Hiking in Italy, Biking through the Alps and all the way to Zurich

Route details: Cannes – Monaco – Savona – Genova – Pavia – Milan – Como – Lugano – Bellinzona – San Bernardino Pass – Chur – Bad Ragaz – (Vaduz) – St Gallen – Zurich

Distance: 783km

Duration: 16 days (actual riding: 9 days)

Difficulty: ★★★★

Accommodation: Warmshower hosts/friends (11 nights); camping (5 nights)

Expenditure: €78.6

11. across the Alps

My last farewell to France was passing Nice, a small town with a “nice” character. I particularly like the different colors boat docking at the harbor.

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IMG_2745I was planning to spend at least one night in the tiny little country Monaco, and borrow a suit so that they will let me visit Monte Carlos Casino. However, my host suddenly cancelled my stay, and certainly I do not have enough money to stay in such LUXURY hotels, not to say I never gamble (even playing Chinese mahjong without involving money)!
Apart from the Casinos, Monaco is like a huge playground, with swimming pools, bars and all kinds of super expensive shops. I did not feel a good connection with such living style, so I just passed by and said goodbye!

Crossing the last town Menton on the French side, I rode with joy
towards Italy! At the border, again nobody checked me anything and I just cried out “I am in Italy!”.
Along the coast following the road SS1, or sometimes you can find a bike lane parallel to it. All the way it is not high, everything is under 200m, however, the 180km from the border to Genova, I ascended altogether 2500m and of course descended almost the same. Tough work!
To make it even more unforgettable, I ran into more than 10 tunnels on the way. Some of them are bike tunnels which allow only bicycles and pedestrians walking through, but some of them are along SS1 that I had to ride in the dark with all the cars. That was scary, and the shoulders for bikes are narrow. I understand Italy is a hilly country and constructing tunnels is necessary, but maybe the biking infrastructure can be improved as well, so as to protect the safety of cyclists pedaling across those tunnels. I prayed everytime when I saw a tunnel to be crossed ahead, and usually there are no other options or routes for cyclists or pedestrians, we all share the tunnels!!

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Camping along the coast in the Italian side is as easy as in the French side, honestly if you do it at around sunset time when most people are leaving, they do not give a fuss on you camping a night there, as long as you do not start a big fire.

The first night I camped at the beach near Sanremo and second night in Cogoleto, both nights I dipped myself into the sea, washed away all my dirt and sweat and then took showers at the beach. After refreshing myself, I started cooking my dinner with my small stove, at the same time putting up my tent. Nothing is more rewarding than eating my dinner, watching sunset over the Mediterranean Sea!

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IMG_2806The next day I met a French cycling couple Stefan and Eve on the way, and we cycled together towards Genova. They are just having their one month holiday and decided to cycle from South of France to Croatia, as a warm-up for a longer trip in a few years after their kids graduate from universities, and they will be free! They are in their 50s and keep dreaming about cycling around the world, I totally appreciate them! Haha, but they were not as pushing hard as I am, they stopped an hour for lunch, then some breaks for icecream or coffee, and started looking for camping ground at 3pm. As long as you are enjoying the way of your travel, there is no perfect way, just follow your heart and respect your physical ability, you will find your way!

My sleeping spot at Cogoleto beach!IMG_2877

Italian building style, a lot of paintings on the outer walls!

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IMG_2999I always wanted to visit Genova as my two friends Andrea and Anna told me to visit this beautiful portal city 5 years ago. We finally met after half a decade, and it was a perfect time to visit them as they planned a hiking trip to the Italian Alps and invited me to join! It is always good to leave my bikes for a while and do something other than cycling! We drove to the north, a village called Cogne and then headed to Grand Paradiso National Park. The area is filled with nature, and you can really breathe the energy directly from the mountains and rivers!

IMG_3100We set up our tents, made some new friends, and we went up for 2 hikes the afternoon and the next morning. Trekking through the forest, the snow, and sometimes even we had to climb over big rocks. It reminded me two years ago when I hiked up to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal, everyday I was surrounded by trees, hills and rivers, that I did not have to worry about checking my emails or Facebook. I was totally embracing the nature and myself, listening to my inner voice of what I want to achieve, that was the one of the best moments in my life!

The view of the refuge up in 2800m. There are lots of refuges like this among the Alps, hikers can stay there for free and they can use the blankets, pillows and all the simple facilities provided.

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I really enjoyed such a nice rest during my trip, although we were hit by some rains on the mountain, I will never forget the beauty of Northern Italy!

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After staying a few more days in Genova to catch up with Andrea and Anna, I carried on my journey to cross the Alps, this time on bicycle! Here is my itinerary:

Day 1: Genova – Pavia

Day 2: Pavia – Milan – Como – Lugano

Day 3: Lugano – Bellinzona – Mesocco

Day 4: Mesocco – St. Bernadino Pass – Chur – Bad Ragaz

I was a bit unprepared because I thought: It is summer, will not be that cold in the mountain, so I leave all my winter clothes in Genova (as I will be back in October). The first day was fine, sun was shinning on the way to Pavia, and I even washed myself at night in River Ticino while camping next to it.

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Milan

Then I passed through Milan, just stopped at the castle for an hour. It is huge, with all the Roman architectures that impressed me a lot!

Ran into a random “Wall of Dolls”, pretty creative and artistic I can say!

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Como

Kept going and arrived the border city Como, and stunned by the giant cathedral sitting in the middle of the town!

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Lugano

No border control to Switzerland, and I carried on to Lugano. First impression: Mountainous! Swiss is famous for it, get ready to climb more and develop even stronger quadriceps! I sneaked into Paco Civico and hide myself behind some trees to camp overnight there. It was successful and I went into the Lugano Lake to swim a bit after dark. But during the night at around 4am, oh my God, the automatic sprinkle started watering the grass. I did not put up the outer layer of my tent because it was bit too hot, then I was totally splashed by the water and everything was wet. I had no choice but put the outer layer on to stop getting wetter! It did not stop until 5am, watering for the whole hour, seriously?

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Bellinzona

In the morning, I started my day climbing with all my clothes wet, but it did not matter too much as I was expecting a lot of sweating that day! From Lugano to Bellinzona it is a gentle climb, and I stopped there for a while to have my lunch.

Then here comes the toughest climb, towards Mesocco (1100m) and St Bernadino (2066m), it took me one and a half day to complete the task, and at some point I had to push my bike because some slopes are ridiculously steep! The view on the way overlooking the valley is breathtaking!

IMG_3370The first day I only managed to climb until Mesocco and camped one night there under a huge tree. The night was filled with thunderstorm and heavy rain, luckily this time I was sheltered by the tree and did not get wet. But I rather not to cook under the rain, raw food was a good choice, I had enough carrots, cucumber and peanut butter to keep my stomach full!

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Second day of climbing was not that bad, I managed to reach St Bernadino by noon! Once I arrived, I was filled with satisfaction and joy as I finished one of my dreams to cycle across the Alps! There is a lake at the top where people can sail or swim! The nature at St Bernadino is absolutely gorgeous! I would like to stay there longer but it was quite windy and chilly, I did not have a jacket, instead I put my poncho on although it was not raining.IMG_3440

Rolling downhill for around 60km was really fun! And I could feel the temperature getting higher and higher as I descended. Like a shooting star, I flew through quite a number of small villages that I did not even have time to pronounce their names once. The lake beside Sufers is worth stopping for a few pictures, and I am amazed by the architects who designed the road through all the gorges!IMG_3420IMG_3394

Once arrived Chur, it was already getting dark and I decided to take a train to my host Ulla’s place in Bad Ragaz. Ulla is such a warm hearted lady who welcomed me with a big smile on her face! She is a physiotherapist and she is very interested in my Traditional Chinese Medicine knowledge. We shared a lot about healthy diet, as well as touring stories.

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Vaduz

I stayed with her for a few days, we cycled to Vaduz, Liechtenstein to be amazed by all the Chinese tourists going there for nothing. There is absolutely nothing to see in this tiny country, why the heck do those package tours send tourists here? Is it mainly for the bank tourism? We don’t know.

One day we went to Chur to visit Ulla’s friend and helped them painting some walls. It was quite fun since I never imagined being a painter in Switzerland! And I had the chance to visit Chur, the oldest city of Switzerland! All the Middle Ages churches are fantastic and preserved very well.

IMG_3520It took me a day to ride from Bad Ragaz to St Gallen all along River Rhein, almost flat paved cycling route along the way, but at some parts you can find unpaved rocky road. The other side of the River is Liechtenstein, I had no reason to ride across there again! Then I hit the Austrian border, you can go to Austria from here. I made a left turn at St. Margrethen and follow Road 7. There is a lovely village harbor at Rorschach. Keep going and be prepared to climb up a gentle hill towards St Gallen.

I stayed with my Trimuti Yoga classmate Deborah in St Gallen, which we studied yoga together last year in Dharamsala, India. It is so nice to catch up with her, we had a walk on the hill overlooking St Gallen, we cooked, we watched a movie together. I am so glad to have a good friend like her who supports me when some hard times come! The yoga training course last year was a milestone of my life, I met so many good friends as well as improved my knowledge about yoga. I understand it was once a lifetime experience to gather all those beautiful souls in Northern India, all our positive energies exchanged, vibrated and transformed into friendship for a lifetime! I am going to meet more true friends on the road soon!IMG_3584

IMG_3666From St Gallen, I basically followed Road 7 until a lovely town Winterthur, the old town is full of fountains with statues, a classical Swiss town with wooden houses everywhere.

And finally I arrived the biggest Swiss city Zurich, and stayed there for almost a week! Want to know what have I experienced and curious about where I am going next, stay tuned!!

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