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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Road bikers will love the hairpins to Torri di Fraele. But bring a mountain bike to explore the lakes and dams beyond.
Quiet / No Traffic
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.
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According to the Strava heatmap, people have cycled on where you had to turn back (I guess the road existed then), but they all continued up the switchbacks on the right. That must be a spectacular route too. And nobody has got through along Lago di Livigno.
thanks, it seemed crazy at the time, but I was tired. Perhaps just a little pushing would have opened up some stuff. I always like motivation to return 🙂
Did Cancano today. It’s now tarmac past the first lake and as far as the dam. Makes a nice addition to the ride.
I rode down those switchbacks on a gravel bike to get into this region. I did have to walk a few sections, especially the tightest swithbacks. I remember it being very steep, so I’m not sure how rideable it would be going up.
Went to Bromio for a week in the beginning of August. I did Torri di Fraele, Stelvio, Gavia and Bormio 2000. Stelvio and Gavia are of course epic, but this is a really enjoyable climb. Beautiful scenery, and once you get on the hairpins it’s kind of cool having the target of those old watch towers in view. Much less traffic than Stelvio as well. It was so peaceful on the way up the hairpins. Great day on the bike. I regret not continuing on the gravel to Lago Cancano, but hoping to get back next summer.
Here is a strava ride from Wout Van Aert who made a loop starting near Livigno heading to the north side of the lakes, around and came back from the south side to the main road between Bormio and Livigno.
Thanks for this. Do you think the unpaved road around Lago Cancano and San Giacomo is rideable on a road bike? I’m heading to Bormio in a couple of weeks and hoping to do the ride up to the lakes via the hairpins.
Here’s my usual answer: It depends how fussy you are. I remember it as good quality gravel on the primary road around the lakes. At a minimum, ride up to the towers and then have a look. It’s a beautiful climb and the lakes are worth visiting.
Hi Will, thanks for your answer. For info we rode up to Torri di Fraele in June. The road is now paved beyond the towers as far as the cafe at the SE end of Lago di Cancano. We then rode on the gravel road to the dam but decided to not go any further around the lakes as there was work underway to grade the road. We were on hire road bikes with 25mm tyres so didn’t fancy the risk – although I suspect it would have been OK!
Thanks again for the excellent website.