Our Features Editor, Harriet Chubb, goes on the ultimate Italian cycling holiday, and it wasn’t quite what she expected
Sore knees. An affliction I am currently nursing due to my 6 day cycling holiday across northern Italy. But notwithstanding this momentary pain and difficulty negotiating stairs, and in spite of seriously underestimating what a challenge this holiday was to be, yes, although romantic visions of straw hats, summer dresses and vintage bikes were quashed, and regardless of the fact that my boyfriend has never heard me complain so much in such a condensed amount of time – I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Flying into Venice, we boarded two different trains that, 5 hours of the day later, finally brought us to land in Bolzano – the capital of the Alps, our starting point. It was this bullet-speed journey that we would be embarking on ourselves the very next day and as the hills and mountains whizzed by at colossal pace it dawned on us that this may be more than just a casual bike ride with the occasional spot of lunch.
Evidently fancying himself the next Wiggins, it was my boyfriend who finally decided on our tour from the Macs Adventure website; ‘Bolzano to Venice’. With an average distance of approx either 40Km or 70Km a day (or 80Km if one day you cant find your hotel…) it was not one of the easiest on the site but equally, it certainly wasn’t one of the hardest. There are a plethora of tours to choose from, all catering for various different levels, capabilities and destinations. We settled on Italy and this particular route as it had diverse scenery and a particular highlight was a boat trip across stunning Lake Garda. Our main attraction for choosing Macs Adventures however is that all of their holidays are self-guided, no garish group colours, no vast, lengthy briefings, and most importantly no people. There were even stretches of mountain roads where we did not see a single soul let alone another cyclist. Bliss. Another wonderful attribute and great appeal about their holiday’s and service is the luggage collection and drops to and from every hotel, leaving you unencumbered for the epic day’s journey ahead.
Staying at the Park Hotel Luna Mondschein on the first night of our holiday was idyllic. A gorgeous hotel situated right in the heart of Bolzano, think large windows, wooden shutters, and enormous beds all doused in a generous helping of Italian, baroque charm. Thankfully it set the scene for other hotels we stayed in throughout the duration of our trip – some were more functional than others but all were clearly picked for their popularity and charm.
Incredibly 8000 cyclists pass through Bolzano and its surrounding areas every single day so venturing off on the first morning we didn’t feel at all out of place, joining the throngs easily as we made our way through the bustling town to the meandering river. It is here that we realised how poorly the UK attempt cycle paths. The cycle path we took led us on a 70km ride to our next destination; Trento. The paths are beautifully maintained and utterly devoid of any traffic – the road in parts is a distant sight as you snake through vineyards and orchards, cementing my theory that the alps are just as beautiful, if not more so, in summer than they are in winter. It took no time at all to get used to the brilliant hybrid bikes that were provided by Eurobike, a partner of Macs Adventures, with useful saddle bags for water and sweets (essential for maintaining your sugar levels) and a front box to handily stow all directions/maps.
A confession – pre-departure I was nervous as to how the navigation would reveal itself between us. Would the stress of finding that left hand turning or the pain of re-living that last 20km be the demise of our relationship? So I decided, most sensibly, to extract myself from the proceedings – thus relieving me from any mistakes I inevitably would have made. I needn’t have worried in the slightest. Eurobike take this stress entirely out of the trip by plastering the whole route with little ‘E’ signs as shown below that are constantly keeping you on the right track. In fact, once you had picked up the right trial in any city, it was plain sailing for the rest of the day enabling you to really enjoy the actual cycling. Genius.
On day 3 we finally arrived, after a tough 300m climb and a wonderfully long descent, into Lake Garda. A truly buzzing, chic, contemporary town with its many docks for sailing and pontoons for swimming – the lake was a welcome sight after an arduous hot ride and had we not a boat to catch you would have found us headfirst. If you can, do try to leave a few hours to do just this and to explore the town, before catching the four hour boat over to Sirmione, a truly tranquil and special experience.
Overall our trip took us over 350km of northern Italy; from Bolzano – Trento – Sirmione – Verona – Vicenza – Abano Terme and eventually to Venice, where the route ended poetically at the train station where we had once started. Though It wasn’t just these places that we were lucky enough to visit, we passed through numerous towns and villages along the way, stopping for a much needed Coke or quick lunch. When it comes to eating, don’t stop halfway through and take a long lazy lunch, filling up on pasta and pizza. With the distance and the heat it is more advisable to stop little and often for water and sweet breaks and when you do stop for lunch, keep it snappy and something light – otherwise your adrenaline crashes and it’s much, much harder to carry on. I speak from naïve experience:
As previously mentioned, this wasn’t an easy or a tough route – but for essentially a beginner cyclist like me, it was notably hard in sections. The route was mostly flat which was a relief, however there were one or two days described as ‘undulating’ in the guidebook. I wouldn’t so much call this undulating as ‘hilly’. In the 40 degree heat an 800 metre steep climb certainly dashes any hope of looking or being romantic, this was also the same for the 4km 300m climb we found ourselves amidst on the 5th day through the Medici hills – the toughest section of the entire route. And although I did not find myself wearing a pretty summer dress and a straw hat whizzing through the Italian countryside next to my handsome boyfriend, what I did find was a huge sense of pride and that’s why I would recommend this type of holiday to anyone. The great sense of achievement that you feel after finishing each day was immense and fuelled many a fun evening in each town or city. We certainly may not have seen each other looking our best (think padded pants, sweaty old t-shirts and caps) but we did experience the best of each other and that’s worth any struggle up a hill.
Before I leave you with that sentimental nonsense though, I must impart my most important piece of advice entitled:
Clothing & Equipment
- Do not (as pictured above) attempt to wear a straw hat to keep the sun off your face or to look stylish. Within the first kilometre I ditched said hat and replaced it with a shiny, new, ever-practical cap given to us (and at first disregarded) by the lovely people at Eurobike. Thanks Eurobike.
- Do not even contemplate survival without some real cycling gear. You are sometimes on the road for 6 hours a day and are required to do exactly the same the next day, your bum will hurt, and that’s even with padded shorts. Luckily a few days before our trip after previously denying any such clothing would reach my body I saw sense and got my hands on a brilliant Rapha racing women’s cycling bib. It kept me pain free and looked good as well – what more could I have asked for? I also added a Rapha jersey which amazingly in the heat kept me cool as well covered to avoid sunburn.
- Pack plenty of sun cream, you will need a lot more than you think. And don’t use anything but Factor 50.
- Do pack a small, cloth handbag that can easily be stowed in the bike saddle bags – you will need it to put your valuables in Å you leave your bikes somewhere to explore. The one pictured above is from Rapha – it was their delightful packaging of my gear. Very useful.
- Do ask Macs Adventure for any clothing or equipment advice, they are experts in all of the trips and destinations come rain or shine and will be able to suggest ways to kit yourselves out efficiently.
What I wore:
Women’s Classic Bib Shorts, £150 and Souplesse Jersey, navy, £125: Both available from www.rapha.cc
H&H TRAVEL DETAILS:
Distance: 6 Days Cycling
Duration: 7 Nights
Availability: 4th April – 12th October
Price: From £610 which includes all accommodation, luggage transfer from hotel-to-hotel each day, breakfast, maps and route plans.
Flights/rail to and from starting point are not included, but Macs Adventure team can advise best value travel options at the time of booking. Bike hire can also be arranged as an option.
Macs Adventure has more than 50 different cycling trips, which can all be tailor made according to level of fitness.
Macs Adventure: www.macsadventure.com 0141 530 1950