22.8.14

Cycling in Italy: Ala to Passo Fittanze della Sega, via Sdruzzina (35kms)

A rooftop view from the balcony of our apartment
at ai Vellutai.
Sadly there for only one night – at our contemporary accommodation at ai Vellutai, Ala was another warm and delightfully interesting place to stay.

Nestled in the southern part of the Lagarina Valley, its stone portals and streets, as well as its typical Italian palazzos (palaces), dating back to the 17th century, give it a distinct medieval flavour. A once thriving market town, it has also achieved worldwide fame - since the 18th century - as a leader of weaving arts of velvet and silk.

Similarly to the night before, in Levico Terme, we were fortunate enough to witness the town in the midst of its summer festivities. A balmy Sunday evening, its narrow inner streets were lined with colourfully decorated stalls selling a variety of home-grown produce. Still hailed as the ‘City of Velvet’, an abundance of expensive silk scarves and other items of clothing were on display.

Accompanying festivities were the medieval costumes worn by many of the townspeople. Some simply stayed seated behind their stalls, while others roamed with the crowd offering wine tastings and examples of the local cuisine. There was a musical performance on stage in front of one of the palazzos and even two guys dressed as Jack Sparrow-type-pirates performed the proverbial fire-eating trick. Even more fascinating were the witches on stilts. Their faces expressionless and caked in make-up, they moved ungainly through the streets of town; all the time to the most hauntingly sinister sound of music we’ve ever heard. Evocative, it was a performance we’ll remember.

The war memorial at the top of the pass.
 Another experience I’m bound to remember was my final climb in Italy, the Passo Fittanze della Sega, which lies only a short distance from Ala. Almost 14 kilometres long and with an 8.8% average gradient, it’s what you’d call a brute of a climb with an easier approach to a magnificent summit.

The climb up Passo Fittanze virtually assaults you the moment you turn left onto the SS11 road from Sdruzzina. Narrow at first, with a couple of villas straddling the roadside, the tarmac soon widens and rises, as high as 20%, through beautiful woodland. Dissipating, before re-emerging again, the shade is the only friend you have until you reach a flat 600 metre section of road, almost half-way up the pass.

Rising again, even more steeply than before, my eight kilometre per hour speed around the road’s relentless hairpins was a sobering reminder of what, up until now, had been a very formidable climb. With a height of only 1,378 metres, it might seem a dwarf compared to its northern colleagues, Gavia, Stelvio and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. But there’s no disputing the pass's steeper average gradient, made all the more daunting when you factor in its more gentile approach to the summit.

Leaving the steep forest slopes behind, the lush, green meadows of Sega di Ala appeared for the very first time. Only four kilometres of road left to travel, I couldn’t think of a better climax to my last climb in Italy – this time. With the gradient easing off and in full view of Monte Lessini’s spectacular summit to the east, the strain of the previous 90 minutes had all but dissipated.
             
A far cry from Passo Stelvio’s marketable summit, there was nothing at the top of the pass, apart from Roz, who as usual, had walked up the last three kilometres, a small bar and eatery, and a war memorial to the fallen soldiers of the 1st and 2nd World Wars. A peaceful resting place, with hardly a person in sight – save for the handful of German motorcyclists sharing a conversation over a beer – it seemed just the appropriate place to finish my cycling sojourn in Northern Italy.