The Magic of a Bike Tour Through Italy

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By Robert Wilson — “Our wheels clatter up the cobblestone streets, cresting as we reach the Piazza where the pigeons -whoosh! – take off in unison over the church bell tower, clanging in the 12 o’clock lunch hour. Two old men, arm in arm, taking slow and loving steps toward the trattoria, smile amusingly at us as we circle around and park our bikes beside the café tables set outside.”

Decisions, decisions….oh! there it is….Barolo. Photo by Robert Wilson

Yup. That’s what happened on our bike trip in Italy. Over and over again. If you’re reading Cycling West, I guess you already knew the secret access to magic that a bike can bring you in a foreign country. But join me nonetheless as I’m writing for the few souls out there like me, that had never traveled by bike, and had no clue what they were missing.

First of all, and oddly, the magic of bike trips have really nothing to do with the bike. I mean, sure the bike is a key ingredient, but after even a half a day pedaling around, you just forget about it. Your butt can get sore, your legs heavy, but trust me dear biking trip virgin, you exist above it all, your attention mesmerized by the magic suddenly made available to you.

Jenny high on espresso, ready to leave this morning from Casale Monferrato. Nice look at the kind of bike you will be using. Photo by Robert Wilson

Ok, do we all know what magic is on a trip? It’s the moment you leave the trip your mind thought you wanted and get the trip your heart wanted. All the silly planning you did before hand, the Trip Advisor reviews, the Great Airfare Hunt, the ridiculous outfit selections to match the vistas you’ve never seen…all of it melts away when the magic hits and your eyes are opened to the delicious details you wanted in your travels, both big and small- that have evaded your hurried demands for entertainment, and only now come out to be with you in your more slow, vulnerable, and attentive state. This is biking through a country. Not driving.

Dueling church bells at noon in the tiny and perfect village of Rochetta Palafea. Photo by Robert Wilson

Our trip was coordinated by a company called Cyclomundo. Their deal is simple. They give you a bike, a great map, and transfer your luggage each day to the next village on the trip they create for you. That’s it! And you see, the map is really the most beautiful part of what they give you. This tour company clearly has spent precious time creating the most loving and soulful way to get from point A to point B. And here is where the importance of a bike comes in: None of where you are going would really make sense if you were driving. The trip is arranged to follow a slower, smaller and more winding road toward a collection of villages you may otherwise just zoom through. For us, it turns out that this was where we found our real Italy.

Contemplating leaving it all and working on an Italian vineyard the rest of my days, Valley of San Vito. Photo by Jenny Wilson

Countless times the map, in harmony with the abilities of a bike, would take us on tiny detours that were little gems in an Italy I thought didn’t even exist anymore. We ended up following farmers in their old tractors up the vineyard roads, both of us smiling with the glow of another Italian sunset in our faces. We descended from forgotten hilltop villages, noticing only the occasional stray cat hiding in the weeds along the side of the road purring as our sweaty brows cooled in the wind. We rolled into our villages right at passeggiata, which is when the whole town, after work, strolls the Via Cavour, gossiping, laughing, flirting. Us in our ridiculous lycra and a cold presecco, the teenagers showing off in their best James Dean and cigarette look.

Enjoying a drink of grappa after the ride. Province of Alessandria. Photo by Robert Wilson

We drank whole bottles of wine at lunch, lurching and laughing and dizzy as we resumed cranking up to the next of what seemed endless hilltop villages. Each time we stopped to check the map (I am good at, and enjoy being lost), an opportunity for my wife to saddle up beside me and high five me, a look of “Are you kidding me?!” silently crossing both our faces.

Cobblestone and Brick. All day everyday. Province of Cuneo. Photo by Jenny Wilson

On one occasion, as we arrived in a famous wine town, we rolled along side a hulking tour bus, its crowded inhabitants looking down through their windows at us, as curious as to our freedom as we their captivity. We made a point that day to savor our sitting arrangements: My wife in her seat, on her bike in the wind!, and me in mine. We both agreed we had the best seat in the country.

Ahh….Endless vineyards. These are in Montabone. Photo by Robert Wilson

So please, all who wander and wish to be lost, consider a bike trip the next time you want to travel. You think you know what you want in your next trip, now let a bike surprise you with how much more your heart really wanted. It wants magic!

Trip Details:

Cyclomundo presented this trip called “Treasures of the Piedmont”. It was a self guided 7 night/8 day tour through the foothills of the Dolomites (The Piedmont Region) visiting such towns as Acqui Terme, Asti, Alba and Casale Monferrato.

It travels extensively through the wine country which makes this region famous, most notably the Barolo.

We went October 1st-8th, which was the last week they offer this trip, and probably why it was so free of tourists. This tour has quite a bit of dirt roads/rough roads, so they give you a sturdy (though heavy) city cruiser bike with wider wheels than a typical road bike.

The tour company has 5 different levels of difficulty for their tours, 1 being the easiest and 5 being 10,000 ft a day climbing marathons which mimic what Tour riders face. This tour was rated a 2/3.

We rode about 40 miles a day and climbed about 2500 ft. a day. Not too bad, though tougher than you think on a heavy bike, loaded with wine you just bought from a hidden gem winery you find along the way!

Beauty and the Dork, just outside of Alba. Photo by Jenny Wilson

It is important to remember this is a self guided tour. You’re on your own to make good decisions. Of course they have an emergency contact you can call the whole time if you need assistance, but it for sure is designed around more European sensibilities of self reliance and adventure.

On our trip, we never once saw a Cyclomundo representative, but our bags were always, magically, delivered to the next town and waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel they arrange for you.

For more information on Cyclomundo bicycle tours, visit cyclomundo.com

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