Bormio — Extreme Mountain Town

By now, you’ve probably read about the two great rides we did from Bormio: both sides of the Stelvio and the Mortirolo/Gavia loop.  These are two of the greatest one-day rides I’ve ever done.

There are two more mega rides you can do from Bormio:

  • the four-pass glacier loop (Passo Bernina, Forcola di Livigno, Passo d’Eira, and Passo di Foscagno) and
  • Ajax’s Livigno tunnel loop (Passo di Foscagno, Passo d’Eira, tunnel into Switzerland, Ofenpass, Umbrail Pass)

plus loads of hiking and mountain biking options.

But what else does Bormio have to offer?

Like Cortina, Bormio is a great base camp for riding, hiking, and skiing, but Bormio has a bit of a different character.  Cortina is a bit of St. Moritz with glitzy shopping and an almost Disneyland-like feel to it.  Bormio is still authentic and undiscovered.

Bormio’s most charming feature is its old town.  Its cobbled streets are still in their original form.

Here’s another view of the cobbled streets, very close to the central square.

The old town has its share of great shopping — clothing, jewelery, housewares, kitchen accessories — as well as a great selection of restaurants serving up typical Italian, Tyrolean, and Valtellinese food.  My favorite gems are Enoteca Guanella (the wine store) and Latteria (the cheese store).

The Guanella family has been providing Bormio with fine wines for five generations.  Inside, multiple rooms showcase the big-name Italian wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco, an excellent collection of Grappas, fine bubbly from Prosecco, and rising local stars from Valtellina.

Anna Guanella here is holding a bottle of local Sfursat, which is the pinnacle of Valtellina wines.  This particular bottle won Italy’s highest honors for wine and has put Valtellina on the international wine map.  Great local Valtellina wines like Inferno, Sassella, and Grumello have been unknown to the wine-drinking public, so prices are reasonable, ranging from €7 to €12.  Due to its fame, Nino Negri’s 2004 Sfursat fetches a princely €44, though.  Now that Sfursat has put Valtellina in the spotlight, I’m hoping we might one day find these delicious wines in the USA.

With a nice bottle of wine, you’ll need some cheese, right?

Turns out Bormio has a charming cheese shop with an excellent selection of cheeses from both Valtellina and all over Italy.

Looking inside Latteria, we see local cheeses cut at the premises from whole rounds.

While visiting Latteria, I learned a secret of local Valtellinese cooking.  The star local dish “Pizzocheri” is made from a blend of two local cheeses, Casera Valtellina and Semigrasso.  Very few English-language Italian cookbooks even mention Pizzocheri.  Those that do direct you to use Taleggio or Fontina, which is about as close as you’re going to get.  I’ve known of Valtellina cheese for a long time and haven’t been able to find it in the USA.  Another client at Latteria explained to me that I shouldn’t feel bad; he lives in another region of Italy and can’t get it either.

So what IS Pizzocheri?

Pizzocheri is made from buckwheat tagliatelle (you have to make the noodles yourself from scratch), savoy cabbage, potatoes, sage, butter, and this very special local cheese.  It is absolutely delicious and I look forward to having it every time I visit Bormio.

Hungry?  Yes, my stomach is grumbling, too.  Having completed a big ride, I am STARVING.  Unfortunately, this is Italy and dinner isn’t served until 8 PM!  What can we do in the meantime???

Well, there is a nice Paninoteca (sandwich shop) in the old square, or maybe we should go get a beer.

Turns out, there is a thriving bar scene in Bormio.  Skiers drink like fish and Bormio is a year-round skiing destination.  The Italian ski team practices all summer long at the top of the glacier.  They must get really thirsty up there on the glacier.

Meanwhile, back in Bormio, Ajax’s favorite spot is right in the cobbled downtown, a short walk from our hotel.

Bar Bormio is a happening place with a big crowd every day.  Why is it so popular?  Happy hour is every day, which means free food for bike riders.  The food includes everything from Italian specialties such as eggplant with garlic and insalata caprese to American bar food such as buffalo wings.

While I mow down the buffet, Ajax and Rudy enjoy a glass of wine.

Of course, the bar serves up some nice mixed drinks, too.

Eventually, we’d better get to dinner, but we can’t help but pose in front of our favorite hangout before we head back to the hotel.

We’re staying in the wonderful Baiti dei Pini, which means “little hut in the pines” or something like that.

Baiti dei Pini is conveniently located, close to old town, right at the intersection of the roads to the Stelvio and the Gavia, and right across the street from a Gelateria.  Wow, do try the Gelato!  I loved the vanilla and pistacio flavors.  Rudy raved about the lemon.  Ajax missed the gelato because he was getting a massage.

Here’s a view of the dining room.  Yes, they let us in, believe it or not!

The kitchen can dish up some pretty mean cuisine.  I had roasted pork with potatoes.

And here’s our dessert.  I don’t remember what they called it in Italian, but to me it was a spiced apple cupcake (nicely presented of course).

Baiti dei Pini is friendly, too.  The hotel is family owned and our friend Nicola takes personal interest in the happiness of his guests, or at least us!  He’s an avid outdoorsman.  He knows all the local hiking trails, enjoys mountain biking, is an accomplished ski instructor, and is a joy to hang out with in the bar.

Well, that’s about it for Bormio.  Nobody knows about this place except cyclists and skiers, but Bormio is fun and has everything you could want in a base camp for climbing the big passes.

Bormio might just be my favorite town in all of Europe.  I’ve been visiting Bormio since 1991. (1991, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2011)  This ancient and authentic little village never loses its charm.

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avid cyclist and photographer
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4 Responses to Bormio — Extreme Mountain Town

  1. monika says:

    I know this place, and I’m neither cyclist nor skier. Quite the contrary. I’ve gotten lost once, when crossing the passo dello Stelvio, and took the road to Bormio. Presuming it would eventually turn, I continued, while the weather got really iffy. Fog, rain, you name it.
    Oh yes, and the road turned. But that was in Lombardia, and I had to drive about 150 km back around the mountains, to the town I was located in, which is about 20 km from Prado dello Stelvio. Hmm.
    You didn’t mention the mushrooms they collect everywhere there! Bormio is famous for them! Did you not eat any? Shame!
    Greets, Monika

  2. Steve says:

    We got back from the Dolomites last week, and I wanted to thank you again for the great blog — lots of practical information. We spent three nights in each of three towns (Bormio, Ortesei, Cortina), as well as two nights in Bellagio. As we left Cortina, 10 inches of snow fell on the Dolomites, so our timing was peferect!
    We rode the Mortirolo, Gavia, Stelvio (both sides), Foscagno, Sella Rhondo, Fedaia, Falzarego, Valparolo, Giau, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, San Pellegrino, Valles, etc. Your blog was very useful! Our goal was to ride every pass in the Dolomites over 2,000 meters, and I think we succeeded.

  3. Pingback: 2012 Giro d’Italia — Best Ever? | bikealps

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