• Distance 90 km
  • Elevation gain 1650m
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

This an out and back route that has the option of visiting the ski resort of Livingo (Italy) or the town of Poschiavo (Switzerland). There is something quite romantic about crossing a border on a bicycle, so we opted for the former. If you are after a ride with spectacular views, a border crossing and some iconic Swiss landscapes, then this is for you.

You will see amazing glaciers, cross the Bernina Pass (2,330m) and ride alongside the famous Bernina Express train. All this included in a not too challenging distance or amount of vertical gain.

All metrics in this article are approximate.

Route notes

Climb to the Bernina Pass

Depending on where you are based in the Engadin Valley, you will need to head up Hauptstrasse 29 towards Pontresina in the direction of Val Poschiavo. I was based in Silvaplana so had to ride up to St Moritz before making the turn onto the onto Hauptstrasse 29. The road can be a little busy with people going up to Pontresina, but after that the traffic thins out and the scenery becomes ever more picturesque.

The gradient is not too challenging, with an average from Pontresina to the top of the Passo del Bernina at a fairly mellow 3.5%, there are a few tougher sections, but the fresh air and views distract you. Before long you pass the Gondola station for the Diavolezza Ski Area.

The scenery starts to change as you emerge above the tree line and you will now be able to see the glaciers in full view. The road and railway of the famous Bernina Express follow similar routes up and you will often get glimpses of the iconic red train winding its way up the pass.

The next thing to look out for is the Lago Bianco a glacial fed lake that flows down both sides of the pass to  the Mediterranean and the Black Sea respectively. Once past the small cluster of buildings at the Ospizio Bernina the summit (2,330m) is not too far away. At the top, it’s time to pull over, take a rest and admire the stunning views.

Descent towards Italy

If you enjoy descending, this is where the fun begins as the road dives down the valley. The surface is good, but don’t get overconfident as there are some tight bends.

Before you know it you are at the point where it is decision time. You can turn off left to Livingo or head all the way down to Poschiavo, an old historic town in the Italian speaking region of Switzerland.

The desire to continue flying down is strong, but for me was held in check by the thought of “what goes down must go up”! This side of the pass is steeper and a lot more challenging than from the Engadin side.

I elected to pop into Italy and check out Livingo. There are two border posts and what appears to be a no man’s land in between the two crossings, both of which appeared to be unmanned and unbothered about people on bikes.

Into Livigno

From the first border post, the road rises up again following the valley up the Forcola di Livigno at an average of just under 6.5% to the second border post.

The top of the Forcola di Livigno is 2,315m and there is a café/restaurant where you can top up bottles and get some food if needed, before dropping down into Livingo.

Livingo is a tax free ski resort in the middle of a wide valley with ski pistes on both sides. Whilst not the most picturesque of alpine villages, there are a few attractive buildings, and the natural surroundings are very pretty.

I was time crunched, so filled up my bidons at a petrol garage and headed back up the way I had come to climb the Forcola di Livigno from the other side.

It is about an 11km climb with an average gradient of 4%. Keep your eyes open as you go through the galleries as the shadows hide a few of the holes and bumps in the road surface.

Back into Switzerland

In no time you are back at the border post and ready to swoop back down to Switzerland and the testing climb up the last section of the Bernina. From the junction, the ride back up to the top of the pass is a little testing with an average gradient of 8%, but it is relatively short at just under 4km.

Once you crest the Bernina the fun can begin and you can fly back down to the Engadin Valley below.

Tips

It is worth noting that I found the road surface in Italy was not as good as on the Swiss side. Also the descent has a few avalanche galleries (open sided tunnels to stop the road being cut off in heavy snow drifts). That said, when I rode it, it was still more than acceptable.

I’d advise riding with a rear light in case of bad weather and also so cars can pick you out in the gloom of the avalanche galleries.

 

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Patrick is a photographer by profession, but given half the chance he’d be out on his bike, exploring new places to ride, ideally in the sunshine.

Patrick has ridden in most of the popular destinations including Mallorca, the Canaries, parts of southern Spain, and a fair bit in France, Italy and Switzerland. A spirit of adventure and the desire to take beautiful photographs, (not to mention a love of sampling local pastries) always push him to ride around the next bend in the road.

Patrick has family in Switzerland and never misses an opportunity to take his bike when he goes to visit.

Find out more about Patrick on his website, business Instagram or cycling Instagram pages.

Last Reviewed: 03 March 2023

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