Ken Roberts - - Bicycling

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southern Italy : Nov 2005

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 05nov29:

subject: TR incorrect exploring southern Italy

Sharon and I tried a November trip to Rome and southern Italy. I put some photos up at

Trip Report: We found some pretty rides, and lots of fun non-riding stuff like walking around ancient + modern cities, hiking to mountain villages, and finding rather good food without looking for it. We toured in our usual "incorrect" way, using a rental car to carry our tandem bicycle to the best cycling roads on the best weather days -- and doing other things on wet or windy days (which are to be expected in November). We often used ideas from the book Cycling Italy, by Ethan Gelber et al (Lonely Planet, 2003), which had earlier given us some good recommendations for northwestern Italy.

Bicycling highlights:

  • Amalfi coast: prettiest bicycling road in the world?

  • riding Rome city streets slightly downhill was exhilarating.

  • riding around crater lakes north of Rome was pretty.

  • Gargano has a good "sea + hills" ride.

  • farm country of "the Murge" near Bari looks promising.

Details below.


Amalfi coast road - -

Such a great ride through such spectacular terrain calls for a separate post of its own. The road cut into the steep hills and cliffs for such a sustained distance, with the sea directly below. Dramatic rocks beside and above. Pretty villages set into the hills, with narrow passages to explore on foot. Big views across the bay to mountains beyond.

The Amalfi coast is the southwest of Naples (Napoli) and west of Salerno, and faces south toward the water of the Gulf of Salerno. We rode from the city of Sorrento east to the city of Salerno, going thru the villages of Massa Lubrense, Termini, Positano, Praiano, Amalfi, Maiori, etc. Definitely hilly, but mostly not steep. We rode it in a day, because that was the window of good weather. Next time we'd hope to spend two or three days, spend more time exploring the villages, do a hike up into the hills.

The problem with bicycling the Amalfi coast is that we have not yet heard of a good way to make it part of a loop route. So we did it as a one-way ride and used trains to shuttle between Salerno and Sorrento.

Rome city and two Appian Ways to the Colli Albani hills - -

We started at our hotel in the Aurelia section on the west side of Rome, rode across the city of Rome and out east on the Via Appia Antica -- the old "Appian Way" road from two thousand years ago -- and climbed up into the Albani hills to Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residence of the Pope. Then we rode back down to Rome on the Via Appia Nuovo -- the new "Appian Way" road (SS 7) -- and across the city again to finish at our hotel.

I remembered learning of the "Appian Way" from textbooks in high school. The idea of riding it came from the Lonely Planet Cycling Italy guidebook. There's still some of the big original pavement-stones in some sections, and the guidebook rightly warned about the difficulty of riding on them. But most of the other sections of the old Way were covered with the modern cobblestones, which are smaller -- but which are not fast and not fun for riding -- and we did not find any guidebook warning about them. So we were glad when the old Via Appia ended and we got our wheels onto the mostly-smooth asphalt surface of modern Italian roads outside cities.

The guidebook suggested taking the train back to Rome after climbing into the Colli Albani hills and seeing the lake and villages. But we figured we surely had _earned_ the fun of some downhill riding. So after lunch in Castel Gandolfo, we aimed west back to Rome, and had lots of fun spinning our pedals on the smooth surface of the SS7 highway (where we saw other cyclists). Later we found that apart from a few moderate climbs, we were on a gentle downhill all the way to the Tiber River (Fiume Tevere) which runs thru the middle of Rome. So in that direction we could ride on the main city streets almost as fast as the cars (though not as fast as the motorscooters). We had lots of fun sprinting the start from a traffic light, out and in around a double-parked car, on the lookout for assertive pedestrians -- but always being predictable so that we didn't get mowed down by a motorscooter trying to squeeze past the cars.

Sharon says it was exciting and fun in the afternoon, but on the back of the tandem it was scary the first time thru the city in the morning. I think next time maybe we'll just ride arounde the villages and lakes in the Colli Albani area and minimize taking our tandem on the city streets (though I'd be glad to try more of the Rome streets riding a single bike, or on skates:

Lago di Bracciano - - Pretty and pleasant short (36 km) ride around the lake nearest to Rome (about 35 km northwest from the city). Less hilly than Bolsena -- actually I did it on skates, and saw several cyclists along the way.

Lago di Bolsena - - Lots of big views around a "crater" lake (with three islands) between Viterbo and Orvieto (pretty far north from Rome). Includes a +300m (+1000 vertical ft) climb up to the town of Montefiascone, and to avoid a few km of rough pavement we took a hillier variation around the west side, which required another two substantial climbs, rewarded by views on both sides of the ridge. Saw at least two other cyclists on a cloudy-rainy midweek day, which strikes me as a favorable indication of the quality of the ride. (Lago di Vico did not strike me as good for riding as Bolsena or Bracciano)

Gargano peninsula - -

Gargano is on the east coast of Italy in northern Puglia. I rode east and north along the Adriatic seacoast, the west and south through the interior hills. Good variety of great sea views with white limestone, olive trees, then interior woods and cow pastures. Rather hilly, though nothing was really steep, there's some long long moderate climbs, and not much flat -- took longer than I thought.

I went from Monte Sant'Angelo to Mattatani to only a ways past Vieste to around Spiaggia Scialmarino, didn't make it to Peschici, then returned inland thru Villagio Foresta Umbra to MtStA -- so about 126 km total loop.

  • lots of pretty sea views.

  • long descent east from Monte Sant'Angelo to Mattatani was pretty and mostly not very steep. I wouldn't have done this descent if I'd started in Manfredonia, so perhaps for best views next time I'd want to start in Monte Sant'Angelo -- or better yet near Mattantani, to do that pretty descent with the sun behind me in the afternoon.

  • side trip to Pugnochiuso was worth it -- more nice sea views, and actually does not add that much climbing work.

  • long climb from Spiaggia Scialmarino up to Villagio Foresta Umbra was not interesting enough for its length. It started nice in the farms and vineyards, continues nice into the woods -- just too much of it. It seemed to follow a creek intead of a ridge, so no views out to the side. Next time I'd hope to find some more interesting climb into the interior.

  • Next time I'd want to continue along the sea further north to try the climb up from west of Peschici -- Lonely Planet guidebook says that climb stays more on the ridge.

  • I got three flat tires (all punctures, not snake-bites) along the coast road. Perhaps it was from little shards on limestone. Consider brushing off tires frequently.

the Murge, near Bari - -

On a rainy day I drove my car to explore this farming region with gentle hills south of Bari in southern Puglia (toward the "heel" of the "boot" of Italy). Looked promising for visiting sometime with our tandem bicycle. Around the town of Alberobello are many old-style conical stone houses called "trulli" -- which are kinda nice -- but actually the region looked nice enough for riding even without them. The Lonely Planet cycling guidebook has a multi-day route thru this area.

Veneto, Italy : Sept 2005

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 05sep20:

subject:  lost in Veneto, Italy

Sharon and I spent a few days going out each riding each day and getting lost on the many wonderful roads of the Veneto region in northeastern Italy. It's hard for me to think of a more fun place to be lost on a bicycle. Not that we were afraid we wouldn't get back to our hotel by the end of the day. But many times we would arrive at some intersection of pretty roads and not be sure which one it was on our map. Fortunately there were usually lots of easy-to-read signs pointing to other named places. So we'd choose one of those names that was near where we were trying to get to, and that always worked out for us. Seems like in Veneto it's not critical to know exactly where you are.

We had spent a week riding in Tuscany (or "Toscana") once before, but we were excited by what we found in Veneto (and some of the adjoining areas of Sudtirol / Alto Adige), so Veneto is where we want to go back again for more riding. Here's why:

  • We found it easy to find a wide range of fun riding terrain in Veneto: from all flat to spectacular mountains, with lots of interesting foothills in between. Most of the good riding we tried in Tuscany was about hills (while "ancient hill towns" may be great for tourism, they're not necessarily much fun for bicycling -- e.g. riding from Radda in Chianti to Siena, with a ridiculously steep climb into the city of Siena, and then forced to climb one more hill to back to beds in Radda).

Veneto allowed us to choose our degree of hilliness. Like one day I went 60 km flat all day among the canals and farms of the Brenta river delta between Padova and Mestre, from gelato-shop to gelato-shop. Another day Sharon and I rode one of the most spectacular mountain loops of world, the "Sella Ronda" climbing and descending four high passes near Arabba and Canazei. Another day we got "lost" in smaller Colli Berici hills southwest of Vicenza, and I spent another day delightedly exploring the "pre-Alp" foothills between Vittorio Veneto and Valdobbiadene.

  • Veneto has lots of pretty vineyards and farms and hillside villages -- to us seemed at least as pretty as the best we saw in Tuscany.

  • Veneto had much fewer American tourists than we found in Tuscany (especially Chianti). I'm an American, and I like lots of Americans -- but seeing lots of them is not why I fly across an ocean. (Other bicyclists who want the comfort of hearing and speaking English might prefer Chianti -- but it escapes why an organized bicycle-tour group which is paying for English-speaking guide-leaders would need that). Of course Veneto had plenty of tourists around in early September, like any great region of Europe -- but most of them were German-speaking, which Sharon and I don't hear much in America.

  • We saw lots more local Italian people out riding their unfancy "utility" bicycles, not wearing any special bicycle clothing -- just going to meet friends at the bar, or shopping in town, or to get out in the sunshine with their children (who were either seated on the back of their mother's bike, or riding a bike of their own). Men in business suits and ties, women wearing dresses and spike heels. (I suspect this ties with the giant mass of flat land in Veneto.)

That's from our experience: I will gladly accept suggestions for better bicycling opportunities available in the Tuscany region. (e.g. one great ride which Veneto cannot replicate is the western half of the island of Elba, which however does fit the "hilly in Tuscany" pattern).

On this trip, we were following our usual "incorrect" style of bicycle touring -- with the support of our rental car. It was our observation that that's what most visiting European bicyclists were doing too -- and most of the Italians who want to ride the great mountain rides of the Dolomites, do it with their normal day-trip equipment (which can be pretty minimal). The number of riders we saw in the famous areas touring in the "correct" way, with full panniers unsupported by a motor vehicle, was surely less than 2%. On most of the famous mountain passes in the Dolomites, I saw roughly as many bikes going up and over them attached to cars as there were being powered by human muscles. So when we go to Europe, we're riding in the modern fun European way.

Warning for our fellow "incorrect" bicycle tourists: Italy (and perhaps other Euro countries) seems to have a law that if bicycles are being carried on a rack on the rear of a car, then there must be a big square marker-sign with diagonal red+white stripes over the bike (at least on the autostrada). We had brought our own car rack with us on the airplane, but did not have a marker-sign (because we didn't know about it), and then one rainy night we were confronted by the polizia at an autostrada rest stop and forced to pay a fine in cash, and required to immediately purchase a marker-sign (which just happened to be available for sale at that rest stop). So now we have one for future trips. The tricky step is to remember to bring heavy string to use to tie the marker-sign to our bicycle.


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