Bike touring in Italy
Italy instantly welcomed us with a beautiful biking trail. As we neared the end of our time cycling through Slovenia, we rode on the D2 past a village called Kranska Gora, a magical skiing town marking an informal border between the two countries, filled with cyclists.
Value for money (general living costs; more stars = better value): ★★☆☆☆
Road surfaces: ★★★★☆
Weather in July: ★★★★☆
Importance of speaking local language: ★★★☆☆
Railway track to cycle track
The mountains, called the FVG (Friuli Venezia Giulia) Alps, surrounding the bike path are spectacular and it truly was a warm welcome into what we found a friendly and cultured country.
The Adriatic Alp bike route, called the FVG1 is a smooth and relaxing ride. It made 80 km of riding on the first day feel like 20 km. Most of the route is a reconstructed railway track and as you whizz through tunnels and over bridges you almost feel like a passenger on an old steam train. At one point we rode over a lengthy bridge only to look down through the grating and were found to be following a vast river, flowing through the valley below. The tunnels are dark but with small LEDs wired into the curved roofs it makes the journey feel even more magical.
People in Italy
Throughout our three weeks bike touring in Italy we were treated like family by a lot of strangers. We were welcomed into homes, shown the true ways of pasta cooking and left alone to make their home feel like our own. On one of our first nights we met a lovely lady called Christine. She, her two brothers and mother spoke little English, but were impeccably friendly and warm towards two smelly strangers. We were cooked dinner – our first pasta dish in Italy – shown to theishowers and made breakfast the next day along with a few snacks to take with us. It was sad saying goodbye to Christine when she left for work the next morning.
Everyone we passed smiled and greeted us with “ciao”, we rarely struggled with finding someone to stay with and were always offered food, even occasionally a washing machine for the night! One stay with a couple in the mountains, just before our venture into France, was especially memorable and will always be in our hearts. Another family who were to catch a flight at 4am the next day still made every effort to make two bike tourers feel comfortable. They cooked dinner for us after they had already eaten and gave us a big cosy barn to sleep in. Some of the people we stayed with made this country very special to us. To give credit to them all, well, there aren’t enough pages on the internet.
Food in Italy
“What brand of pasta do you buy?” an Italian man, whom we are staying with asks.
“Just the cheapest one available” we reply, “It’s only 69 cents per kilogram”
The look of disgust on this man’s face was great enough to sculpture, we were handed Barilla (a well-known pasta brand in Europe), and told to use it for dinner.
From that day on my view on the world of pasta was changed. Sounds dramatic and pasta and pizza may be just the most common sterotype of Italy, but honestly, these people really do care about their food! We biked past endless lettuce, corn and risotto rice fields and it was refreshing to see the effort that was put into making Italy’s own produce. People in the countryside were passionate about growing vegetables and as a result many didn’t have enough garden space for our tent.
Venezia is one of Italy’s finest gems and that is the simplest way I can put it. We rose early on the 29th June to catch a bus into the old city.
Biking in Venice
Bike tourers, bare in mind that bikes are not allowed to be taken into Venice, it would be extremely difficult to bike around here anyway, but we were caught out the day before we planned to go when we were told we couldn’t even leave them just outside the city. The only option was to leave them beyond the bridge leading into Venice, in Mestre’s train station.
Obviously, it depends on the type of bike-tourer/person you are with trusting your bike to be safe at a train station for an entire day. But as panniers are so easy to remove and how attached we are to our own machines, we organised a last minute stay on Warmshowers with a host 15 km away from the city. To us, the safety of all our things and a place to stay after visiting Venice was well worth the expense of the bus and tram ride.
There was a huge cluster of people making their way in and out of the city, as we began walking through the throng of tourists and passing the town hall we were prisoners of map merchants and sellers of selfie sticks, we proudly waved our own in the air which seemed to work in deterring them.
Gelato, masks, Murano glass, pasta, pizza and souvenir shops burst their way onto the cobbled and small passageways of Venice. We explored countless jewellery and bag collections and were shocked to see 250 grams of pasta costing $6. Chuckling under our breaths at our $0.69 a kilogram stock.
The mask shops were by far my favourite thing in Venice, I had never seen anything of the like before, so many different characters, animals glittering and shimmering on displays and from the ceilings. Dated ballgowns and capes along with the more famous Venetian style masks were hung up in glory ready to be used when festival time arrives (Feburary – March). So much time has gone into creating such heavy and delicately designed features of fashion and it was incredible to see.
We both have friends in and around the area of Venice who made our visit even more memorable. Chris’s friend showed us her Venetian flat and cooked us a lovely lunch and mine shared her stories and facts about the historic city.
“I thought of myself being a postman in Venice. The passageways, bridges and small shops all labelled with 4 or 5 digit postcodes made me giggle. Delivery to 32165 labelled gelato would have me fired in no time.”
I would say you need a full day to explore Venice, and a good pair of shoes. It is easy to get lost, but to us that was all part of the fun. The different bridges, slanted buildings and steps will have you confused of your whereabouts but the time just dissapears as Venice has so much to offer the eyes. The only thing that lets it down, but much like every other famous place and nothing to blame the locals for, is the substantial amount of tourists that do come. They keep Venice alive, but I don’t think I could ever enjoy people holding up the path with big Nixon cameras, selfie sticks and ridiculously sized hats.
To mark our first month on the road we visited a city full of theatre, stories and romance – Verona. We walked round the main arena where Opera’s are performed and saw some randomly placed but brilliantly big set designs outside the Amphitheatre. We also visited ‘Casa le Guiliette‘, a small courtyard with a balcony that supposedly inspired Shakespeare when writing Romeo and Juliet. Just before the courtyard we were able to walk (alongside dozens of other people) past the arches of love, where two walls have been filled with love messages and couples stamps. A lovely idea, but again, nothing incredibly special when the place is just so crammed.
We’ll be back
It is difficult to comment fully on our experience as bike-tourers in Italy. As many people bike the Dolomite mountains or visit the southern region and these being places we didn’t bike my impressions will of course be different to others.
But there were certainly a few downsides to our time in Italy, one of them being some of the incredibly fast, flat roads which connect big towns. Find yourself on the wrong road and you’ll be wishing motor vehicles were never invented. Stating the obvious but we found ourselves on a few, so be careful of the cities! It seems cities for bike tourers are a nightmare. Motorways and busy road surround them, consume them. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you have to get out before rush hour.
Cities never seem ideal for the budget bike-tourer, because you are hungry for every food that you couldn’t bring yourself to pay so much for!
We enjoyed mainly flat land Italy, biking just below the Dolomites and well north of the southern regions. We figured that we have many, many mountains to endure and why not leave some things to come back for! It was a pleasure to cruise 100 km a day after Croatia and Slovenia’s hilly terrain and not be completely exhausted! We had much more interaction with local people in Italy and our confidence as bike tourers seemed to grow quickly here. We had our first ever Italian gelato and sorbet; Seaweed Semolina flavour, delicious! Alongside amazing hospitality, camping experiences and exploring the masses of old towns which were Italy’s real treats.