Day 26 From South Tirol to Engadin
Starting point: Vezzano
Distance: About 310 kilometers
The morning meal, I consumed together with two American families that were visiting Carla's place as well. The breakfast did not have much of an Italian flavor. Rather it was a full home-made type of meal. I had a soft-boiled egg, home-made apricot marmalade, ham and cheese. Carla even prepared freshly backed apple pie.
A very friendly place, a sort of grandma´s place. Carla's habit was to eat egg yolk with olive oil and salt. I had never heard about such a combination. I tried and I really liked it.
I was back on the road around noon. Similar to the previous day, I did not drive through the most comfortable express roads, but the curvy, located in high altitudes, mountain ones. The northernmost Italian province deeply charmed me with its people, landscapes, traditions, and mixed language. My host, and many people I met in the region were communicating in either Italian, German, or a combination of these two, creating a unique South Tyrol direct. Despite Mussolini's attempt to "Italianize" inhabitants and forbidding German language, the locals remained faithful to their Austrio-Hungerian roots, and even nowadays Italian language is spoken by only a minority. In fact, the Italian spear fisherman, who I met on the ferry to Livarno, was a language teacher in one of Bolzano's schools educating german-speaking kids about Italian culture and literature. After several hours of chilled out riding, I arrived to Merano, where I had a short break. The city is located next to a via Claudia Augusta road which was built at the request of Octavian August's Roman Emperor about 2000 years ago and it was the only Alpine road connecting Verona with Germania.
After 50 kilometers of driving in traffic, the road split and one continued as via Octavian August, nowadays knows as the Reschen pass, and the other connected to the Stelvio pass, my main goal for that day.
Stelvio Pass has gained special attention after the famous TV show "Top Gear" named it as one of the best driving roads in Europe. The road, with a length of 28 kilometers and a maximum gradient of 12 percent, containing 48 numbered bends with an elevation difference of over 1,870 meters, leads to the top from the west side. The number of each bend is marked on a stone. From the east side, it has 21.5 kilometers with 39 bends, an average gradient of 7.1 percent and a difference in height of 1,533 meters. It is an engineering masterpiece that had a strategic importance in the 19th century as it provided the only connection between Tyrol and Lombardy, that belonged to Austria at that time. Nowadays, what it offers is only aesthetic impressions. The right passage starts in Gomagoi. From this village, I could admire a sight of the second highest peak in the Ötztal Alps - Weisskugel (3739 m). The first view on the magnificent Ortler massif range, with the highest peak of 3905 m, and into the valley situated around Trafoi. It offers a gorgeous scenery on Trafoier Eiswand and Untere Ortlerferner. After overcoming the hairpin challenge, I reached the top of the Stelvio pass, from where, overlooking the northern side, I could adore Dreisprechenspitze (Peak of the Three Languages) mountain, which, until 1919, was the international tripoint of Italy, Switzerland and Austria-Hungary.
At the top, I stopped for an hour break for shopping and eating. There was neither risotto, nor spaghetti but "sauerkraut mit wurst" (sour cabbage with a sausage). I was still in Italy, but just a few meters from the Swiss border and a few kilometers from the Austrian one. There was not much of Italian culture around. The place was very crowded. Each person who made it to the top was taking selfies of themselves. I took some as well. The parking lots were full of motorcycles. Every now and then, a new tired cyclist was happily arriving to the top. Each restaurant was full of tourist speaking all possible languages.
I was relatively late because it was after 5:00 pm when had I arrived, and by the time I left the place, the sunset was reminding me about the time which was rapidly passing. Despite a suggestion I received from a friend to drive back to Switzerland via Umbrialpass, I drove down to Bormio completing the Stelvio Pass entirely. If I would have time, I would have tried to drive through the pass in the opposite direction as well. Although I don't consider the road as the second best driving/motorcycling road in the world, the scenery that it offers is definitely worth the time a person needs to spend travelling there.
From Bormio, I think I took the least interesting way of driving back to Switzerland. I had three options at least. The first was to go back, and drive via the Umbrialpass and, through Zemes and Samedan, arrive at Pontresina. The second option was to take a mountain road through Foscagno Pass which connects Bormio with Livigno, and later continue via the Bermina Pass. Until today, I think that, from the scenic point of view, that would have been the most rewarding connection. The third and the last option was to aim at the Swiss-Italian border next to Tirano, and driving deep in a valley on the road between mountain ranges, arrive at Pontresina. Because the sun was behind the mountains and the valley was not receiving much of sunlight, it got quite cold. As the evening matured, I could see heavy rainy clouds slowly approaching the region. It looked like the weather forecast was, sadly, accurate. My host had a guesthouse located high in Bernina pass surrounded by mountains, whose peaks were still covered with snow and, hence, winds reaching the area were freezing cold. It was still not completely dark when I arrived to my host's place, but the cold and wind had made me very tired and I wanted, as soon as possible, to find a place to warm up my shivering hands. I was welcomed by a lady who was hosting me that day. The place was prepared for all type of mountain visitors: hikers, skiers, mountain cyclist, and motorcyclist. It was offering a cozy and warm spot in a beautiful, high altitude cold region (ca 2000 m). After being asked if I was traveling for a long time, I shortly explained that the next day was the last day of a month of travel. I was not eager to speak much but keen to get a large cup of hot herbal tea with a spoon of sweet warming honey. The liquid worked like a balsam and while drinking I was thinking about the journey.
The next day, I would be at home.