Morcote - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

October 16, 2018

Morcote

Another country today!  We’re compiling a nice list, the longest we’ve ever run up on a tour before.  Four weeks in Croatia, a few hours in Bosnia, a few hours in Slovenia, a few weeks in Italy, an hour in Austria, and now a night in Switzerland!

Today’s ride begins with a ferry ride to Menaggio - the same way it did the last two days.  We left Varenna in the same state we arrived last night - by nearly missing the ferry.  We’re both prone to last minute diversions, and are chronically rushing at the last minute to get to movies or events.  I’m the worst though, and today was on me.  We had all the time in world to get ready, but somehow didn’t check out until about ten minutes before ferry departure - ten minutes to pay the bill, get our bikes from the garage, load them up, coast three blocks to the ferry terminal, and buy tickets.  No problem!  They were boarding when we arrived, but it was a bit early - we had to stand around on board for at least a minute before the boat finally left the dock.

One of the benefits of staying here for several days has been seeing the lake and mountains under different conditions. This mountain hovering over Menaggio has looked beautiful and quite different on all three days.
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Today’s route bikes due west from Menaggio, over a low saddle that separates Lake Como’s basin from Lake Lugano’s.  You could ride the main road west, on which the traffic isn’t too bad; but vastly better is the well marked bike route to Porlezza, the small resort town on the easternmost point of Lake Lugano.  It starts out rather steeply on an unpaved path, but it tapers off soon enough and is a pleasant climb.  The whole ride to Porlezza is great really, going back and forth in the usual mix of paved and unpaved lanes connected by a few short dedicated bike paths.  Some of the nicest riding in the region.

We arrive in Porlezza in time for lunch.  Rachael picks up a couple of warm sandwiches from the store and we enjoy them sitting in the sun on a bench by the lake, enjoying a fantastic view of the lake spreading west, its northern shore penned in by sheer cliffs.  

We’re on the quiet road out of town, the Menaggio-Porlezza cycle path.
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Climbing our way west from Menaggio, crossing the low divide that separates Lake Como and Lake Lugano
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The slopes above Menaggio are blanketed with elegant and well tended estates.
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This short, unlit tunnel has a dogleg shape, and is very dark for a short distance at the crook in the middle. We both dismounted and walked carefully until we saw the light again.
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Over the top, we begin the gradual descent to Lake Piano. With the exception of a few brief stretches where we cross the highway, the entire ride to Porlezzo is as quiet and pleasant as this.
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Just east of Lake Piano we drop through a bed of Zorzino Limestone. An information panel explains the formation, and its dark coloring that is the result of hypersaline water from shallow evaporating ponds. Or something like that.
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Lake Piano, an attractive oasis and protected natural area
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The villages east of Lake Piano
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East of Lake Piano
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Looking across the northeast tip of Lake Lugano, from Porlezza. Our ride from here is the road follows the foot of that massive cliff. It’s a very quiet road - all of the traffic goes on the main route, as it passes beneath the mountain through a long tunnel.
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After lunch, the ride continues to be beautiful for a few miles yet.  We follow the old road along the north shore at the base of those enormous cliffs, while all the traffic plows right through them in a fairly new tunnel.  These miles are especially dramatic as we round a series of slight bends and are awed by a new section of the cliffs coming into view.

At one pullout we stop to linger over the view, and a sociable older guy with decent English strikes up a conversation.  He lives here, up above the town, bikes a bit himself (as most people here do I imagine).  He wants to know where we’re from, why the tiny wheels, and especially how we happened to find this place in particular which he regards as little known but one of the prettiest places in Europe.  Also, he wants to know where we’re headed for tonight.  Morcote, we tell him; and he looks just a bit unimpressed.  A nice enough place, but too busy and touristy.  That surprises me, because it looks so tiny on the map - I just found it by looking for a reasonable stopover.

Looking back at Porlezza, a small town on the northeastern end of Lake Lugano.
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A short but dramatic ride beneath the cliffs west of Porlezza
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After another mile, the fun ends.  The highway comes back out of the tunnel, the side road disappears, and we’re mixing it up with the traffic again all the way to the city of Lugano.  Not bad, but not great - a bit like the rides along Lake Como.

A new country!
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In Lugano, along its ritzy waterfront. We could have stopped here for a real visit, but just biked through. You can’t see everything.
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Looking across the lake to Monte Bre. You can see here our route to arrive here: we reached the lake at Porlezza, which is at the most distant point of the lake; and then biked along its northern (left in the photo) shore, beneath the mountain.
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Beyond Lugano, we consider detouring along the south side of the lake for a few miles to lengthen the ride, but decide to just head for our hotel in Morcote and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the village and taking a hike.

I’m out of time and getting behind, so I’ll stop here.  Morcote is a great place though - not busy, in spite of what we’ve heard, beautifully situated, with an amazing network of lanes and staircases rising straight up the cliff behind it.  A great stopover,

Dinner though is something else.  One, it’s pretty expensive, since this is Switzerland.  Suddenly the price of everything seems doubled.  And, it’s a blowout - the portions are huge, and we barely make a dent.  If we’d known, we could have split a salad and an entree and still been well full.  Good thing we have a longer ride ahead of us tomorrow.

Built against and into a steep hillside, Morcote is a pretty amazing little place. Nearly all of its streets look either like this or are steep staircases.
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In Morcote
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Looking across Lake Lugano to Brusino on the opposite shore
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He’s got his eye on me! Seconds after I took this shot, I briefly took my own eyes off him, and he disappeared. I love the rear feet - he’s like a horizontal moorhen.
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Bill ShaneyfeltAnother lizard! Nice it sat still long enough to snap a shot. Great picture!

I have seen European wall lizards in Cincinnati, OH, only about an hour's drive (a day's bike ride) south of us in Dayton. Here is a link to an article on them.

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2017/08/31/they-came-italy-now-they-outnumber-us-all/591532001/
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1 month ago
Looking from one of Morcote’s alleys to the lake.
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The slope above Morcote is riddled with staircases, narrow lanes and hiking trails. It’s a wonderful place to walk. You only have to go up a few hundred stairs to attain some wonderful views.
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Rachael and I went our separate ways hiking above Morcote. She went up much high than I did, climbing a gazillion stairs and 1,900 feet in three miles. This panorama across Lake Lugano is our reward.
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The Morcote elementary school. I would have flunked out if I grew up here - I’d have my eyes out the window the whole time I was in class.
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Looking across the roofs of Morcote
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Morcote and the villages on the opposite shore are service by a seasonal ferry. It puts in at Morcote right beneath our hotel room window.
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In Morcote
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The commercial district (restaurants, gelaterias, a few shops) line the waterfront on this narrow, covered strip. The overlying hotels run right to the road’s edge.
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Two boats, two ducks, and gull number four
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Gull number 6
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Ride stats today: 27 miles, 1,500’

Today's ride: 27 miles (43 km)
Total: 1,580 miles (2,543 km)

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