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Italy

An Italian Cyclist's Top Tips for Biking in Italy

Posted on Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Story by: Ken Lovering | Travel Writer

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Many Italians—especially the ones sporting bike shorts and patriotic red, white, and green jerseys—will tell you that cycling was invented in Italy. By some accounts, this is true. But it was a French bicycle that made its debut here, in 1867. A year later, manufacturers in Northern Italy got in on the two-wheeled craze and the bicycle culture has been booming ever since.

It’s probably why riders feel so at home here, whether winding their way among the soaring Dolomites or pedaling along the coast of Puglia. Italian cyclist Marco Michelini, who oversees the maintenance and deployment of VBT’s bicycle fleet from his tiny Tuscan village of Lamporecchio, explains: “For Italians, biking is the second national sport after soccer. But it is the first for thousands of riders. This makes Italy very bicycle friendly.”

Expect a Warm Welcome from Italy’s Cycling Culture

That unique brand of cycle-centered Italian hospitality greets cyclists at every turn. “It’s common for local riders to pass you by, nod their head to you, and say hello with a quick ‘Salve!’ before pedaling off,” Marco says. You might even come upon large groups or a pro team training together. Sometimes you can hear them before you see them, the hum of their tires and gears growing louder as they approach. “It is really glorious to see them all fly by as one massive group,” Marco explains.

Even small, old-world villages embrace a cycling culture. Most country roads deliver you to a charming villaggio and its main square, where residents gather to shop, mingle in front of the church, and linger over a panino and espresso at an outdoor café. “If you arrive on two wheels, you automatically get a warm welcome and wonderful conversations follow!” Marco continues.

You’ll Have More Fun on the Secondary Roads

The most rewarding way for cyclists to soak in Italy’s legendary landscapes and famously rich cultures is to follow its secondary roads. “There is very little traffic and you can enjoy the vistas more,” Marco says. “VBT has mastered finding the perfect routes that are sure to bring you close to Italian culture, and to Italy’s bicycling culture.”

Marco’s biggest tip is to embrace the relaxed Italian pace of living. Remember that getting off the bike to chat with locals deepens your experience and makes you feel part of the community. Letting up on the pedals to coast allows you to marvel at those storied vistas. And stopping for gelato? Well, that’s the most Italian thing any cyclist could do.

Marco’s Top Cycling Regions in Italy

For a classic Italian backdrop, head to Tuscany. Here, VBT’s routes roll over the dreamy cypress-lined lanes of your dreams. You’ll notice that life is slower here, so you’ll want to set your pace to the local rhythm. Take your time exploring breathtaking vistas of medieval hill towns, silvery olive groves, lush vineyards, and seaside and lakeside splendor with the same pleasure you would take sipping Chianti. And, oh yes, you’ll have lots of opportunities to sip Chianti! Marco adds one more point: “History is everywhere in Tuscany, and you should pause often enough so you can explore and absorb it fully.”

For some of the most dramatic landscapes you’re ever likely to ride into, you can’t miss the Dolomites. Soaring massifs and snow-capped peaks surround you here. You might not be able to believe you’re pedaling your way through this alpine wonderland. “I highly recommend this region for its picture-perfect postcard views,” says Marco. “Our routes wind their way through valleys and along the base of the mountains, so it’s easy riding.” Of course, for more avid and experienced riders, VBT can point you toward the more challenging routes where you might encounter like-minded Italian cyclists out for a good workout.

Marco recommends Piedmont and Liguria for cyclists whose passion for riding is equaled by their love of food—though we think that describes all of us! Piedmontese cuisine is tied to the origin of the “Slow Food” movement. And Liguria is the birthplace of pesto, long prepared here with some of the world’s finest olive oil. It’s lovely to pedal your way through a Barolo morning past farmland and villages, knowing that a freshly sourced lunch of delicacies waits for you, including the region’s famed truffles. “But there’s no rush,” Marco insists in the true “Slow Food” spirit. This Northwestern region is equal parts rolling farmland and scenic seaside: Stunning coastal routes lead to Sanremo, the finish line for the Milan-Sanremo cycling race, where you’ll feel right at home on your two wheels.

Speaking of coastal rides, there’s more unrivalled cycling in Puglia, on the heel of Italy. This is where Italians live by the rhythm of the tides; to take it in like a local, enjoy leisurely spins with magnificent sea views for miles – and even leave your bike behind to explore the narrow lanes of charming medieval towns by foot. “Don’t hesitate to stop for a chat with local Apulians,” Marco suggests, whether along several stretches of VBT’s seaside route, or in the town of Alberobello, home to the area’s famous whitewashed, conical-roofed structures known as trulli. You’ll find the locals’ smiles to be as warm as the Adriatic sun.

Sicily, too, is a cyclist’s dream. Few places combine a distinctly Mediterranean past, magnificently unspoiled landscapes, unique cuisine based on a rich agrarian tradition, and the chance to trade your bike shorts for a swimsuit. As you cycle one of the world’s most historic islands, you’ll want to pause here and there at scenic overlooks to take in the endless patchwork of limestone hills, rocky plateaus, and stone-carved cities—a canvas dappled with carob and olive trees unfolding to the sea. “And be sure to soak in the atmosphere and stop to talk with locals,” says Marco. They’ll tell you about all that is uniquely Sicilian: ancient in its history, hearty in its cuisine, and independent in its spirit.

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