Sunday Drive

September 1, 2013: Saint Moritz didn’t have a really strong hold on us, so we dashed after breakfast and made for the Bernina Pass. It felt a bit like we were driving through the Rocky Mountains. Beautiful mountain vistas. Glacier lakes. All that was missing was a profusion of wildlife, although we did spot a solo marmot basking on a rock.

With the road in excellent shape, it didn’t take long to reach the Bernina Pass summit. At this rate, soon we’d be back in Italy and racing toward Sesto Calende, enjoying a relaxing evening in our home away from home for the next two weeks.

Or would we? There was a left turn ahead that could let us repeat yesterday’s route over the Stelvio Pass in hopes of less traffic and better weather. It would more than double the distance we needed to cover today, but that didn’t seem like much of a drawback with a whole day ahead of us.

Our spontaneously chosen new route would take us in and out of Italy and Switzerland as we crisscrossed the border five times in a big circle bringing us right back to where we were about to turn off.

First up, we passed through the Italian alpine village of Livigno, a popular ski resort in winter and tourist destination in summer. From here, two choices. Turn right to Bormio or go straight to Switzerland and drive the Stelvio Pass from the opposite direction. We chose the latter option and skirted the shore of Lago di Livigno, a long reservoir created when the local river was dammed in the 1960s.

Reaching the north side of the lake meant driving across the top of the dam, where there was a toll booth collecting a thirteen Euro entrance fee for the next stage, the 3.5 kilometre long, alternating one way Munt La Schera tunnel cutting straight through the mountain. We popped out the other side in Switzerland.

Turning right, we retraced our route through the Svizzera National Park, passing through the Swiss alpine towns of Santa Maria and Munster, and the Italian South Tyrol towns of Tubre and Glurns. Interestingly, each place has both Italian and German names. Some even sport a third variant, Romansh. The area has switched allegiances at different times as international borders have been redrawn over the years. Even in the Italian South Tyrol region, most people speak German and the area has a certain level of autonomy from Italy.

We stopped for a wander around the small walled city of Glurns (aka Glorenza). There has been a village here for at least 1,000 years. The walls are completely preserved and the main road passes right through the narrow gates of the town, making for some interesting traffic jams on a sunny, Sunday morning.

From here it was just a couple of kilometres to the turnoff marking the start of the Stelvio Pass, also known as Passo dello Stelvio and Stilfserjoch. With traffic relatively light in comparison to yesterday, we made the ascent to the summit in good time, even getting much better views of the surrounding mountains in the bargain. There are 48 hairpin turns on the way up and another 12 on the other side, making for some technical driving…a feat not mastered by one caravan we found hung up on a corner early on.

At one time, the pass was Austrian territory; at another the summit formed the boundary between Austria and Italy. But these days, the entire route is within Italy, although the Swiss border is just 200 metres off to the side.

We lunched on Tirolean dumpling soup at the summit restaurant before taking a bunch of photos and then plunging back to Bormio.

Back in Valtellina (the Tellina Valley), it wasn’t far to complete the loop to Livigno. But first we had to make a small detour. Yesterday, we’d seen a hairpin filled road leading up another ridge not far from Bormio. After consulting our map apps, we leaned that it led to Lago di Cancano and the twin Towers of Fraele. Sounding like something out of Lord of the Rings, it seemed like it might be worth a side trip. Another steep climb and a couple of rough narrow tunnels later and we reached the towers, one in relatively good shape, the other not quite so. We were very surprised to discover a full-sized local bus making the climb up the hairpins to a small hotel near the lake. Apparently that driver knows how to negotiate the turns.

Back to the valley again and here I took the wheel for a chance to see how our convertible handled, with Chris providing innumerable practical driving tips en route to Livigno and the Bernina Pass. Then, with Chris firmly behind the wheel once again, we completed the Bernina Pass route in the town of Tirano, continued west along Valtellina and south along the eastern shore of Lake Como.

From Lecco at the southern end of the lake, I programmed the GPS for the shortest route to Sesto Calende, as it was now dusk. Although just 70 kilometres away, it took us about two hours to reach it. Apparently the shortest route is not the fastest as we wound through remote little Italian villages on roads not shown on our map. Sometimes we were convinced we weren’t even headed in the right direction. With our fuel tank down to its last fumes and no diesel to be found, we crossed our fingers and eventually glided into town, a fair bit later than we anticipated. So much for a relaxing evening.

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