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A Trip To Italy
September 1996

By Lucia Gomes, Sun, 27 Apr 1997 19:23:57 -0700
As we live quite far away, in Brazil, we (me and my boy-friend) decided to make a trip where the bike wouldn't be our only way of transportation - we also used a car, so that we could get to know more places the same trip. It was a very difficult decision, because all the Europeans told us to do everything on the bike even if we wouldn't go to too many places. I had a lot of help from the people from eurobike. We were basically in four areas: Lago di Garda, Toscana, the Amalfitan Coast and Sardegna. We have mountain-bikes - Trek 8000 and a Raleigh MT-500. We had off-road tires in Garda and slick tires in Tuscany.

Lago di Garda

First of all, we found very important to have a guidebook, which we didn't have, if you're not familiar with Garda. The information bureau will give some stuff on that, but nothing really reliable. There are lots and lots of trails there and it's very easy to get lost, or start in one and end up in another. Luckily, there were always other bikers who would give us informations. But I have the name of a very complete guide in this area: Moser Bike Guide - Garda See 3, from Elmer Moser, which is only available in German, as far as I know. Of course, there's no use in buying one if you're not going to spend some time there or if you're going there often. Anyway, if you can borrow it from someone, or make a copy of a few trails, or even get it in a library...

The north part of the lake is heaven for mountain-bikers of any level - there are trails for everyone. Undoubtedly, the most impressive thing is that you climb, climb and when you look back, the lake is there, which means you have very beautiful views all the time. And, on your way up, you pass by small villages where everybody waves at you. Or, when you're on a single track, uphill, and there's someone coming on the other way, downhill, they'll stop and let you try to make it all, and will even encourage you.

We were there only for 2 days of mountain-biking.

Lago di Tenno

On the first day, we went to Lago di Tenno, which we heard was beautiful. The lake itself is really very beautiful - the colour of the water is unbelievably green, it looks like a swimming pool. The area around the lake is very nice also, because there are many trees. So, as far as you're out of the pedestrian way close to the lake, you may have fun off trail. There are also many trails in this area. So, we got kind of lost, but someone helped us, and even if we didn't do the exact trail (we might have mixed more than one), it was fun. There's a little on road uphill, though, untill you get to Tenno.


On the second day, we've done one of the many trails of Monte Tremalzo, following all the recommendations we got from Andrea Caranti. And I'm very glad I did it on the second day, because it's really tough. I think I wouldn't be able to ride the bike next day. But it really worth the effort. When you leave Riva del Garda, you take the old road around the lake, which is a light and wonderfully beautiful uphill. After, it becomes a little more steeper, but still asphalt. Later on, it gets steeper and the pavement changes into stones. Further on, it becomes a singletrack - uphill, where I got off the bike often. We met some germans and another couple who were on the same direction as ours, so I felt better, because they helped us know we weren't lost. And I always had someone around. In the single track, I've seen my boy-friend only at the top, because he made it all without stopping, and I'm very proud of that! When we got at the top, and could see the sign Tremalzo, photo time! After that, of course the downhill. There was also another way, which was to continue on the same track for approximately 14 km to arrive to another lake, which name I don't remember, and then come back to the place we arrived on our downhill. It was another valley so beautiful - sorry I can't remember the name. I've lost all my maps and papers on our way back home; I only have small notes. Well we came from this little town in this other valley on the road untill we got to the same old road we went up. I could say in a few words that the Monte Tremalzo trail is a very tough one (steepness, pavement, technical), but with a great reward, which is its scenery. So, I really agree with Andrea - it's a must!


Getting to San Gimignano From Riva del Garda, we got back to the car and headed to Florence, with a stop in Verona. Of course, we got lots of traffic closer to Florence - the road was under construction. But, anyway, we got there later than we were supposed to and we had a little trouble to get in the center of the village with the car (that's where our hotel was). By the way, I highly recommend making reservations for a hotel in Florence no matter when you're going. I would say pretty much the same about San Gimignano and Siena. But, if you're going in September, as we did, reservations are a must, because it's high season in Tuscany! And we didn't know that, so it was kind of stressy on this matter. Back to the tour, I'd say, although it's tough to get in Florence, it's great to stay in the center - it's a pedestrian zone, with all the monuments right there, everything quite close. So, forget your bike while you're there and think of it when you're done. You can ride the bike to Piazzzale Michelangelo, which is a small hill on the other side of the river to have a beautiful view, but still very close. If you have more time, you might want to check some of the suggested tours outside Florence, at the site Florence Bike Pages.

Arriving in Radda Out from Florence, we decided we should stop somewhere in Tuscany, leave the car and start our small round tour on the bike for 4 days and come back for the car. As we like very much wines, we had reservations for one night at a vineyard in Radda in Chianti. Besides that, we wanted to see Siena and San Gimignano, and maybe Volterra, because it was almost out of this route. It should be a good idea for those who want to do a bigger tour in Tuscany, including Lucca (which I've heard is very beautiful) and Pisa, Prato and Pistoia. So, we decided to start from San Gimignano. But, as I said before, when we got there, there was no room in town. It's important to notice that in Tuscany almost all the towns are located on the top of a hill, and surrounded by medieval walls, with a pedestrian zone in the center. Therefore, if you're riding a bike, there's no use staying outside the walls, unless real close to them. There was nothing like that available, so the lady in the Tourist Office suggested me to call Volterra and that's where we started our tour, which was Volterra / San Gimignano / Radda in Chianti / Siena / Volterra. It would be fine to have a map (the Touring Club Italiano has good maps and guides - we used the Guida Rapida d'Italia - Toscana, Umbria, Marche and the Michelin - Tuscany), but actually you're on a road and there are signs. Besides that you can always ask - people are very friendly and there are lots of tourists. Leaving Siena

For those who have more time, after all the informations I've got, I'd suggest a bigger tour - Florence / Pistoia (through Prato) / Lucca / Pisa / Volterra / San Gimignano / Siena (through Monterrigioni) / if there's time, you include a round-trip tour - 80 km - to Montalcino / Radda in Chianti / Florence.

Volterra was a great surprise! It's a wonderful little village on top of a hill with very friendly habitants. We had the luck of being there during the hospitality week, held once a year, when the habitants organize many things including a night walking tour on the walls, lit by candles, which ends at the Roman theatre, recently discovered. It was fantastic!

Volterra/San Gimignano (30 km)

On the next day, we started our bike tour. The first part was a great downhill, very windy, because you're on the top, with great views of alabaster fields, and other lower hills. When you get to Castel San Gimignano, you make a left and you'll soon be able to see the San Gimignano towers up on a hill. From Castel San Gimignano, starts the uphill. By the way, Tuscany is up and down all the time, but nothing very hard. This uphill has a lot of curves, so that when you look to the towers, you think you're closer than you really are. Don't forget to see why this region is famous for the wine - you'll see grape trees all over Tuscany - no matter if they're small private properties or big and famous vineyards. It's a very beautiful scenery and it smells so good, at least in September. In San Gimignano, besides visiting the Piazza della Cisterna, which is in the middle of the village, the Duomo, and walking on the main street, I suggest you go to a local delli, buy a bottle of wine, some salami and prosciutto and go see the sunset at the Rocca di Montestafolli, where you can go up on one of the towers and have a great view. And, on the evening, if you like ice-cream, don't miss the gelateria, which won prizes, in the Piazza Della Cisterna - it's very hard to choose, they have so many flavours...

San Gimignano/Radda in Chianti (50 km)

From San Gimignano to Poggibonsi, it's a downhill. From there to Castellina in Chianti, it's a long smooth uphill (about 20 km), with lots and lots of vineyards- you're now in the Chianti. The bottles with a black cock and a DOCG labels are the Chianti Classico. From Castellina to Radda in Chianti, it's a quite flat terrain, full of ups and downs, if you understand what I mean. Radda is a small little town. Quite close to it is Volpaia, which is a vineyard (Volpaia Castle) and a few nice local people. There's a bar/restaurant/market, where you can sit and have something to eat. It's mostly like a delli. The only difference is it's all homemade - and this includes the cheese, the wine, the salami, and naturally the crostini. You just ask for the affetatti plate and let the lady prepare it to you. If you want, you can also cross the street and buy some wine to take home. In all this area there are many vineyards, which you can visit, but it's better to make an appointment. We stayed overnight at Podere Terreno, a vineyard very close to Volpaia. The owners offer a complete homemade meal, including, of course, their wine, besides lots of interesting stories and people from many places all over the world. The morning we left, there was a group of bikers arriving in the afternoon.

Radda in Chianti/Siena (60 km)

We headed Gaiole in Chianti and our first stop was at the Badia a Coltibuono - an abbey on a marvellous site. It's a short detour uphill on such a beautiful road, with so many trees, that it seems you're in a forest. From Gaiole, we had a look at the Castello di Meleto and rode towards Castello di Brolio, which is a red construction very impressive. We didn't get to visit it because it was lunch time, but I think it worth a visit. By the way, everything besides the restaurants closes at lunch time - I think people go home, have lunch and take a siesta, then back to work. And, be aware: off lunch and dinner hours, you won't be able to have a meal - only sandwiches (panini) or maybe a pizza. From Brolio to Siena (23 km), it's quite flat. But, once you get to Siena, don't think all the uphill you did to get there was enough. Be prepared: after you enter the porch, if you skip the traffic and go straight, there's a steep uphill, where there's a lot of people on the street. And I'm sure you won't want to get off your bike to push it up. So keep a little breath for this final part. Don't look up, just pedal and listen to the people encouraging you - you'll make it ... and after it's over, you'll feel like a champion! Now, the best thing to do is go to the hotel (try to stay inside the walls), leave the bike, take a shower, and have a meal in one of the restaurants at the Piazza del Campo, where the Palio is held in August. It's a shell shape square with many restaurants around it and lots of tourists too. You might pay a little more to eat there but it's not that much and, after this day, you sure deserve it! Siena is a nice city, with many things to see. Enjoy it! Marco arriving in Monteriggioni

Siena/Volterra (60 km)

The next day was our last and toughest one. We wolud go back to Volterra through Monterrigioni and Colle di Val d'Elsa. We spent a little time in Siena and left to Monterrigioni (10 km from Siena). It's a tiny little round village inside walls. It's a must and a very quick visit. Unfortunatelly it started raining when we were about to leave. So we waited about half an hour and, as it didn't stopped, we went on in the rain. Do you know "cycling in the rain"? Well, that's it. After about 20 minutes of a heavy rain, th sun was trying to come out again. But we were all wet - every single part of my equipment, including the clothes, was pouring. When we got to Colle Val d'Elsa, where the worse uphill of our trip started, we made a technical stop - drying, eating and resting a bit. From there, up to Volterra, the road has beautiful views and become windy as you go up. As it's a side-wind, you almost loose balance from time to time. Once we got there, we had a great sensation of victory.

Amalfitan Coast

From Volterra, we got the car and headed to Montalcino (to get to know the famous "Brunello di Montalcino", which really worth a visit for those who love wine) and to Sorrento where we stayed overnight. Next morning we went to Positano and took a day off (we had a lot of driving the day before!) to brouse around. It's a very charming little village and it was a very nice day. It's all built on the mountain and there's an one-way twisting road which goes all the way down to the sea. Before it goes up again, there's a pedestrian area which is the center of the village - don't miss it! Incredibly, there are lots of things to see in there including a promenade over the sea which takes you from one beach to the other, passing by a few nice and cozy restaurants.

Positano/Amalfi/Ravello/Positano (50km)

Unfortunately it wasn't as beautiful as the day before - it seemed as it would rain. Anyway, we decided to go to Ravello, which is a 6 km uphill right after Amalfi. The road is really something - all by the sea. Of course, we got a light and quick rain, which didn't bother us at all. I'm sure that in a car you can't see as much as in a bike. We stopped to visit the Emerald Cave, which is nice, and made a few photo stops. The road is very narrow and plenty of tourists cars and buses. We've seen a quite common scene - all the traffic got stuck because there was a bus on a curve and it couldn't make it all in once because there was another bus on the other way. So they spent a while to pass. For us it was fun, because we could go through with our bikes and we had all the road for us. Amalfi is a fishing and tourism port on one side of the road and the town is on the mountain side. It has a very pictoresque church. On to Ravello, we started a beautiful climbing, in a valley - the Dragon Valley. On the way up, you can still see the sea from time to time, and small villages on top of the hill, on both sides of the valley. Once up there, it's a great feeling, and also a wonderful view. We were starving by that time and it was quite cool, so nothing better than a home-made pasta and a glass of the wine. After, we went to visit the gardens and the spectacular view of the sea, and, according to a local map, we decided to take a different way down. It was a mess! In the begging, downstairs, then, we took a path to the right, which became narrower and narrower, and, if we decided to go back, it would be a very painfull ride up. We thought we might have gotten the wrong way, so we tried a different one, to the left, which fortunately took us to somewhere - it was another little village, all trimmed, because there was a party being held (it was Sunday). But there was no way down through there - we could see the sea, but to get down there, we'd have to carry the bike. So we went back up to Ravello on a paved road (we were on the other side), and took the same way we came up, down to Amalfi. When we got to Amalfi, the sky was getting dark, with very heavy clouds. We tried to hurry and escape from the rain - no use - it caught us on that beautiful road! But, still, it was a wonderful view: the mountains dark and the horizon reddish, because it was almost sunset. It was kind of wird, but we loved it - it's adventure! So, finally, we arrived back to beautiful Positano completely wet, but very happy. After a warm shower, we went to the grocery and bought lots of afettatti, cheese, wine and bread and had a very special meal at the hotel.


I don't have much to say about biking in Sardinia. But there are lots of bike pages about it in the Internet. And, if you need any help, I'm sure Lucio Caddeddu will be glad to help you. It's such a big island! And so beautiful! And we only spent one week! It sounds enough, but not when you're talking about going so far just to get to starting-point of the trail. We left Positano towards Civitavecchia, where we got the boat to Sardinia. We stayed at Costa Smeralda, which is a very nice and famous area. As we had a one-week stay in a hotel, we did several one-day trips, and we didn't get to go to the southern part of the island is, where Cagliari is located. Every day we took the bike with us, but, as explained above, we didn't use it. Anyway, I'll say here what we could have done. First of all, there's one thing you might do: go all the way round so that you can visit all the island, staying each day (or couple of days) at each place. This way it's easier to use the bike. Well, back to our reality, one day we did a boat tour of the Arcipelago, which I highly recommend. It's a "cruise" on a small boat going to all the islands of the Maddalena. But you should take your snorkel instead of your bike! The other day we went on the bike (finally!) to visit the only inhabited island - La Maddalena. It's nice and cool, with very beautiful beaches, almost all flat terrain. You have to take a boat to get to the island. Once you get there, just take a tour around the island (it's quite small) and, if you want to, take the bridge and go visit Caprera island. The other islands of the Arcipelago, you only can reach them by boat. The other day, we went towards Alghero. From there we could have used the bike to go to Nettuno's Cave, which is a must! I've never seen or heard about nothing like that - it's a fabulous work of mother-nature, for so many millions of years! To get to cave entrance, there's a very long stair down, and then back up, but with an unforgetable view and some scaring sea sounds, so it's worth a visit! But we'd rather go by car, so we would have time to go snorkelling. Of course, if we were staying in Alghero, we would be able to go to the cave on the bike (it's a flat terrain, all paved) and we would still have time to go snorkelling. The next day, we went to the middle of Sardinia, to get to know a little about it's civilization - the "nuraghe" - it's very ancient, and interesting. We got to Nuoro and decided to go further on, so that we might take a trail from the mountains to the sea. It sounded great, but we still didn't know how far and high we were going, and, besides, we would have to come back all the way up, which would only be possible if we had a very good orientation of the trails and, of course, if we were staying nearby. It's impossible to come all the way from Costa Smeralda, do the trail, and go back on the same day, unless you know very well the places, and eventhough, you'll probably be deadly tired at the end of the day. Well, we only realized that after we got there, but, anyway, it was great to go there. The road between Dorgali and Baunei (around 40 km) is very interesting - it looks like the moon! It's a very narrow road, on one side, rocks, beyond which is the sea, and, on the other, towards the interior, a big valley. It was kind of foggy, almost nobody around, only goats, so I could swear I was on the moon! Baunei is a very small village on the mountains, from where depart all the tours - trekking or MTB - downhill, towards the sea. It must be really something, because the trails lead you to a beach, where you can only arrive by boat, walking or on a bike. We went to the starting- point, which is a restaurant a few km uphill from the village, called Il Golgo. When we got there, the restaurant was already closed for the season, but even if it was open we would'nt be able to go, because we had a long way back "home". But we could see the terrain was not an easy one - lots of small little stones! The other day, rest day: we just drove near our hotel making several stops in every "cala" we saw. So we could say we've tried snorkelling all over Costa Smeralda, including Porto Cervo, which is very famous, and very, very, very very expensive, and Porto Rotondo. On our last day, we finally packed our bikes, and we headed north, to Corsica, crossed it from south to north, and took a boat to Nice, where we spent a couple of days and came back.

Odds and Ends

I might say that this trip, my first one on a bike abroad, was surprisingly better than I thought - it was really fantastic! The roads were very well paved, the drivers very well educated, respected us very much, the food was great, very well prepared, we ate well anywhere (of course it was special at some places), and the people were very kind, always ready to help. Maybe I wasn't expecting that much, so I suggest you to be ready for anything, as you should in any trip, and you'll have a great trip.

As I love eating I can't finish my report without talking about food. Don't miss the funghi porcini. If you're there in September, ask for the fresh funghi porcini, if they have it fried, it's something out of the world! Try also the tagliata al funghi (it's meat cut into small pieces) And for dessert, try the "cantucci con vin santo". Cantucci is a kind of very hard toast with almonds, which become soft if you dip it into the vin santo, which is a kind of Port wine. There's also a kind of cake, made out of almonds and nuts, very nourishing, called panforte. In Volterra, try the venison dishes, such as boar, if you like it.

Useful directions

I'd like to list some restaurants, hotels and wineries which I've been to and some which I was recommended during my research before travelling, as well as the telephone numbers of some Tourist Offices:

Riva del Garda



San Gimignano


Amalfitan Coast