Wednesday, August 13, 2014

July 15th: Valdidentro to Pontresina


From Tour of the Alps 2014
Under clear skies and a warm sun we headed up the pass towards Passo Foscagno, which would lead us into the community of Livigno. Livigno was special because it had somehow gotten dispensation to do away with the need to pay VAT tax, essentially making the entire region a duty-free zone.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The place might be tax free, but the entrance pass was definitely unimpressive except for a customs office. There's at most a 200 meter dips, a bunch of galleries, and a tunnel and you end up at Passo Eira, which was a fairly trivial climb. The road between the two passes, however, had tons of duty free stores, so we stopped at a duty free supermarket to buy some lunch and duty free chocolate.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The drop into Livigno proper brought us a series of hairpin turns, and ended with a straight shot descent into the valley. There, we left to busy main road for a few kilometers and got onto a bike path with great views and plentiful picnic areas for a lunch stop.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

After being suitably refreshed, we got back onto the main road again and began the climb up to Forcola di Livigno, our last pass in Italy for this trip. That was a straightforward climb, though with 5 galleries we were thankful for the light traffic. Livigno in the summer was clearly a popular home base for day cyclists, and we saw teams of cyclists all dressed in the same outfits going up and down the pass. At the top, we took a pass photo for a couple of women who'd ridden from Silvaplana, the other side of the Bernina pass and on the way to Julier pass. They described a "run-swim" event, in which you'd do a trail run, jump into a river and swim, and rinse and repeat several times, so that you were always wearing running shoes and a wet suit.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Pass Forcola di Livigno, we crossed into Switzerland and immediately headed up the last stretch of the climb to Bernina pass. "Now the roads will be better but the food will be worse!" said Arturo. To punish him, the gods declared that there would be road construction! It was a little bumpy, but that wasn't the issue. The issue was that you got this sticky adhesive on your tires, which would pick up little stones and rock debris, making this really annoying noise as you ride. I joked that as a result of this adhesive, my tires were getting thicker at the end of the tour rather than thinner.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

You can always know you're getting into Switzerland because of how pretty the scenery gets. The approach to Bernina is as good as it gets, but we found the pass itself disappointing. The OCD had played up how pretty the pass was, and Arturo had originally pushed for a stay at the pass proper, but one look at the place and he said, "Let's go some place else." We still had plenty of daylight left, so we decided to descend a bit before deciding on a place. I was willing to push ahead and ride over Julier pass today, so we could have a 5 pass day, but Arturo wanted an easier day.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The descent was very fast, with straight lines and very gentle curves, so I was very pleased to find myself catching and passing the Bernina Express train on the descent. That was, until I got to the railroad crossing and found that despite the train being stopped at a train station, the Swiss had decreed that no mere cyclist would be allowed to have that much of an advantage over a train with the name "Express" in it. I contemplated jumping the crossing, but this being Switzerland, there would be no doubt consequences. So after waiting, we descended to a place where we could have chocolate and contemplate our lodging choices.
I knew from past experience that the St. Moritz youth hostel was no bargain ("There are no youth hostels worth the price in Switzerland," declared Arturo), and St. Moritz was too expensive otherwise. That left Silvaplana and Pontresina. After calling around, we discovered that Pontresina had a sport hotel that was somewhat reasonable. We were experiencing the sticker shock that any cyclist riding into Switzerland from Austria or Italy did upon first encountering Swiss prices.

The sport hotel in Pontresina was on the main drag. I'd always hiked past the Pontresina train station before, and had never visited downtown and was surprised by how pretty it was. I'd lost a multi-tool the day before, so took this as an opportunity to pay exorbitant Swiss prices for a multi-tool. The hotel turned out to be rather luxurious, with a spa, sauna, Jacuzzi, and outdoor deck on the top floor where we were placed because despite booking an economy room they'd run out of those and had to give us a luxury room. We availed ourselves of the facilities. Dinner was not included, but a quick TripAdvisor search yielded us the best restaurant in town at Hotel Muller.

The hotel offered a 7 course dinner, an Arturo was dubious, given that we hadn't done quite that much riding today. But a glance at the menu told me that this was still going to be insufficient food, so I talked him into going for it. The food was good, but it took all night, going from 7:00pm till 10:00pm. Arturo proclaimed it the best meal of the trip so far, but for me, it was lacking a certain amount of quantity. Nevertheless, I slept well and did not wake up starving, so it wasn't too bad.

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