The sun was already quite high in the sky as I opened my eyes, maps, bike shoes and backpacks lay strewn across the floor. Our bikes were snuggled into the space between the bed and the window in the tiny hotel room. The hotel had no bike storage so we snuck our bikes up to our room to ensure that they too had a safe nights sleep. As we walked down for breakfast the excitement of the day that lay ahead was starting to overflow. The plan had come together 36 hours earlier as the weekend rolled around once again we were looking for somewhere new to explore. 
Ticino was looking like an option with the weather and the area around Locarno/Ascona was an area where we had not done much exploring before. One tour popped up and looked promising but when I examined it further on the map it turned out that the route involved a 1100m climb with only 500m of the descent being on singletrail. Not quite the statistics that we are looking for here at SAA. 
A quick look at the map and we noticed a cable car going from Verdasio to Rasa which could gift us 400m of altitude gain, Google informed us that the cable car would let us take bikes and a further look at the map came up with an option for a 100% singletrail tour from Rasa to Losone. Things were definitely looking up! 
Two people, two bikes and not much room for anything else.
After a hearty breakfast we retrieved our bikes from the room and gently pedalled our way up the main road through the Centovalli from Cavigliano to Verdasio. The entire building that housed the lift to Rasa was not much bigger than some of the cabins that take people to the more touristy areas of the Alps. With our bikes in and us squeezed in behind the cable car pulled out of the station and was almost instantly hanging precipitously over a 200m gorge. 

Looking from the valley station up towards Rasa. The gorge is not immediately evident until the cable car pulls out of the station. 

I’m not great with heights at the best of times but this tiny gondola hanging almost 200m over the river below left me feeling quite uneasy. I forced myself to look ahead at the approaching hillside and soon the distance between our feet and the hillside below became a little more palatable. Rasa is the last inhabited village in Ticino that can only be accessed by cable car and stepping off the cable car at the top feels almost like stepping back in time.

Rasa, a postbox, a church, a few houses and not much else.

Rasa is nestled into the hillside on a sunny terrace overlooking the Centovalli. and boasts a permanent population of approximately 20 people. We didn’t spot any shops, not even a village store (I could be wrong though) but there are apparently a couple of guest houses amongst the few houses there. Looking around we really did feel like we were in the village that time forgot. The only modern item we saw was the quite new looking bright yellow post box.

Riding up Rasa’s main street.

After a quick look around we jumped on our bikes and started climbing towards Monti. We had 400m of at times quite steep and technical ascent to get to the ridge at 1300m which would afford us our first view out of the Centovalli and onto Lago Maggiore. After a short distance my legs and lungs were already burning as I slowly ground my way up the trail. We rode past Monti and on to Termine. Between Monti and Termine there are a few short sections where the trail turns downwards which provides a welcome break for the legs and gave us a nice taste of what we might expect once we started descending the other side of the ridge.

Looking back towards the village of Rasa
The apparently abandoned village of Monti.

At Termine we veered right and kept riding (sometimes pushing) south-eastwards up towards the ridge (Pt 1306). For fit and skilled riders the climb is almost all ridable. It provides just the right balance of technical and cardiovascular challenge to keep it interesting but it is rare that I have experienced such a long and consistently technical climb. I found myself regularly gasping for air as I pushed a little harder to get over the next obstacle with very few places to settle down into a smooth climbing rhythm. A couple of groups passed us going the opposite direction following the tour which we had seen online.

Between Monti and Termine the trail has a couple of short and fun descents.
As we arrived at the pass we rode through a clearing past Casone and on towards the Hamlet of Survi. The trail started off very narrow as it traversed the hillside through the clearing but soon we got into the woods, started to point gently downhill and became everything we travel to Ticino to find. roots, loam and corners came one after the other after the concentration and effort of the climb it felt like a release to drop the saddle and now let my bike do what it does best. As our muscles gradually relaxed into downhill mode smiles beamed across our faces. 
The traverse before the descent.

The trail kept going on it’s plunge towards the valley floor at Losone. Sometimes incredibly flowy, sometimes a little more technical but all completely ridable. We passed through the Hamlets of Cortone and Alp Zat with the kinds of grins on our faces which could have probably had us committed if we’d been in civilisation.

Singletrail perfection. 

Just before Alp Zat we stayed left and the trail got noticeably more technical. Steps, tighter turns and more rocks crept into the trail and suddenly we were forced to concentrate once again. The trail weaved it’s way past some rocky outcrops before flattening out on and following the river down to San Giorgio (Losone).

The view over Locarno and Ascona.
Tighter turns with steps below Alp Zat.

Some of the last trail features just before San Giorgio. 

Once down in Losone we gently pedalled back to Locarno for a celebratory pizza by the lake before getting the train back through the Gotthard tunnel to the real world on the other side. The Rasa tour was definitely etched firmly in our memories. It was so much all wrapped up into one. It had been a day of everything that is good about mountain biking. Technical challenges, ups, downs, flow, tech and smiles. We had taken a gamble on throwing a tour we found online on it’s head and going against the normal flow. What we experienced was a day to remember and proof that it’s when you don’t follow the crowd and try to do things a little bit different that you find something that is just a little bit more special.

Looking forward to more adventures like this in the the coming months.

Swiss Alpine Adventure


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