Turin via the San Bernardo Pass

A beautiful clear winters day greeted us as we packed the bike this morning to head over the San Bernardo Pass to Turin. The top box bracket that was welded yesterday looks pretty rough. The top box looks like it’s hanging down a bit. Hopefully it’ll last until we can buy a replacement.

San Remo Italy
San Remo has been a real chill out destination for us. It’s a city geared towards local Italian tourists with lots of shopping, lots of sun and lots of eating. At night the city arcade is just packed with families and couples walking arm in arm. Despite the cooler weather gelato is still on the menu and locals still enjoy eating all fresco.

 

Today we’re heading to Torino or Turin as it’s known in English. Torino lies in the north of Italy. It’s not a straight ride. Between it and the coast is a band of coastal mountain ranges. The plan was to head along the coast to Savona before heading north. On Google maps the run is fairly straight forward. It’s just over 200 km’s which should take about 3 hours……should. Obviously Google maps hasn’t driven it.

The trip along the coast was painfully slow and it took us over an hour just to get to Albenga, about 45 kms from San Remo. The coastal ride was really nice. The road snaked in and out of little bays as it traced the rugged coast. One thing which is quite noticeable since being in Italy is colour. The houses along the coast of France were painted pale pastel colours. Washed out apricot colours and pale cream are the main colours used. The houses in Italy however are painted in much bolder colours.
Above the coastal towns there’s lots of terracing on the hills which in some areas supported market gardens. The road along the coast passed through tunnels and through galleries (long concrete tunnels open on one side which prevent the hills above from collapsing on the road).

The coastal road passed through lots of forested areas between the towns of San Lorenzo, Imperia, San Bartolomeo, and Allasio.

By the time we reached Albenga we’d had enough of being on the bike and found a local bar by the beach for a coffee. It was nice warming up in the sun as the waves of the Mediterranean Sea gently crashed on the shore. It will be our last glimpse of the sea for a while so we lapped it up.

As we were leaving we realised that we were still 60 km’s from Savona but the sign to Torino which pointed in the other direction read 110 km’s. If we took that road we would be there in less than two hours. Heading via Savona just didn’t make sense. The satnav pointed us in a different direction taking a longer route so I turned it off. It didn’t stay off however, the satnav cord must be faulty because occasionally it would start then state that it had lost external feed and shutdown. It was really annoying trying to continually turn it off. Eventually I just gave up and left it off.

San Bernardo Pass

 

 

The road wound up along the river slowly climbing into mountainous country as it made its way towards San Bernardo Pass. It was a picturesque ride up through the valley. The late November rains really hit this region hard for all along the river was signs of flooding plus dozens and dozens of slips along the road. The road gang were still at work clearing the road as we passed. There was absolutely no traffic on the road so it was nice just cruising along in a low gear taking in the scenery. These days everyone uses the pay roads so this road has become a road less travelled.

 

In the past the pass was fortified with fortifications on the hills plus in the gorge. Just below the medieval village of Erli the road passes through one of the walls of the old fortifications.


The town of Erli has some great stone houses, stone bridges and cobbled streets. Maybe next time we are around the area we can explore the area a little better.

Along the river there were small farms growing vegetables, fruit and flowers in hothouses, including cyclamens which seem to grow so well in this area. A patchwork of green and golden trees covered the higher, steeper areas. As we climbed higher we noticed a real change in temperature as the thermometer took a sharp dive.


On the top of Colle San Bernardo we were surprised that the huge restaurant and tourist hotel were abandoned and vandalised. Obviously they were also victims of the new pay roads. It wasn’t the nicest spots to stop but the views of the rows of mountains was great.

It must’ve been snowing somewhere close because boy was it cold. The low clouds over the surrounding mountains looked pretty ominous and as Colle San Bernardo is 963 metres high we decided it was time to move on.
Winding down from the pass we took it slowly as the road had a bit of undermining caused by rain and lots of cracking.

We passed the medieval town Borgo Cassario which looked absolutely beautiful so we took a little detour for a little look. Borgo Cassario looked like a great place to stay.

As we entered Garrassio we saw the sign pointing to Torino now read 120 kilometres to go. We’d ridden about 60 km’s up through the range and gone back 10 km’s. We also discovered the reason why it was so cold. Yes snow. It was everywhere, covering everything in a light frosting. The biggest industry in town was the saw mill and logs were piled high in the yard. With the cold weather it would be the most popular place too.
As we rode out of town the road sign to Torino read 130 km’s. We were just shaking our heads. Was it someones idea of a joke. Did someone do the old switcheroo on the signs or the council put the signs in the wrong place.

With lots of signs pointing to Torino and the satnav confirming we were heading in the right direction we headed on.

On the road towards Ceva it was obvious where the Tanaro River had broken its banks. Trees along the river were pushed over and uprooted. Areas of farming land adjacent the river were covered in muddy silt. In the news report Ceva was inundated with floodwater and in the region 400 people had to be rescued. It was probably a good thing to spend a few more days here and there. The roads would’ve been tricky to get through. Some of the farmers will have work to do once the mud dries out properly to clear it from around their fruit trees.
As we passed out of Ceva we saw lots of empty warehouses for lease. It seems Ceva must make money out of storage facilities and distribution. Although there were a lot of vacant warehouses there were still some newly constructed.

Due to its location they must be profitable otherwise they wouldn’t be still building. Another profitable business must be quarrying stone. In every town there was a large quarry crushing river stone and sand. they must be doing a roaring trade as the councils rebuild flood affected roads. With still 60 km’s to go we decided to take a break at the brightest green lunch bar in Italy. It was definitely a colour you don’t see in nature.

It was a locals bar which obviously never saw tourists. We’d arrived just in time for their lunch special. The waitress explained their menu spitting out words like she was paid by the word not the hour. We were struggling to pick up all the words in Italian and our blank stares probably made it worse. I picked up some words which were similar to Spanish so I worked out that sausages and chips were an option. From the next table a young guy every now and then would look up and translate a word into english. Eventually we got there and food was starting to arrive. Firstly a small square of egg and ham in pastry, then came the pasta. I had carbonara and Michele spaghetti with tomato and herbs. The final course was sausages and chips for me and fish bake for Michele. We finished it off with coffee with the whole meal costing just €10 each. Gotta love these smaller places.

After lunch the weather soon started closing in and by the time we reached Bra thick fog blanketed the area. Trees and forests looked eerie in the fog. By this stage the temperature had dropped to 3degrees and the wind chill was even less. Despite the fog and cold there were still a few prostitutes sitting on plastic chairs in laybys. It came as quite a surprise to see them here and there. They must’ve been freezing.
We hit reserve tank about 10 kilometres from the city which gave us a chance to replace the satnav cord as by this stage the satnav had gone flat.


Once we reached Torino the temperature rose a little as the buildings stopped the cold wind. Riding through the city we were amazed at the wide tree lined boulevards and magnificent buildings. Torino’s architecture is compared with Paris and Vienna which is easy to see why. We wound our way through cobbled streets until we found the hotel. It’s only a few kilometres from the city centre so it should be close enough to explore over the next few days.

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