Last summer I had the opportunity to ride with my gravel bike from Graun to Riva del Garda via gravel tracks passing through some of the most stunning scenery the Alps have to offer.
The reason for the Gravel Transalp is to experience what I've been missing for the last two years because of Covid: freedom, adventure, discovery and nature. It's not so much about racking up as many kilometers as possible, conquering Strava segments or climbing Everest (although I like to do all three things when the time comes), but about enjoying the little moments, the things that make you seem so obvious, but are never really noticed. The hawk in the sky, the little waterfall at the edge and the incredible view of the valley. The feeling of freedom and the desire to discover something new. If I find a place to stop for a picnic I'll stop, if I find a swimming spot, I might hop in. I wanted to experience all the things I’ve been missing!
But why exactly this route?
The six-day Gravel Transalp starts from Lake Reschen in Italy and takes beautiful path via Austria and Switzerland back to Lake Garda in Italy. I have always been fascinated by the Alps and know the French and Swiss Alps quite well. But I've only ridden a little bike in Italy so this is the perfect moment to experience a new region, especially with a gravel bike.
It started in the small, beautiful Italian town, Graun, which is located at the Reschensee. The first stage involved crossing first to the Austrian border and then to Switzerland via beautiful gravel roads and quiet paths to finish the first stage in Scuol where the fourth official Swiss language, romansh, is spoken.
The next stage led via moon-like landscape and high gravel mountain passes to Livigno. This is definitely the toughest stage of all as it collects a lot of elevation gain on the way. But every meter is worth the effort. Livigno is a beautiful ski report with a cool scene so for those who still have a bit of energy in them, I would suggest a visit to the center of the village. As Livigno lies at 1816m, it is quite chilly here in the evenings and mornings.
The next day went via the Passo Foscagno and Passo d`Eira to a beautiful gravel pass that came out at Laghi di Cancano. Whoever loves switchbacks, this is your place! Also, the dam across the lake was stunning and the following gravel trail that seemed isolated from civilization was one of my favorite parts. This path led me to the direction of Bormio but before entering the town the route turns left back onto gravel until the destination of the day: Santa Caterina.
Santa Caterina is located on the way up to Gavia pass, a beautiful pass that entailed the first part of day. I would recommend avoid riding this pass on the weekend as motorcycles enjoy this climb just as much. Once on top of the climb, the coffee at the restaurant was just what I needed. Then, an amazing descent followed but it was impossible to go fast as I literally stopped on every corner to take a picture. Too beautiful not to let it soak in. Back down in the valley, another climb headed up Passo Tonale to a chocolate store that has chocolate running down a wall inside the store. After a sweet treat, a sweet gravel downhill gravel section followed to my days end destination in Mezzano.
The next day was another beautiful ride that started with a long gravel section through the forest. The beginning was so steep that I lost the traction of my tires. But it got shallower the higher I was. The thought of coffee at the ski resort got me to the top. After the proper caffeination, I followed first a paved road, then a gravel road along that quickly became an unrideable single trail. Hike-a-bike is part of the game. Luckily, it wasn’t that long, and I was quickly back on my bike to head up the final climb of the day. It weaved itself through the forest until it ended up at a turquoise mountain lake. It was beautiful but I also knew what is ahead of me: Another 200m of elevation gain by foot.
The next section was so steep and rocky - it was impossible to ride. But it was worth pushing it up because the top offered an incredible 360° view of the surrounding mountains. Although there were a few hikers around, it still felt so far away from civilisation. The 16km downhill to the stage`s destination: Ponte Arche, was an absolute joy. It was so tired at the end of the day that I just went into the supermarket and grabbed a picnic for the hotel and just relaxed in my room.
The time flew quickly because the next day was already the final stage to Riva del Garda. But although this day was shorter and with less elevation gain, it didn’t miss its beauty along a cliff wall, across a moon-like landscape and past turquoise lakes to reach the final destination: Lake Garda.
And the conclusion?
Unfortunately it's over now: Six days from Graun to Lake Garda. My thoughts
Absolutely to be recommended! What I like so much is that a lot of the paths are away from traffic and people. You can discover the area for yourself. There is also so much to see and every moment is unique. The high mountains, the varying terrain, the different road surfaces from roads to very technical single trails. I love the scent of the pine trees and the fresh and clear mountain air. It's a trip for all the senses and so good for the soul as you can completely free yourself mentally from everyday life.
What would I have done differently?
Actually, not so much other than extend my trip! Each stage destination has so much to offer that it's a shame not to be able to discover it. If you still want it, you can choose the smaller route variant and add a town tour to each day or always include an intermediate day for exploring the area. Maybe don’t unpack your cell phone and let yourself be completely surrounded by nature and experience.
Words by Monika Sattler
Photos by Gavin Kaps: @ospreyimagery