Bike Packing in Italy
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.Ernest Hemingway
Italy is an beautiful country, with great history, amazing people and delicious food and drink. We chose to ride the VIA CLAUDIA AUGUSTA, the ancient Roman road that spans 3 countries, and carries with it over 2,000 years of history. As this was our 5th such trip, I have a few nuggets that I would like to share. First, don't be afraid to travel with your bike. Yes, it takes a bit more planning, but the time you put into airport and transfer handling with a bike is well worth the added effort. Rental bikes are available, but you may not get the type or grade of bike that you are use to. Bring your bike and be ready to be self sufficient with basic repair knowledge. I always carry a spare derailleur hanger, as it if often impossible to find one at local bike shops. We choose to tour on our gravel bikes. One rigged with a rear rack and panniers, and mine with frame, seat and cockpits bags. Since we stay in hotels or VRBO's, we only need to carry a few articles of clothing, tools and snacks (there is always extra room for food or bottles of wine). Each year we travel lighter and pack more efficiently, but always seem to realize we had too much of something (socks, shoes, jackets...).
Second, planning your own trip isn't as daunting as you may think. We like to choose a place on the map, look at EURO VELO routes, and plan our own itenerary. 25-35 miles a day are our norm, with a 50mile day thrown in sometimes, giving us ample time to stop for a Cappuccino, Aperol Spritz (or 3), check out ancient churches and castles, with plenty of time to get to our hotel for happy hour and a nice dinner. We often joke that our trips are "Wine and Cheese" style tours, but we pedal plenty each day. There are plenty of big mountain passes, and hard core options if that is what you choose.
Thirdly, we like to build in ZERO days in some towns, both to give us a break from the saddle, and also to explore a particular town or region. Off days are great for extra sight seeing, serious cafe/bar time, and getting lost in ancient towns. We take pride in blending in as best we can, which often pays dividends when chatting up locals. On our last tour, we were pointed to explore some WW1 memorials and stubbled upon a relatively new archeological site, found by an ameteur digger. Seeing millions year old dino prints was an awesome surprise, and one that would have never happened had we not taken action on intel from a streetwise wine vendor. Also, look at travel in the off-season. Flights and accomodations are cheaper, there are fewer vacationers around, and although the weather may not be as ideal, Im a big fan of off-season travel.
Lastly, learn a few words and phrases to each country you visit. English is spoken throughout the globe, but knowing a few basics is an easy investment for your experience. "Hello", "Good Evening", "How much?" and "Thank you" will get you started. If you struggle, keep smiling, point at what you desire, and make some sort of effort at a human connection. In my travel experience, basic and raw interaction often leads to the most enriching moments of the trip.
Have fun. Explore. Smile. Grazie.
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