- Cycle Tourism
From Varese to Campo dei Fiori
Segregated bike lanes, fishing villages and historic parks. On the roads of a memorable edition of the Road World Cycling Championships
Piazza Monte Grappa, 5, Varese
The parks surrounding the villas of Varese, the garden-city, are the best introduction to a highly rewarding day’s cycling.
These same green areas welcome cyclists at the end of the route, which is around sixty kilometres long and can easily be covered in a day. Since 2008, when it hosted the Road World Championships, Varese has held a place in the hearts of cycling enthusiasts from every continent. The routes designed for the cycling challenge passed through spectacular locations that still have a strong appeal.
The route starts downhill from the Villa Recalcati park, in the centre, and glides down to Schiranna, on the banks of Lake Varese. It immediately leaves the motorized road behind, following a segregated bike lane that allows you to circumnavigate the lake in a clockwise direction, passing right beside the reeds.
You occasionally venture into coastal woods, up to the ancient fishing village of Cazzago Brabbia, where you can find the Ghiacciaie, stone buildings with conical roofs used, from the eighteenth century onwards, to store slabs of ice taken from the lake and to preserve fish. In Biandronno, you can sail towards the Isolino Virginia, a small green island in the centre of the lake, which was home to the oldest lake-dwelling settlement in the Alpine area, now an Archaeological Park with a Prehistoric Museum, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
Back on dry land, you come to Gavirate, home to the “brutti e buoni” (the good and bad ones), traditional sweets made from almonds and toasted hazelnuts that will give you a good dose of energy. Not far from the centre, the 13th-century Chiostro di Voltorre calls for a moment of meditation. It is a good opportunity to take a break before leaving the cycleway and journeying on to Cittiglio, the birthplace of cycling legend Alfredo Binda. The town has a museum dedicated to the three-time world champion, which is a recommended stop for cycling enthusiasts.
Once back on the saddle, you ride towards Valcuvia, a valley overlooking Lake Maggiore, which surrounds the northern part of the Monte Campo dei Fiori. You continue along the valley floor, with no elevation changes, admiring the glory of the surrounding mountains: Campo dei Fiori to the southeast, the slopes of Monte Nudo to the northwest, which conceal the trenches, mule tracks and observation posts of the Linea Cadorna, the series of fortifications built along the Swiss-Italian border at the end of the 19th century.
The shadows of war fade away, along the Valcuvia, at the entrance to the Villa Della Porta Bozzolo, in Casalzuigno, an 18th-century jewel surrounded by a large park and terraces. Protected by the FAI, the delightful villa is worth visiting due to the grandeur of its court of honour and ballroom. The newly-designed rose garden, intended as a historical museum to celebrate the rose, contains rose varieties that are no longer cultivated elsewhere.
Next, you pedal slightly uphill towards Monte Campo dei Fiori, a regional park with nature reserves, an astronomical observatory and the Sacro Monte complex, 2 kilometres of medieval cobblestones and chapels built on a sacred mountain. When you reach Orino, with its beautiful 12th-century fortress, you come to a long hilly, wooded section. Many cyclists come here, attracted by the variety of the route and the low traffic.
You reach Brinzio, which overlooks a small lake and is the start of the easy Rasa ascent. You reach the top of the hill almost without realizing it and if you want, you can charge headlong down to Varese without even touching the pedals (though brakes are a must).
The first historic home with a garden that you encounter is Villa Toeplitz, which boasts spectacular water features, monumental trees from all over the world and is equipped with picnic areas.
A little further on, you come to the 19th-century Villa Panza, which is owned by FAI. It contains a collection of contemporary art and its park is also the setting of an Art in Nature project: Land Art installations made from stones and logs, in dialog with nature, its co-author and spectator. Some of the works are, coincidentally, wheel-shaped, yet another reference to bicycles. The day’s toil ends here. However, the fittest cyclists will not turn down the opportunity to brave the climb up to the Campo dei Fiori. Almost like world champions.
One day route
Length: 62 km
Elevation profile: 400 m
Roads: 100% asphalt
Type of bike: touring bikes with gears and racing bikes
When: from March to November