Biking in Northern Italy

Pasta Feeds the Pedal Piston
Map of northern Italy
Map of northern Italy

If you want to know where the best cycling in northern Italy is, drum up a route map of the yearly Giro d'Italia (the Tour of Italy, this country's equally acclaimed version of the Tour de France) and trace its wanderings.

The Giro begins by heading south from Rome, but the first real taste of hills comes with the dip inland to the Apennine-riddled northern central regions of Abruzzo, Umbria, and Tuscany. Some brief relief whips you across the stubbornly flat Po River basin and then gives way once again to climbs through the Dolomites and Alps of the north. One final ripping descent sweeps you into the industrialized upper Po around Milano and waves you through to a rollicking scream at the finish.

But all of that is for steel-thighed gallants who pour their power and emotion into competitive long-distance pedaling. And yet, it illustrates the degree to which Italy has a little bit of everything: long stretches of coast, from flat and sandy to impressive rocky precipice; multicolored patchwork relief of rolling hills topped by Medieval villages, and sinuous valleys bottomed by cool rivers; true mountains, both barren and green, like full-length lacing that holds the peninsula together; and wide floodplains carrying high Alp silt into the fertile lowland fields that feed this country of such rich culinary heritage.

This is terrain eroded into exactly what a biker wants: variety, challenge, shady retreats, vistas, quiet isolation, frequent towns, and so much more. For the less-than-superhuman among us, indulging in a leisurely pedal through only some of what Italy has in store is more than the makings of an ideal vacation.

Here, then, is a brief look at some of the diversity to ponder when planning a pedal holiday in the northern parts of this Mediterranean idyll.

The Swiss/Italian Alps, including Italy's world-famous lakes of Maggiore, Lugano, and Como
The cities and level lure of the Po River basin
The Tuscan and Ligurian coast, especially the dramatic Cinque Terre
The hills and cities of Tuscany

Special thanks to Blue Marble Travel and BikeAbout for their contributions to this piece.


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