This is a very demanding 132 km loop that takes you into Switzerland and up some well-known climbs: Passo del Bernina, Passo Forcola di Livigno, Passo Eira and Passo del Foscagno.
It’s a loop that we’d adore, were it not for the traffic.
The scenery is spectacular and you should get some good pro spotting in (as lots of pro teams base themselves in Livigno). But you do need to be prepared for cars, trucks, coaches and motorbikes.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
Passo Del Bernina Loop: highlights
The final 4 kilometres of the Bernina Pass stood out for us. Much of the traffic that poured up the Bernina Pass turned off right to Italy, leaving us in relative peace to enjoy the mind-blowing scenery.
1. Bormio to Passo del Bernina: 0-73 km
You head south out of Bormio, along the SP27, a road that’s quite pleasant and one you’ll be familiar with if you’ve done our Mortirolo and Gavia loop. Make sure you don’t end up on the main road: the SS38 which is basically one long tunnel and would be a nightmare.
Roughly 39km after you leave Bormio, the gradual downhill descent you’ve been on ends and you head through the large town of Tirano. You turn right after the big church (Santuario della Madonna di Tirano – you can’t miss it!). This is where the 34km of the Bernina Pass climb begins. Try not to feel too daunted by the fact there’s about 1,900m of climbing ahead of you!
You ride away from Tirano, through the customs checkpoint at the Italy-Switzerland border. They didn’t seem too interested in people on bicycles, but bring your passport in case. It’s then an 8km climb (average gradient 7%) to Lago di Poschiavo.
There’s a flattish 8km around the lake and into Poschiavo. All this time you’ll have been skirting the famous Bernina railway line and you may indeed catch a glimpse of the famous red train. From Poschiavo the train tracks divert from the road and this is where the endless climb to the Bernina Pass begins!
It’s time to get stuck in: around 16km of consistently tough gradients await (average around 8%).
Hotel La Rosa
After the last village, San Carlo, you are into the woods of the Poschiavo valley. There are a few restaurants along the side of the road but otherwise it’s just trees, traffic and the never-ending road pointing upwards. As you pass the Hotel La Rosa, there’s around 6 km to the summit and the gradients reduce for about 700m. Catch your breath for the final push to the top. From here you get views of the very high peaks of the Bernina range.
2.5km after the Hotel La Rosa, you reach the fork for the Forcola pass (you’ll see a customs booth). The final 3 km are at an average over 8% around spectacular hairpins with views over the Poschiavo valley. When you reach the 2,323m summit, the road immediately descends towards the Lagh de la Cruseta. The climb to the Passo del Bernina is done!
Tip: We’ve been told that you can use the Bernina Express train to reach the Bernina Pass. You’d need to check about taking your bike on the train – if you can, you could cut off a good chunk of the slog up the Bernina and then continue on with the ride!
2. Bernina Pass to Passo Forcola di Livigno: 73-80 km
You drop back down to the turn off for Italy. From here to the summit of the 2,315m Passo Forcola di Livigno, it’s 4km at an average gradient around 6%.
The road is narrower than the Bernina Pass and takes you through a dramatic mountain valley, surrounded on each side by grey craggy peaks and glaciers.
You reach the summit of the Passo Forcola and cross the border back into Italy. There’s a café here should you need something to warm you up.
3. Passo Forcola di Livigno to Passo Eira: 80-101 km
From the top of Passo Forcola, it’s a long relatively straight descent down to Livigno. You lose around 500m in the 14km descent into town, but even in Livigno you’re still at 1,800m so you’ll want to be wearing some nice warm clothes.
Livigno is a slightly uninspiring-looking ski resort in winter and cycling hub in summer. The town’s nickname is Little Tibet (more on that below) and it’s the lure of high altitude training that attracts pro teams here. Livigno reputedly has the highest brewery in Europe!
Another unusual thing about Livigno are the numerous duty free shops and petrol stations. It’s as a result of the fact that in the past the village was cut off for seven months of the year and so was awarded tax-free status, which has remained until this day. A good place to stop for a cheeky beer?!
The Passo Eira climb
You cross a bridge and the climb up to Passo Eira begins. It’s around 6 km long with a 6.5% average gradient and roughly 10 hairpins. There are some nice views back down to Livigno.
There are a few shops and restaurants clustered around the summit, then it’s a fast straight descent down through semi-urban areas to Campaccio.
4. Passo Eira to Passo del Foscagno: 101-108 km
From Campaccio you climb for around 4 km (6% average gradient), through Trepalle (apparently the highest village in Europe) and up to the Passo Foscagno at 2,291 m (the third time you’ve crossed 2,000m today!).
The scenery is grand but, as we found so often on this ride, the traffic takes the edge off the beauty. This is the only way to get to Livignio without travelling through Switzerland and, unsurprisingly, it’s busy.
5. Passo del Foscagno to Bormio: 108-132 km
At the Foscagno Pass you go through customs again. No, you’re not dreaming – it’s due to the tax free status of Livigno. You pass through customs/border control crossing into Italy at the Passo Forcola di Livigno and then you go through customs here at the Passo di Foscagno.
From the summit it’s a 24km descent, dropping 1,000+m down to Bormio. The scenery at the start of the descent is very stark – there are no trees and it’s grey and rocky. A kilometre or so after you leave the Foscagno summit, there is a series of avalanche galleries – they’re open on one side though, so should be sufficiently light.
As you get lower you pass through pine and large woods and some small villages. The road is reasonably wide and you’ll soon find yourself back in Bormio. Let’s hope you remembered gloves for that long descent!
This is no journey into the uninhabited wilds of the Italian Alps.
For much of the ride shops and restaurants aren’t too far away. It is a long ride however so it would be wise to think about where you’re going to stop en route to ensure opening hours coincide with your arrival.
Tirano and Livigno are the two biggest towns en route and at 38 and 95 km in (respectively) would be good points for refuelling.
We rode from Bormio. You can find full information on where we stayed and what we thought of it in our ultimate guide to the Stelvio region for cyclists.
Read our tips for cycling in the Stelvio region before you set out.
You’ll need some decent cold weather kit for this ride. You’re riding around the 2,000m mark for a considerable time and at these kinds of altitudes, the weather can be unpredictable and savage, even in summer.
The other must-have item for this ride is your passport. Not getting into Switzerland (or getting stuck there) would be a right pain (to say the least).
Watch out for where the Bernina Express railway tracks cross the road. Obviously you need to avoid the train (!) and the tracks can be slippery. Cross perpendicular to the tracks to try and avoid mishap.
A bit of history:
Have you cycled this route?
We’d love to hear from you – comment below or drop us a line.
Don’t miss our other routes for this region: see the related rides section above which includes our guides to the Stelvio (from Prato), Stelvio (from Bormio), Umbrail Pass loop, Bernina Pass loop, Mortirolo and Gavia loop and Cancano lake.
You might also want to have a read about staying just over the border in St Moritz and riding the Bernina Pass from there.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the Stelvio region and other articles on the area, below.
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