than anything typically Italian [photos link.] It's a charming town, great hiking in the area, narrow old streets, abundant shopping – all unique in its Italian-Austrian flavor.

Fine hotel in Naturo Italy: Not wishing to impose on Rosetta last minute, just made a short unannounced visit. But later we lucked upon a great place 15 km away, highest recommendation to Hotel Kreutzwirt [link] – €78 for a big suite with balcony super breakfast, internet which is rare here, in charming village of Naturo [map link]. The owner speaks English well – otherwise mainly Italian & German hereabouts. Oh, and at the hotel, we had perhaps the best lasagna we ever tasted, for very reasonable prices. Truly major gourmet; perfect end to a perfect albeit poignant day.


We stayed overnight in the rather boring, single-purpose somehow duty-free town of Livigno [map link] – with no border guards how does the duty-free thing work? Regardless, it was packed to literally hotel-sold-out status, with Italian bargain hunters of name-brand fashion goods. We thought the selection was bad, like really bad, compared to just Toronto for example, and prices were no big deal to us. But the Italian shoppers were evidently going nuts.

Our one-star hotel Albergo Forcola [link] with en suite bath was all we found, no other vacancies (!) out of many hotels tried. It was a good deal at €60, about half the price of others, and just fine – it is attached to a big campground about 10 km down the road, back towards Switzerland.

Add to our head-shakers in a tourist-only town, a strict 2 hours for lunch – in high tourist season? Cultural insensitivity aside, it's sure not how we North Americans do business! Canon camera batteries we needed, forget it. Long lunch, forget it. Not being in the market for a D&G big-logo purse, we drove/walked the town twice then hit the road, buying nothing but some relatively cheap gas, almost as low as at-home prices. We really do not 'get' Livigno. Not even a little bit.


But the rest of the area: Such a drive, such scenery, such food.

Add it to your must-do list. It's on our 'must-do again' list.

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