Alpe d’Huez, Mortirolo, Passo Giau, Col du Tourmalet, the Stelvio – cycling is obsessed with major passes, but are they really the ultimate to-dos on your bike? More often than not these mythical climbs are overrun in the high season, transformed into an outdoor adventure park for the masses. So why not take a break from cycling convention? We headed to South Tyrol’s Sarentino Valley to see what life on two wheels can be like away from the tourist traps.

Michelin-starred dining, hellish downfalls, schnapps in mountain huts and devilishly tight lycra: we couldn’t have predicted the storyboard of our trip to the Sarentino Valley. In fact, so much happened in our short time there that we’ve split this story into bitesize chunks and spread it over several pages.

Hello Sarentino Valley!

The Sarn Valley, which is also known as the Sarntal or the Sarentino Valley, lies right in the heart of South Tyrol, but it’s strangely overlooked by tourists. It stretches northwards out of Bolzano for about 50 km, heading up the Passo di Pennes (Penser Joch) before dropping down the other side of the mountain towards the bottom of the Brenner Pass. It’s a tranquil valley that feels somewhat removed from reality – a state that is reflected in the lifestyle of the locals.

And action!

If we’re being honest, we hadn’t come to the Sarn Valley for a holiday; we were here to work. As part of our group test of endurance bikes, we wanted to answer the burning question of which bike is the best tool to conquer the Alps. We’d come to the right place. Passo di Pennes at 2,211 metres above sea level – which also goes by the name Penser Joch – not only provided the ultimate test conditions, but also dutifully served up the answer.

Accommodation came in the form of the sophisticated and well-equipped Gasthof Höllriegl in Sarnthein, which let us use their courtyard as the base for our group test. After pretty exhaustive test riding, we then had a few days at a more chilled pace with friends.

We’d like to give a huge thanks to locals Jürgen Pixner, Armin Gross, the Höllriegl family, Claudio Camin, as well as Katharina Gluderer and Walter Perkmann for all their help while we were in the area! Thank you.

Route suggestions:

The Jaufen loop: 155 km, 3,600 m
Sarnthein (through the new tunnel), Bolzano-Merano-Val Passiria (St. Leonhard), Jaufenpass, Sterzing, Penser Joch, Sarnthein.

Mendel-Gampen loop: 160 km, 3,400 m
Sarnthein, Bolzano (through the new tunnels), Kaltern, Passo Mendelo, Fondo, Gampen Pass, Lana, Bolzano, Sarnthein.

For part 2 head to Sarentino Valley, a forgotten road riding paradise? Part 2

For more information on the valley: sarntal.com. Further info on riding in South Tyrol: suedtirol.info.

Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Klaus Kneist, Noah Haxel, Robin Schmitt