It has taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that there are no hills in the Milan area. It's all a bit ironic really because when I was in London I used to spend time, effort and money putting my bike on a flight to come to Italy to ride my bike or do a cycling holiday to improve my biking and hill climbing.
I felt that the hills in the UK just weren't challenging enough, and coming to Italy would be so much better, and even more scenic. But here I am, living in a part of Italy that has no hills apart from one man-made mound near San Siro football stadium.
I would even say that my hill climbing and fitness went decidedly downhill as a result of me only pounding the flatlands of the province of Milan.
I can definitely say that London is a better place to be for finding hills (and other types of cycling). The Kent and Surrey hills are very easy to get to, and you can even do hills just on your commute to work by bicycle. The place is actually quite pretty, and if you don't want to ride on the road there is off-road stuff you can do, as well as riding the velodrome.
Anyway, here I am in Milan so I have to find some hills. As I find hills to ride I will note them down here.
The first area that I have found which I quite enjoy cycling in is Brianza. It's a scenic area between Monza and Lake Como that has rolling hills with quaint villages and lots of chapels. It essentially consists of two long ridges. So if you want to get from Monza to the Como you have to cross two chains of hills. Within those chains there are various climbs to do. They remind me of some of the climbs in England because they can be really steep with gradients of up to 15%, and some of the hills hardly have any switchbacks. You get your money's worth of hill climbing!
I rode this area a few weeks ago, while there was still quite alot of snow around. The roads were clear so they were still rideable. It was pretty scenic, if a little cold.
You can ride straight to these places from Milan, though it means it's a 20-mile meander through dull flatlands. The initial stage along the Naviglio Martesana to Cernusco sul Naviglio is pretty, but then you have to put up with industrial estates and out-of-town shopping centres all the way to Monza. If you have time, why not ride there and enjoy all that Milan has to offer, landscapewise!
Unfortunately, I tend to be pushed for time, so I generally catch the train to a place called Arcore, one stop after Monza. It's a small town so is not too busy. There are a few supermarkets, cafes and a bike shop so you can stop there if you need any provisions before heading into the countryside.
From there, head onwards to Usmate where you feel yourself having to change to an easy gear. The road is on a false flat - and it is even continuing to go uphill. It is a strange feeling for me if I have spent all your time riding around Milan province!
There is some pleasant woodland to enjoy, and when I look above me I see a hill in the distance with a church on the top. That is Montevecchia, and that's where I am headed. How the hell will I get up there? Scary thought! The answer comes when I reach the crossroads in Montevecchia village, and I have to follow the signs for Montevecchia Sopra. Immediately after the crossroads the road climbs steeply and I get out of the saddle to give myself that extra push to get over the climb. It's tough, but just when I wonder how long the gradient will be I see the road levelling off and I feel a certain amount of relief! It's worth stopping to enjoy the views of the pretty terraced farmsteads around before leaving the road and dropping down to Valfredda.
After a short stint of off-road (strada bianca) through Valfredda I pass through some more pleasant woodland to reach Pianezzo. From there I cross another junction to take the climb up Colle Brianza. Feeling confident from having overcome the ramps of Montevecchia I feel ready to take on the signature climb of the area. This one is more of a challenge though. It lasts around 4 miles, and the switchbacks are of a relentless steepness. Near the top, I am working so hard I think I will explode! In fact, I even have to stop and have a breather, as I am so worn out I fear I won't be able to keep the bike in a straight line on the narrow road!
Once I reach the pizza restaurant the road levels off and I realise the really hard work is over. Thank Goodness!
From here the gradient is alot easier. Then just before Giovenzana the road drops downhill and it is a lovely descent to the other side, and I get my first view of the lakes. I am headed towards Pusiano, where the roads are flatter and I have a nice breather.
I ended my ride at Erba, but in fact it is possible to go up to places alike Canzo, and Sormano before heading south and finishing the ride in Como. The Canzo/Sormano route involves another long climb, more Alpine in style, with switchbacks and a gentle gradient. Alternatively, there is a route to Como that goes on an undulating road which also provides a good workout but without any particularly steep or long hill.
There are various options when in Brianza. In fact, it is possible to just stay in Brianza without going to Como and there are enough hills to keep you busy for half a day. These places are very pretty, peaceful, and easy to get to from the hustle and bustle of Milan. I hope to explore these hills more over the coming months, and as a result, get stronger!
I don't have a map of this route described, but this map here follows a similar route within Brianza, starting from Monza.
(The route goes to Monticello, though if you want to follow the route described in this blog post then follow the signs for Montevecchia when in Usmate. Also for Colle Brianza go towards Santa Maria Hoe from Pianezza and then follow via Risorgimento to do the challenging climb up to Giovenzana, and then down to Colle Brianza.)