Riding through the pre-Alps on a whim.
ASIDE// Studying for a couple of exams and my weekends were spent mostly indoors. Good thing the weather cooperated by pouring rain for much of the last few weeks. In short, it’s been a while since my last ride and subsequent post.
A couple of weeks ago there was some talk about riding up to Selvino, a hilltop town north of Bergamo, which quickly fizzled out after my buddy Alex, on his bike, suffered a side-swipe by a drunk driver. Luckily, Alex is no worse for the wear, the same can’t be said about his bike.
A few weeks later now and I had almost forgotten about the Selvino ride altogether. Then I happened to do a quick Google search and saw what appeared to be a mini-Stelvio Pass heading up to the town. I had to do it.
Looking more closely at a route map, I noticed that the town of San Pellegrino Terme, the namesake of the storied Italian mineral water company, was nestled in a valley just north of where I was heading. Seemed like a good destination. So last Sunday around 3pm, I hopped on my bike and headed for the hills.
From Bergamo, you ride along the provincial road SP35, passing the towns of of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro – the beginnings of Val Seriana – before turning onto SP36, which is basically a ladder used to climb to Selvino. I lost count of the number of switchbacks after 10 or so. It sounds like fun, after all, what imagery of a hairpin isn’t exciting? However, for those of you who ride Ducati Monsters, you know what their turning radius is like, and so you can imagine what making 180° right handers (inside lane) is like. Continuing on what felt like a never ending upward spiral, I finally reached Selvino which sits at an elevation of 960 m (3,150 ft).
I spent all of 2 mins riding through Selvino before heading back down the other side of the hill, making my way to San Pellegrino. I was now on the SP28 which was a much more enjoyable ride. The switchbacks were fewer with sweeping straight sections in between. Felt more like a nice Sunday drive than the fatiguing SP36. The road though was heavily tree-lined with overgrown flora often jutting out into your lane. As such, it offered little in terms of views. In certain sections it looked properly maintained and thoroughly modern, while other parts looked as if it had been traversed heavily and was deteriorating quite badly. Then in a few spots, the two-way road narrowed to the width of a single lane with little more than a ‘narrow lanes’ sign to warn you, partially covered by some poorly manicured shrubs.
The SP28 ends just before the town of Bracca at an intersection where your choices are simply left or right along the SP27. Turning left towards Bracca then, you ride through a spectacular, hand-chiseled tunnel at Localita’ Galleria. Looking back now, that tunnel was like a portal to the past: the next 8-9 kilometers felt like a well-paved bridal path through some enchanting scenery.
Soon after the tunnel the road changes name again and becomes the SP33. I’m being thorough and providing the road names, although they don’t really matter here, as in much of Italy, as long as you know the general direction you should be heading. Riding alongside a river almost the entire time, you ride under a canopied section of road before entering a hauntingly beautiful gorge. I’ll admit I didn’t take many pictures along the way but this spot gave me goosebumps.
8-9 kilometers later you reach San Pellegrino Terme, where you’re greeted by the San Pellegrino S.p.A. bottling facility at the entrance of the town, situated on the Brembo river. Despite its location, the mineral water comes from deep beneath the ground, some 400-700 m, where it’s mineralized from contact with limestone and volcanic rock. Due to certain naturally occurring conditions in the area, the water contains carbon dioxide (carbonated), gaining little more from the bottling process itself. Legend has it that Leonardo Da Vinci visited the town in 1509 to sample the magical water and write a treatise on its properties. That may or may not be true, however a few hundred years later, San Pellegrino had gained such notoriety for its water and natural thermal springs that by the early 1900s, it was entertaining half the aristocracy of Europe with its treatments and lifestyle – as evidenced by the now boarded up Grand Hotel, which was spa-resort, built upon a thermal spring.
I found myself seated at a café across the river from the hotel reflecting on my ride and this new-to-me area of Italy. While the ride was a blast San Pellegrino was a bit depressing. Although charming in its own way, nestled among the pre-Alps with the wide Brembo running through it, it looked like the venue of an epic party: used and immediately forgotten. It kind of reminded me of San Remo in a way. While San Remo still lights up once a year, hosting Italy’s famous San Remo Music Festival, both towns feel as if their time has passed. In any case, San Pellegrino S.p.A. still enjoys success as Italy’s leading mineral water company, exporting its product all over the world.
See route map below: