You’re on a Bormio cycling holiday. You’ve done the Passo dello Stelvio and are looking for an “easy” day. What should you do? The answer is the climb to Lago di Cancano and the Torri di Fraele.
The climb starts just a few kilometres north of Bormio and, by Italian Alps standards, has a relatively accessible 7% average gradient, climbing just under 700m over 9km.
The road takes you up a spectacular ladder of switchbacks guarded by the imposing Fraele towers. Beyond is the Cancano plateau and the milky blue waters of Lago di Cancano and Lago di San Giacomo, two artificial lakes separated by a dam that you can ride over.
If you want to extend your ride after the climb, there’s some excellent gravel riding around the lakes. You reach these once the asphalt turns into track, just after the Fraele Towers. Fancy it? Why not hire a gravel bike in town and ride Cancano on this? Or switch bikes at the top – there’s places you can hire bikes around the lake (more details below).
All metrics in this article are approximate.
Lago Di Cancano climb: highlights
As you’ll have seen from the banner photo, the view is mesmerising from the Fraele Towers: you look across the ladder of switchbacks to the Valtellina valley. A masterpiece of Italian construction-art!
Tip: get off your bike and walk up to the towers; otherwise you’ll miss the best view of the switchbacks.
We also found minimal traffic on the climb, which was great. The road was only paved in 2010 and there’s nothing but the hydroelectric lakes at the top, so the only traffic is outdoorsy tourists on walking/cycling excursions.
From the centre of Bormio, it’s around 5 km to the start of the climb. You’ve got two options for this: stay on the flatter main road (the SS301 towards Foscagno, via Mollina) or take the little road (via Premadio). The latter is quieter and more attractive, but includes a few hundred metres of steep 8-11% through Premadio.
Once on the climb, the first 2.5km are at an easy-going 5.5% average gradient. The road is pretty straight and you can’t yet see the switchbacks ahead. There’s a picnic area at around 4 km where you get some fab views.
The real climb begins with the hairpin bends – just a couple to start before you’re onto the full ladder. On the approach, you’re treated to some stunning views of the switchbacks and Fraele towers – more on their history below. It’s switchback after switchback (we counted 18) until you get to two short unlit tunnels (photo below) before the towers.
Nothing on the climb itself, but if you continue past the towers, there are a number of restaurants around the lake. The first you come to is Ristoro Monte Scale, a kilometre or so from the towers. The remaining restaurants are dotted around the tracks that encircle the lake: Ristoro San Giacomo and Ristoro Val Fraele.
We hired mountain bikes at the top of the pass and rode on to a simple but delicious lunch at Ristoro San Giacomo (more details below).
We rode to Lago di Cancano and the Torri di Fraele from our base in Bormio. You can find full details of where we stayed (and other options) in our ultimate guide to Bormio for cyclists.
Read our tips for cycling in Bormio and the Italian Alps before you set out.
When we did the Cancano climb, there was a lot of gravel and debris on the road – particularly on some of the switchbacks. Care is needed.
The tunnels are short but you may want lights.
It’s worth checking whether they’re holding a “Laghi di Cancano bike day”: in 2018 the climb was closed to motorised traffic on 6 July and 31 August.
We mentioned above that we hired mountain bikes at the summit. The hire place we used is based in the car park you’re directed to if you drive. If you’re alone and on a road bike it’s going to be a bit tricky getting there because it’s a gravel road. The bike hire arrangements are pretty low key – just a garage sort of building with various types of bike available but mainly e-bikes or mountain bikes. We were able to hire a mountain bike with a kids seat on the back, which was useful.
If you do fancy some gravel riding around the lakes, you can pick up a map from the Tourist Information centre in Bormio. As we were with kids, we didn’t get very far on our tour of the lakes; just to Ristoro San Giacomo around 6km from the car park. However, even that section was absolutely stunning and very enjoyable. It’s pretty flat (the elevation difference around the full loop is around 130m).
You may wonder about the history of the Torre di Fraele. These ancient towers were built at part of the system of fortifications designed to protect the area from frequent invasions. They were first built in 1391, were fortified in the 15th century and then mainly destroyed in 1513 by the invading Grisons. Apparently the cliff is called “burrone dei morti” – ravine of the dead…There’s more on the history of the towers here, but you’ll need to use Google Translate unless you speak Italian!
The road was once part of the ancient “salt and wine route” that connected Valtellina with Switzerland.
Have you ridden Laghi di Cancano?
We’d love to hear from you – comment below or drop us a line.
Don’t miss our other ride guides on this region: see the related rides section above and our guides to the Stelvio (from Bormio), Stelvio (from Prato), Umbrail Pass loop, Bernina Pass loop, Mortirolo, Gavia and Mortirolo and Gavia loop guide.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the Stelvio region and other articles, below.
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