This ended up being the toughest ride of my life, not because of distance or altitude, but because the roads go up and down the valleys like crazy and slowly wears you out. But if you like food, wine, ice cream, culture, spectacular roads, beautiful scenery and biking uphill, this is a fantastic deal!
It is often hard to say exactly where mountain ranges start and ends, but I looked at topographic maps of Italy and decided to fly to Genoa. A problem with biking a mountain range is that roads rarely stay up in the hills and go along the range. Instead the main roads are often down on the plains on both sides of the range, with various roads criss crossing over the range. The Apennines are very much like this. Planning the next day is a challenge, you end up biking way longer to stay in the hills.
The second day on my bike was somewhat the magnum opus of my biking career, as I biked 150 km over three passes, in total 4700 meters up, and took this photo.
Next day I experienced 18% uphill for the first time in my life at San Pellegrino in Alpe. According to this article it is one of the 10 toughest climbs in Europe, peaking at 25%. Not sure about that, but I totally agree that “the agony and insanity last for two kilometres”. It was too tough for me, so I pushed my bike for a km or so. I probably needed that humbling experience.
Next up was Florence, which is a must visit, so I stayed two nights. It is completely full of tourists, for a reason. They also have outstanding ice cream. I had Cassata Siciliana from Grom. Perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.
A few days later, to my utter surprise, I slowly approached what turned out to be Assisi, a huge monastery that looks like it was pulled right out of a Game of Thrones episode. Also shock full of tourists, no surprise.
My next destination was an area that a few months earlier had been hit by a 6.2 earthquake that killed 299 people. I saw several devastated villages, many roads and bridges were destroyed, and there were a lot of rescue personnel, police and military around.
At one point I was quite hungry and asked a policewoman if there was any café or restaurant nearby. Her response still makes me flushing red of shame, “I’m sorry sir, this is a disaster area, there are no cafés nearby”. Ahem. Hungry and humbled I finally rolled into L’Aquila, where there were open restaurants and hotels. Credit Card Touring is incredible, but don’t be a privileged idiot like me that day, expecting service to be available everywhere.
Next up was Lago Barrea, a most unreal sight.
A few days later I came to San Martino Valle Caudina and decided to go up and through the hills to Santuario di Montevergine.
The rest of that day was pure magic! The road was very steep, sometimes at 11%, and I had to sit down to keep enough weight on my back wheel, preventing it from sliding on the old leaves covering the road. Then it somewhat leveled out and I biked straight into the clouds. Any moment I expected Sir Lancelot to emerge out of the mists of Avalon, challenging me to a duel.
Eventually I arrived at the monastery, and from there it was insane switchbacks down to Avellino.
In the evening it felt as if I had just won an Olympic gold medal. What on earth was left for me to do? I settled for another excellent ice cream.
The rest of my ride was arduous. Finding a reasonable road along the Apennines turned harder and harder, and I ended up riding through Parco Nazionale del Cilento. It is quite desolate, the roads go straight up and straight down the hills, making them very hard to climb and dangerous to go down. The road surface was often badly broken concrete. There were barely any cafés or restaurants, so after some deliberation I gave up on the Apennines and rolled down to the Mediterranean ocean. The next few days were stretches of gorgeous scenery between boring flat areas.
When I finally arrived in Villa San Giovanni by the Messina Strait, I was mentally and physically exhausted and had felt lonely the last few days. Two full weeks of biking wears you down, I should have had more resting days.
Tour details (grading from 1 to 5)
- Time of year: March to October
- Difficulty: 3 (but a few days are 4)
- Duration: 2 weeks
- Scenery: 3
- Comments: Make sure your trip doesn’t collide with the Giro d’Italia