Great Italian cycle tours by regionPosted on May 25, 2014
When you think of Italy you naturally think of the culture, the food, the wine, the amazing architecture, the history and did we mention the food?
But there’s another element of Italian culture that’s deeply embedded in the national psyche and that’s cycling. Italians have always loved the bicycle as a mode of transport, be it on a gleaming carbon road bike or a rusty old hybrid and this affection for the mode of transport makes cycling holidays in Italy a hugely enjoyable and welcoming experience.
There are many reasons why Italians have become so attached to their bikes. Italy’s long and proud succession of road cycling champions has definitely played a part and heroes like Fausto Coppi, the ‘champion of champions’ – is just one example . Such icons have made Italian cycling fans some of the most passionate and knowledgeable in the world. Then there’s the long-standing role of the humble bicycle as transport of choice for the large rural population. Wherever it all comes from, one thing’s for sure – cyclists are very welcome in Italy, from a peloton of weekend warriors streaking by to leisure cyclists pootling along enjoying the scenery.
So we’ve established that Italy is a great place for a cycling holiday but its a big country so where to go? The options are almost as varied as the opinions you’ll hear if you ask a group of Italians to name their favourite dish or football team. To make sense of it all, it’s really best to think of Italy as a series of distinct regions. After all, they only came together to create one unified country towards the end of the 19th century and each has its own unique flavour and appeal.
Piedmont and the north west
Outside of the ski season north west Italy is a little quieter than some neighboring regions but it’s a hotbed for cycling and a great choice also for a gastronomic cycling tour thanks to region’s well deserved reputation for mouth watering cuisine. The region borders Alpine France and Switzerland and besides Italian you’re also likely to hear locals conversing in their Piedmontese dialect or even the ancient Occitan language as both are spoken widely in these parts.
The regional capital Turin is a major economic and cultural centre, and will often feature as the gateway to the region, but it’s the rural towns and cities that draw cycle tourers. Piedmont promises some magnificent mountain scenery and elegant, ‘north European’ atmosphere not found further south. Piedmont Cycling Holidays are certainly going to be a bit hillier than in some other parts of the country, but the challenges are well rewarded by the views and sense of achievement. The local cusine is revered throughout Italy with many dishes featuring locally sourced delicacies such as truffles and the internationally famous gorgonzola cheese.
South Tyrol, Lombardy and the lakes
The South Tyrol in northern Italy was once part of Austria and the residents of this alpine province speak both German and Italian. Their towns and villages share German and Italian names and some say the region is a utopian combination of Teutonic organisation and Italian cooking. National stereotyping apart, everyone agrees the region’s stunning scenery and fresh alpine air make the perfect combination for a rewarding cycling holiday.
You might think the cycling in such a mountainous area would be quite tough but many routes start high up on the Brenner pass in Bolzano and then gently descend ever downwards to the plains in the south. The most popular cycle tour options in these parts include Bolzano to Verona and Bolzano to Venice, both of which include visits to spectacular Lake Garda. You can also choose to start these tours from the cathedral like Dolomites or just over the border in the Austrian city of Innsbruck.
A little further south, but still firmly in northern Italy, is Lombardy, the richest region of Italy. The region incorporates some of Italy’s most famous and picturesque lakes and is home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other region in the world. This is a truly special part of Italy, with fine cycling, great regional cuisine, superb wines, plenty of historic cities and idyllic lakeside towns. The Italian Lakes Cycle Tour showcases many of the highlights of this wonderful area taking riders from Lake Garda to Lake Como and finally Lake Maggiore.
Venice, Veneto and the north east
Venice, also known as ‘La Serenissima’ (the most Serene) is surely one of the world’s most fascinating and unique cities in the world. While cycling in Venice itself is limited the surrounding area offers an abundance of fantastic cycle routes which can be combined with a visit to the grand old city. For instance on a Venetian Cycle Break you can cycle along the islands that protect Venice from the open sea including the famous Lido which hosts the well known film festival each September and was the setting for Thomas Mann’s famous novel, Death in Venice.
Longer, 7 night Venetian Cycle Tours venture into the surrounding Veneto countryside leading you to historic cities like Treviso, Bassano del Grappa (where the infamous digestif was first created), and the gorgeous renaissance cities of Vicenza and Padua.
There’s also a very popular cycle cruise that operates between Venice and Mantua following the course of the mighty Po river as it wends its way to the Adriatic Sea.
Finally, its also possible to venture even further afield and cycle from Venice to Porec in Croatia. This linear route leads you around the northern Adriatic coastline through Trieste, along the Slovenien coast and down the Istrian peninsula to the pretty town of Porec. From here there is the potential to switch seamlessly to a Cycle Tour of Istria or you can catch the fast ferry back across the Adriatic to Venice.
Tuscany, Umbria and central Italy
When most people think of Italy they probably have a vision of Tuscany or Umbria in their mind. These two regions make up a huge swathe of central Italy and are home to some of the most sublime scenery and beautiful settlements anywhere in the country. Dotted with ancient hilltop towns and covered in rolling, cypress tree punctuated countryside, cycling in Tuscany and Umbria is a wonderful experience that everyone should enjoy at some point in their cycling life.
Most cycle tours in Tuscany take in Florence, home to a treasure trove of art and culture. Pisa to Florence is a popular route leading you on a gentle loop from the scene of the world’s most famous case of subsidence, through exquisite towns, rich in renaissance and baroque splendour, including of course Florence herself.
The gorgeous hillside town of Assisi is the start point for a wide choice of Umbria Cycle Tours. There are quite a few options to choose from depending on your ability level and how much time you have to spare but regardless of which you opt for you can rest assured the route will lead you through idyllic countryside dotted with storybook villages, vinyards and fields of sunflowers.
The Bay of Naples, Amalfi coast and Sardinia
Moving further south the Bay of Naples has been attracting visitors for centuries – millennia even. It’s an area rich in archaeology and Roman ruins, not least the fascinating remains at Pompeii in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
That’s not all there is to the region, however, and the whole bay and wider Amalfi Coast offer many highlights to the leisure cyclist. The Amalfi Coast Bike and Boat has to be one of the best ways to explore this stunning coastline as besides enjoying sensational views from both land and sea, you also get to explore the beautiful islands of Capri and Ischia as well.
If island cycling holidays appeal then Sardinia should definitely be on your shortlist. A rugged coastline interspersed with great beaches and beautiful villages will appeal to many but you’ll need to be reasonably fit as the island is quite hilly and each hilltop view will have been hard earned.
Apulia and the south east
Heading into southern Italy proper you’ll notice a subtle difference taking place. First off, it’s hotter, drier and more rural. The pace of life is noticeably slower and more relaxed.
Apulia, aka the heel of italy, is a great choice for a get-away-from-it-all holiday in the sun. Think olive groves and age-old vineyards, beautiful, sun-bleached medieval villages, remarkable Roman remains and breathtaking views across the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts. If you’ve done the more obvious Italian destinations then an Apulia Cycle Tour will certainly not disappoint. Go in spring or late summer/autumn for the best cycling weather.
Sicily is the Mediterranean’s largest island and attracts high volumes of cycle tourers each year. Forget the lazy stereotypes you might have got from watching The Godfather, Sicily is a wonderful, friendly destination, packed full of amazing baroque cities and the most stunning scenery. It is home to really diverse scenery from the smouldering Mount Etna to the nature-filled Hyblean Mountains and a wild and rugged coastline. The ancient, man-made sights aren’t to shabby either and the stunning baroque towns are a joy to explore. The cycle tour around Mount Etna is definitely one to consider or, if the Baroque towns appeal more, maybe consider the South East Cycling Holiday
La dolce vita on two wheels
So what are you waiting for? Italy really has it all, and with so much variety you’re bound to find a cycle tour that appeals. Browse all our Italian cycling tours and get inspired to enjoy the good life on two wheels.