Riding from Domodossola, Italy to Locarno, Switzerland.
This was an impromptu ride, even for my standards. The idea, initially, was to spend the weekend in my buddy Paolo’s hometown of Domodossola, located in northern Piedmont. Leaving hungover and late on a Saturday afternoon, I took the Autostrada dei Laghi from Milano, which is a ride in itself what with all the gorgeous scenery of mountain vistas and lake inlets tickling your peripheral vision. After about an hour and a half I arrived to Domo’ where I was greeted by Paolo near the train station. After a quick hello, we were off to the charming Piazza del Mercato for a little apertivo.
The alpine town of Domodossola is fairly quiet and all I knew of it prior to visiting was that Italians often referred to its name when spelling out words that began with the letter D. However, as I later discovered from all the Swiss license plates I spotted, Domodossola is an international stop-over for tourists traveling between Milano and the Swiss city of Brig, via the Sempione Pass. I quite liked Domo, its characteristic central square, its unrestored buildings and graceful patinas.
That night we headed to a quaint little restaurant where Paolo was eager for me to try the snails. Not just any snails but “Lumache alla Bourguignonne”, a traditional French dish, also known as Escargot Bourguignon or simply, giant snails in garlic butter.
Oddly enough, I had never tasted this French delicacy which was rather delicious. The snails had the texture of a portobello mushroom and drowned in enough garlic, butter, shallots and parsley to remove any hint of slug. The rest of the meal was far more Italian with a rich Toma and walnut risotto as our first dish and a beef filet in a porcini mushroom sauce for seconds.
Cut to: debauchery.
The next morning – Sunday – was spent squinty-eyed at a cafe, sipping freshly squeezed orange juice and eating fresh croissants, sitting next to old men who were debating the state of Italy. There I mapped out my route for my return ride home. I found a lovely road that headed eastbound from Domodossola, through Val Vigezzo and into Locarno, Switzerland. From there, I would follow the lake down to Verbania and Stresa before taking the autostrada back to Milano.
Now, I either have great luck in picking random roads or I set the bar way too low for epic landscape and scenery: the next 50 kms were just mesmerizing.
From Domo then, I headed onto the SS337 which cuts through Val Vigezzo at an altitude of about 600m. The Vigezzo valley is wide and picturesque with the pre-alps flanking the northern side. The valley also goes by the name, “Valle dei Pittori”, or the “Valley of Painters”, as it was a hub for painters and an inspiration to artists traveling through this area some centuries earlier. It just seemed like a giant meadow to me if not for the sprinkling of residences that make up the towns in between. Below is a video of the beginnings of the SS337 heading towards the first town, Druogno.
Passing Druogno and Santa Maria Maggiore, I stopped at the town of Craveggia where I noticed these characteristic stone houses which were actually still inhabited.
Taking another road to get back onto the SS337, I stumbled upon this amazing train station in the fraction of Zornasco, which was little more than an open hut with a bench.
The valley ended and the road became more twisty as I approached the town of Re. There I was taken aback upon seeing the town’s sanctuary.
From there it was on to the Italian-Swiss border in Località Ribellasca. I was a bit worried as I was neither carrying my passport nor did I want to pay the 40 euro road tax to enter Switzerland. Luckily for me the border crossing was unguarded and by that, I mean boarded up and deserted. Soon after the border, I was riding along a great section of road following Lake Palagnedra.
Here, the mountains on either side seemed to be touching bases, forming more of a gorge than a valley, below. It’s at this point where the road transformed to a much more treacherous, cliff hanging endeavor with little more than a guard rail or a simple, 3 ft stone wall to keep you from plummeting 500-600m into the watery bottom. A pass full of blind corners too, it was really difficult to stop anywhere for picture taking, let alone an emergency. The highlight of this section was the traffic light appearing out of nowhere. This usually signals an especially narrow passage where the light is used to stop oncoming traffic. It was a bit more than just a narrow passage as you can see in the video below.
Further along now, I saw sign marked Verdasio, which pointed to a steep road heading straight up the hillside. I figured I was due for a bite to eat and the additional height could make for some great pictures. Here is picture of Verdasio at about 700m.
I was standing about a hundred meters or so from the entrance of town, where I took the picture above, while across from me, across the valley, was this:
While below my feet was this: the steepest vineyard I’d ever seen. A black diamond vineyard if you will.
I stood there for about 10 minutes, taking it all in and thinking to myself, “Is this where they filmed the Sound of Music?” I then made my way up to Verdasio on foot. This little village was incredible. Grey stone homes, tightly packed together with curated pots of flowers everywhere and palm trees! At 700m! As if that wasn’t enough, you’re overlooking this lush green valley of valleys below, with that immense mountain range in front of you. Truly a spectacular place.
It’s there that I stopped at the restaurant, Il Pentolino, seated outside on a beautiful terrace in the middle of this village. Unfortunately, they weren’t serving anything hot, so I ordered the next best thing.
Scaling the road down from Verdasio it was only another 15 kms to Locarno, but not before passing through the lovely town of Intragna.
Check out the one lane wide, stone bridge you have to share with pedestrians.
From there it was a short trip to Locarno, which looks like the kind of place where one could easily retire. Epically beautiful surroundings, fresh air, mountains as a back drop and all of Lago Maggiore in the foreground. I wish I had more time to spend there. As you enter the city, you ride along the Melezza river which and see hundreds of people sun bathing on the white rocks of its nearly dried up bed. I regret not stopping to takes pictures here, it was quite the sight. Following the signs for Italia then, I was headed toward Verbania.