Torri di Fraele, Lago di Cancano, and Beyond

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This truly awesome ride includes a few different adventures. First, is the absolutely fabulous, paved, hairpin-filled climb to Torri di Fraele – perfect for road-bikers. A must-visit climb for anyone staying in Bormio after climbing Stelvio and Gavia.

But I used a mountain bike. As while the paved road ends at the summit of Torri di Fraele, beyond is a huge collection of unpaved roads and trails. I would visit four lakes, cross a couple of dams, ride some cliff roads, and finally descend a crazy trail that eventually joins the Stelvio route 5 kilometres above Bormio. All unpaved.

Paved Hairpin Heaven

It’s worth watching the 3D video:

From Bormio, just after the 1st hairpin (signed #40) on the way up Stelvio, is the turn off towards Torri di Fraele. It’s a gentle, quiet traverse to Premadio, then the climb leaves the main road and becomes a wonderful, deserted, hairpin-filled ascent.

An Ozzie tourist

Torri means “towers” and there are the ruins of two old square towers first built in 1391. They were fortified in the 15th century then mainly destroyed in 1513 when the Grisons invaded. There was apparently some fighting here and below the cliff is called “burrone dei morti” – ravine of the dead.

After 17 hairpins in the final 3.5 kilometres, the climb traverses through a tunnel cut into the cliff and reaches the tower ruins.

Torri di Fraele

Beyond the towers the road becomes a good quality, unpaved road, immediately reaching Lago Scale. Just beyond is a pair of much larger lakes that include a couple of dams. Lago di Cancano and Lago di San Giacomo.

Lago di Cancano

The road was fenced off, so no cars! I soon saw why as I passed through some avalanche debris.


As the profile on the map below shows, much of the rest of the ride is relatively flat, except one detour. This was marked as a mountain bike trail. I knew it was a touch early in the season, but I thought I’d briefly explore. Soon ahead of me the trail was clearly snow covered and steep (above my head). Expecting to turn around, I decided to have a brief glance.

Assessing That Trail Above

I would make it above that trail leading to a fantastic cliff stretch leading into an almost “secret” valley. Instantly I saw a dozen marmottes, a sign not many people had been here recently. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned a route and every direction looked higher, without a road, and snow covered. I decided to double back. Hopefully, one day later in the season I can return.

Getting back to the big lakes I continued down the road.

Standing on the dam. Lake quite empty, would love to have seen full.

My idea was to see if I could follow the valley all the way to Lago di Livigno, escape the far side, and double back to Bormio on roads. I was hopeful at first. The road soon ended but became an absolutely brilliant trail. The river below lowered but the trail stayed at a similar altitude, thus becoming a cliff trail.

Searching for Lago di Livigno

Landslides stopped my progress. Turned around as it became dangerous

I reached the tail end of the lake, also virtually empty. But the trail became increasingly difficult due to little avalanches. Looking at a detailed map on my phone, I could see I was wrong and no trail stayed by the lake, but instead, it became a hiking trail straight up. So sadly I turned around. But I LOVED this stretch, worth the detour.

The tail of the lake, quite empty

I headed back, briefly on a different trail with some fun little bridges:


Next, I rode on the far side of the lakes, making a loop. There was a scary tunnel that I rode through then another marked no bikes, but it is passable on a trail beside.

Bikes Allowed

No Bikes Allowed

There is one final adventure on this great ride. Closing the loop around the two big lakes, there is an unpaved, quite steep road that snakes down a different valley, eventually joining the road to Passo dello Stelvio. Climbing this would be tough work, I was glad I was going downhill. Completely deserted and at times a little crazy.

Cliff road below is part of this descent.

I had planned this route as an escape from the Giro madness of the Stelvio Giro stage – having climbed Stelvio the day before. But rejoining the Stelvio road, I was able to descend the final few kms of the Giro stage in time to see the race on the final kilometre. Excellent.

Tom Dumoulin in Pink at end of a long Stelvio stage

9.4 Awesome

Road bikers will love the hairpins to Torri di Fraele. But bring a mountain bike to explore the lakes and dams beyond.

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  • Fun Factor 9.5
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Happiest while cycling uphill.

2 Comments

  1. This region is really fun. I did a lot of those same trails having accessed the area from Switzerland, from Val Mustair, but you can also get there from the top of the Ofen Pass. See my ride on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/18247535. The trails on the Swiss part were more fun and technical than the parts around the Italian lakes, with the valley section between kms 50 and 55 of that route being a massive highlight. Highly recommended.

  2. Pingback: Passo Foscagno

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