We are on our way from Blois to Romania and Jean Michel has chosen Lake Iseo as our first stopover. We’ve booked an apartment for two nights in Cazzago San Martino 2 km from the Turin-Trieste motorway. By 5 pm, we are on our bikes and ready to begin our holiday.
The scenery is delightful as we wind our way along small country roads through the vineyards of the Francia Corta region. This is our first “real” ride with our new electrically-assisted bikes and we are more than convinced! The itinerary is graded as “easy, family” but the Italians are used to hills and bad roads I guess. I would hardly think that loose gravel, occasional main roads and quite steep descents are suitable for children. With our power bikes though, it’s a breeze!
We join the bike itinerary at Monterotondo where there is a local fête in full swing. Throughout the evening we hear a lot of music and later learn it is Italy’s national day, festa della Repubblica.
A dirt path takes us through a natural peat bog reserve and we glimpse tiny lakes surrounded by vineyards and cane fields. We meet many other cyclists and joggers.
The next village is Cremignane and we have our first view of the lake, followed by a quiet road to Clusane sul Lago. We are attracted by a lakeside restaurant called Rosmundo. It’s still early so we book for 7.30 pm which will give us time to reach the end of the itinerary at Paratico. The last 5 K are not very interesting. The bike path runs along one side of the main road.
We arrive back at the restaurant in plenty of time, ready to sample the local specialities. Jean Michel has fried fish from the lake while I have an excellent scallopina al limone. We have a carafe of frizzante and I finish off with tiramisu.
It’s 8.30 pm by now and we have a 15 K ride home. We have the bike paths to ourselves now and the light over the little lakes is lovely.
After Monterotondo, we have a a bit of trouble finding our way back to our apartment and it’s nearly dark when we get back at 9.45 pm. We’ve done a round trip of 43 K which we could never have done with our previous bikes.
Next morning, the sky is clear and blue and we set out for Breschia at 10 am. Once again we join the itinerary at Monterotondo and head in the opposite direction. The castle of Dosso rises majestically from the surrounding vineyards.
We have a cappuccino break in Paderno Franciacorta along with the locals. Jean Michel reads the Brescia Times in Italian, seated in front of a poster of the Empire State Building while drinking a cappuccino and eating a pain aux raisins. It’s 11 am and a group of men are already drinking Campari.
We pass a square with a mediaeval castle and an angel of mercy. A local comes up to talk to us (in Italian) and tells us Breschia is 13 k away. It’s getting hotter by the minute. We have trouble finding our way out of town – the bike signs are not very visible – but ask some cyclists who reassure us we are in the right direction. All we usually get is that little green squiggle on the signpost below. This is the only time we see one that shows distances.
At Rodengo-Saiano, we stop to visit San Nicola’s but it’s already closed for lunch. We will stop on the way back. The bike sign says that Breschia is 9.70 k away. In fact it is 12 K. We pass through Gussago and see a beautiful private home with stunning frescoes.
It’s the end of the Saturday market in Breschia. It’s also steaming hot and we are thirsty and hungry as it’s nearly 1.30 pm. We find a rstaurant in a shady street off Piazza Paolo VI and sit down without even looking at the menu. It turns out to be a “bistrot” with salads and pasta. It’s called Dei Notte di Calabria. We order pasta al ragù and a glass of chardonnay. Jean Michel goes into mild depression when he sees the small plate of pasta (what did he expect for 8 euro?) but I reassure him that he can order something else if he’s still hungry. We then order focaccia stuffed with steak tartare and patatine which I can’t finish but Jean Michel is looking happy again. We have a cold glass of rosato to go with it.
In the meantime, the piazza has filled up with people obviously dressed for a wedding. At first we think they are Jewish but more turn up and the Catholic church is chock-a-block by the time we visit. It’s an interesting piazza, with a round Romanesque church from the 12th century over an 8th century crypt, next to a 17th century Baroque cathedral and a typical Lombardian palazzo and tower.
Next is piazza della Loggia, with its 15th century Venetian palace and monumental clock.
After visiting the vestiges of a Roman forum, it’s 3.30 pm and 34°C so we decide that the World Heritage monastery of Santa Giulia will have to wait for another time. We still have a 2-hour ride home.
This time, having finished all our water, we stop for a cold Coke at another bar in Paderno Franciacorte. We are next to a group of 4 teenage boys. It’s very amusing to listen to their antics in a language we can’t understand.
By the time we get back to our apartment after stopping on the way to buy fruit, vegetables, cheese and yoghurt for an at-home dinner, it’s 6 pm and we have clocked up 65 K. Our total riding time is 4 hours which means an average of 16 K which is pretty good going and certainly better than the 12 K we did with our other bikes.
We can highly recommend the Breschia–Paratico bike itinerary for its great variety, lovely scenery and interesting architecture. However, I would not say it’s easy riding! The instructions given by the iseolake.info website are essential if you are to find your way. Our choice of Apartamento Franciacorte in Cazzago San Martino, found on booking.com, was excellent. It was very comfortable and the owner was friendly and helpful. At 180 euro for two nights, it was very good value for money.
After our disappointing cycling experience in the Po Valley in Italy, where we were based in Crema for two nights, ,Jean Michel suggests we go back to Wies in Bavaria. I agree but insist on getting a proper cycling map first.
First we schedule an over-night stopover in Innsbruck in the south of Austria, with an abortive lunch stop at Bolzano which turns out to be nothing but new buildings. We leave town and get back on the motorway, then follow a sign saying Gudon. The only two restaurants in this pretty little mountain village which is more Austrian than Italian are closed but I find a bench in the shade near the church and we have a picnic. We love the beauty of the site, the panoramic view and the lovely cemetery.
After another 1 ½ hours, we arrive in Innsbruck. going back to the same hotel we stayed in 5 years ago, Gastof Koreth. It’s been renovated, the rooms seem to have shrunk, the balcony still has the same great view of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains, the wooden floor creaks badly and breakfast is hardly any better than in Italy.
After a short rest, we ride into the Old Town to see the Golden Roof again but there are so many tourists that we decide to cycle along the river for a few kilometers. This is the sort of holiday we like! We have our aperitif at the same café, Dom Café, as last time opposite the Cathedral and dinner in the same beer garden, Löwen Haus, as we did five years ago. We are creatures of habit if nothing else. Actually, it’s easier than searching for new places! The dinner’s a bit disappointing though – we should have taken the day’s special.
After cycling back up the hill to our hotel, we start the next accommodation search on booking.com. This is not a task that either of us likes. We have a lot of difficulty finding anything as we’d like an apartment for a few days and nothing seems to be available even on German websites which have the added complication of being in German. We settle for the Alpen Hotel in Peiting, about 30 km north of Fussen, for two nights. We are tempted by Sonnenbichl where we stayed in 1999, but would like a little more comfort. I suggest we stop off at Garmich-Partenkirche on the way and pick up some tourist information.
When we get there, we park and walk into the centre. Every single building is decorated with beautiful murals. There is no tourist information about the area we are going to (Pfaffenwinkel – priests’ corner) but we are able to buy a couple of bike maps at a bookshop. Even in German, they are still useful.
On the way to Peiting, I see an interesting-looking dome off to the right in a place called Ettal. I ask Jean Michel who has had enough driving on winding roads if we can stop. We’re glad we did. Ettal has a stunningly beautiful baroque Benedictine monastery built in the eighteenth century according to the plans of a Swiss-Italian architect. However we don’t anywhere we would like to have lunch.
A bit further on, our GPS sends us on a most unlikely road to the villag e of Altenau. We see some people having lunch under blue and white umbrellas at the Altenauer Dorfwirt which according to my iPhone German dictionary means something like the village host. We order Viener Schnitzel (what else?) and some cold white wine. The centre of the village is very lively and we watched school children and tractors file past. Jean Michel has perked up by now.
We arrive in Peiting mid-afternoon and are relieved to discover that the hotel room is spacious with French windows on two sides, each with a balcony, and that the floor doesn’t creak. We venture out and discover we are in a pretty little village. Andrea at the tourist office speaks good English and gives us the local maps and information as well as a list of holiday flats. She shows us several bike itineraries including Wies and it looks as though we have enough information not to get lost. She also directs us to the local organic supermarket.
In the evening, after a picnic dinner on the balcony (now why can’t I grow geraniums like that?) and an ice-cream at the Eis Cafe down the road, we try to no avail to find an apartment for a few days. All the websites are in German and they don’t have calendars to indicate availability. I decide to go back and see Andrea next day which we do, after a disappointing breakfast. Are we getting harder to please?
She is very helpful and tries several places. V-lan (wifi) seems to be the main problem, which is surprising. One apartment seems promising and she says she’ll have the answer in an hour. I leave her my cell number and off we go. Our cycling holiday in Germany seems to be off to a good start!
Imperia is four hours by car from our destination of Crema in Lombardy so we plan a lunch stop at Voghera along the way. As we go north, the sun disappears and the sky darkens. We arrive in the main piazza just before noon to find everything closed. It’s Monday. Note to self: never try to do anything on a Monday morning in Italy. Voghera has absolutely nothing to redeem it so we make a detour to the Po river to have our picnic (it’s an intermittent fast day). We find ourselves on a bench in the full sun in the middle of nowhere instead.
The Tom-Tom then sends us to Crema by a very devious route. Maybe it gets paid for staying on the motorway whenever it can instead of taking a more direct route. We go north to Pavia, famous for its beautiful Carthusian Monastery which we have visited in the past, and almost to Milan before taking a motorway that isn’t on any of our maps. Sigh. We reach Crema too early to check into our romantic B&B (called an agriturismo in Italy) for 3 nights so pick up some more fruit and vegetables and vino bianco while we’re waiting.
By now, the sun is scorching. We drive through the front building which is very beautiful and find ourselves in the courtyard of a working farm which is a little less charming. I look for an office but can only see a fitness club. The door opens and a very pleasant young lady asks me in Italian to come in. I give my name and she takes us to see the room. It looks like the photos and seems fine so we take it. Breakfast is a tray with everything an Italian might need for breakfast, all in cellophane packets. How anyone can eat those biscotti, I don’t know. There is an espresso machine outside the door.
We unpack, have a short rest and then set out to explore the town which is 1 ½ km away. I notice there is a bike path but Jean Michel prefers to drive. He is feeling a little frazzled after all the driving on the Italian motorway which is an experience in itself. We park the car and walk into the pedestrian centre and are completely charmed by the little town of Crema. There are bikes everywhere so we plan to come back and explore further the next day since the tourist office is closed on Mondays.
In the meantime, I take a photo of the map of the main sights and we create our own little circuit – the 13/14th century cathedral and Renaissance square with its Guelfo Tower bearing the lion of San Marco, witness to Venetian domination of the town from 1449 to 1794 and the Torrazzo originally built for defence purposes and the remains of the city walls. We see a very large covered market on the way which I can’t imagine could be filled every morning.
Back in our room we discover its defects. The table is too high to eat at comfortably and there is very little light in the room, either natural or artificial. One of the chairs is very uncomfortable and the other is too low for the desk/bedside table. There are no extra pillows. The other bedside table is too high to use from the bed. The bathroom is fine, thank goodness, and the wifi works. We can hear the TV above us. There are no common areas we can use. We decide we’ll only stay two nights so cancel the third one with booking.com at no extra cost.
After a decent sleep, we make our coffee with a few fits and starts and begin taking our bikes off the car. A lady comes out of the Fitness Club and asks if everything is fine. She seems as though she might be in charge of the show. She offers to give us a map of Crema showing the bike paths (how come we weren’t given one yesterday, I wonder) but in the end she can’t find it. She does have a visitor’s map of Crema though. She confirms that we are staying two nights. All this in Italian.
We ride into the town along the bike path and join all the other cyclists in the pedestrian area. Many are older people (like ourselves) but there doesn’t seem to be a fixed rule about what side of the road to use. You need to keep your wits about you. We start with the tourist office and get some other maps and brochures. I find a series of 5 cycling maps that seem to cover the area we will be visiting.
We go to a café for breakfast with a shady terrace that we noticed the day before. Jean Michel is hungry so chooses several pastries (I’m not that keen on Italian pastries so only choose a couple of small ones). We order fresh orange juice and cappuccino. The waiter congratulates me on my excellent Italian which is surprising because I mostly just string together the words I know without bothering about verbs.
During breakfast, we examine the maps and discover that only the first one in my series of five is useful. We have another one that gives you a general idea of where to go but needs to be backed up by good signage. Our destination is Soncino, about 20 km from Crema but first we are going to visit the basilica of Santa Maria delle Croce on the outskirts of Crema.
The building, representative of the Lombard Renaissance, is very impressive but what intrigues me most is a painting inside the crypt. I later learn that according to local legend, on 13 February 1489, a young woman from a well-to-do family in Crema called Caterina degli Uberti married Bartolomeo Pederbelli also known as Contaglio, a convicted felon from Bergamo and long-time resident of Crema.
There were many quarrels between him and her family over payment of the dowry. On the pretext of taking her to see his family in Bergamo, he took her into a local wood where he cut off her right hand and part of her arm on 3 April 1490 before punching (and maybe stabbing) her in the back and leaving her for dead. She prayed to the Virgin Mary who is said to have taken her to a nearby farmhouse. She was then moved inside the city walls where she died, after receiving the last rites and pardoning her husband. You would wonder why. A wooden cross was placed in the woods where the murder took place but a series of miracles turned the site into a holy place and a sanctuary was built there and later became a basilica.
So far, so good. I mean the cycling of course. Now it’s time to find the bike path along the canal to Ginevolta then up to Soncino. It’s already 11.15 am even though we left the B&B at 9.15. We stop at a well-hidden café to ask directions. An over-enthusiastic puppy jumps all over us and we each have a plastic cup of cold melon pieces for the incredible price of 50 cents each. No one has ever heard of the bike path but they direct us to the canal.
We eventually find it but Jean Michel is not satisfied we are going in the right direction so I ask a passing fisherman. He tells us (in Italian of course) that we are on the wrong side of the fiume (it doesn’t sound like a word that could mean river does it?) and that we have to go back over the train tracks (Toot! Toot!), cross the bridge and turn left onto the tow-path. Which we do. The path is quite narrow and bumpy but improves after a while.
Unfortunately the problem is with the signage or lack thereof. We see a tiny, faded sign that tells us to cross the canal, but gives no indications after that. We follow a small road until I see a sign that says “south canal”. Then I see a real bike path so we take it and end up in Offanengo which is not supposed to be on our route.
Jean Michel says we should find a place for lunch and check the directions afterwards. By now it’s 36°C. I have just seen a sign saying “pranzo di lavoro €11” which I assume means “workers’ lunch”, equivalent to the French “repas d’ouvrier” so we lock up our bikes and go in (it’s too hot to be sitting outside). A nice young man takes us to a table and gives us the menu. We can have a complete menu including a vegetable buffet with wine and coffee or just one or two courses for the same price which seems a bit strange. The waiter comes back and explains the menu to us (but doesn’t explain why all the prices are the same).
We choose different dishes at his suggestion with a carafe of frizzante and go and get our buffet. None of the food is outstanding but all seems to be fresh and it’s certainly filling. The tables around us fill and empty regularly. It’s obviously a local favourite. We’re pleased with the experience.
The sun is still shining brightly when we walk out of the air-conditioned restaurant. Jean Michel examines the maps again and we push on to Genivolta. After a couple of wrong turns, we seem to be going in the right direction (not that we have any proof – there are no signs). We come across the canal again just as a very large machine turns in front of us. A man on foot tells us to get out the way because it’s dangerous. It appears to be a canal-cleaning machine.
We start to follow it along the tow-path so the man tells it to stop so we can get past. Fortunately, he wheels my bike for me as I think I might have ended up otherwise in another small canal on the other side. We are happy with our canal path, though, even if it isn’t very scenic. What we do see everywhere are signs of the agricultural wealth of the Po Valley.
Along the way, I see a small group of plastic garden chairs in front of an altar with Ave Maria written on it. Italy is still very religious.
We see a sign that sends us across the canal and onto a bitumen road. Once again we have no idea where we are going. We finally come to an intersection with a sign saying “Soncino 12”. We still don’t know where we are so ride into the town and discover we are in Trigolo. There is a sign saying “Crema 11”. I can’t believe it! We’ve been riding for hours and are still only 11 k from Crema. We follow the road to Soncino. It’s a beautiful little winding road with a good bitumen surface and no cars.
It takes us through Cumignano sul Naviglio with its typical cemetery.
We then take a large, new, uninteresting road through an industrial park that takes us to Soncino. We arrive very hot and weary and very disappointed. It seems a rather miserable result after riding for 40 km! Jean Michel finds a café with gelato artigianale and orders some Coca Zero to go with it. We’re hot and thirsty! The ice cream has the strangest flavours – Kinder, cheesecake, etc. – so I choose stracciatella, bacio and fiore di latte as being the most innocuous. The cans of coke are warm so I take them back. They only have one small bottle of Coca Zero that is cold so we share that instead.
After examining the tourist brochure we picked up in Crema, we discover there are several churches with frescoes as well as a castle. Maybe it was worth coming after all! We start with the closest, the parish church of Pieve Santa Maria Assunta, a large red brick building erected in the 12th and 13th centuries with stunning frescoes and a deep blue dome.
Just round the corner, behind a very ordinary, unrestored 12th century façade are more beautiful frescoes, a sculpted wooden chancel, a descent from the cross and a cloister that leads back to Santa Maria Assunta.
We continue down the street and turn to the right and up a path to the castle. What a pity we arrived through the industrial estate. We would have had a very different initial view of the town! The present castle, the only one built entirely by the Sforza family, dates back to the second half of the 15th century. The extensive fortifications are 13th century.
To the left is a former spinning mill containing a silk museum, open on Sundays only.
Down the hill to the right is a somewhat dilapidated water mill from which there is an excellent view of the castle.
Our last stop is another church just outside the town, Santa Maria delle Grazie, which contains more frescoes and a most unusual modern wooden sculpture of the assumption. We leave just as a busload of teenage boys sing their way into the parking lot!
We have now clocked up 45 km and are 13 km from Crema via the main road. Jean Michel tries to find some small roads but with little success. They seem to have disappeared. The cars and trucks whizz past at 90 kph (it’s 5.30 pm, obviously knock-off time) with only a white line between them and us. After 5 km, we come to Ticengo and take a left turn. We then follow a small, perfect road winding through relatively pretty countryside. We eventually come to Offanengo and take the bike path past our lunchtime restaurant and into Crema. We do not try to find the canal route again.
At 7 pm, after riding a total of 5 hours and covering 63 K, we are sitting in a café next to the cathedral in Crema, with a cold glass of white and Italian aperitivo nibbles in front of us. Although we loved visiting Soncino, the stress from the lack of signposting for cyclists was exhausting. NEVER AGAIN!
Tomorrow we are off to Innsbruck in Austria to a hotel we’ve been to before.
We arrive in Imperia around 4 pm after our day’s cycling from Sanremo to San Lorenzo just in time for an ice-cream. It’s seems a strange name for a city to me, but it turns out it was created in 1923 by Mussolini when a number of towns and villages were amalgamated, including Oneglia and Porto Maurizio. As a result, it is very spread out. We are trying to find a book for our travel journal but so far, we’ve had no luck. Fine stationery doesn’t seem to be part of the Italian culture any more.
The ice-cream lady gives me directions in Italian to a libreria/cartoleria and we head up the hill to the old town of Parasio. At the top, we come upon the classical cathedral of San Maurizio, built between 1781 and 1832, and the largest church in Liguria. It stands out impressively on a large square opposite the town hall. Still no sign of a bookshop, so I guess that I have misunderstood the directions. We finally locate it but it only has a few exercise books.
We later come across a small news-agency where we manage to buy some plain white paper. We can always glue it into a book later. The next stop is the supermarket as we will be staying in an apartment for two nights. We have fun playing with a bread-roll-ejecting machine where the bread drops on the ground if you don’t put a plastic bag under it, and then choose some Italian wine.
The drive to the apartment, which is 6 km from the centre and up a somewhat sinuous hill, is easy in comparison with our previous experience and we are in a good mood when our hostess comes out to greet us with many smiles and some very basic English. She shows us the apartment which is nothing luxurious but has everything we need. There is even a washing machine downstairs we can use. The view, not quite as stunning as yesterday’s, is still pretty impressive – despite the motorway!
We drink pinot griggio and eat pistachios on the balcony listening to the old-fashioned dance music coming up from the valley below before having a tomato, cucumber, lettuce, octopus and prawn salad with fresh basil supplied by our hostess. When in Italy, we often buy marinated octopus to picnic on, but this time it’s a little tough.
After a good night’s sleep, we wake up late and drive into town for a cappuccino. Today’s a rest day, something we’re not very good at, but we have discovered we really need one from time to time. We park in the middle of town and head for the tourist office. It’s not open so we have our cappuccino at a confetteria under the arcades and amuse ourselves watching the locals.
We then wander around until we reach the port and, what do we see – a bike path! We head back to the car, take our bikes off the back and soon join the other Sunday cyclists. We have no idea how far it goes.
The coastline is the usual mix of public and private beaches and eating places.
Eventually we find ourselves on a disused road that takes us to the next beach – Diano Marina – where, surprisingly there is a tourist office open with four young girls twiddling their thumbs. We check the tourist brochures and see that the next hilltop village along the waterfront, Cervo, is worth a visit.
After Diano Marina, the bike path gives out and we have to ride on the road for a bit, but it isn’t too busy. By now we’re starting to get hungry and Jean Michel thinks we should find somewhere to eat before going up to the top of Cervo. I check out a couple of places but I’m not keen despite the sea view so suggest we try and find something on top of the hill.
A mammoth effort takes us up a very steep road which is only halfway up to the top. We stop to get our breaths and have some water and I see a little restaurant terrace with no one on it. I check round the other side and see it’s a real restaurant called Taverna Mandragola. The chef comes out opposite our terrace for a smoke (they still smoke a lot in Italy, we have noticed) so I ask if we can eat there. “No worries, Signora”, he says in Italian (well, that’s what it sounds like). We attach our bikes and a friendly waitress arrives.
We have a delicious lunch of linguine alle vongole for me and sword fish for Jean Michel, accompanied by a very cold white friulano.
The chef says we can leave our bikes there and walk up to the top of the hill. We are enchanted with the little alleyways and covered streets and masses of bougainvilleas.
We finally reach the lovely baroque church of Saint John the Baptist. If we hadn’t already had our coffee, I would have elected to join the other people under the white parasols.
As we walk back down by another route, we come across Saint Catherine’s Oratory with a surprising statue of Joan of Arc against a backdrop of frescoes.
The return trip is much easier as it’s mostly downhill. By now, there are quite a few more people on the esplanade but it’s still navigable because most of the population is sunbaking under their matching umbrellas.
A quick ice-cream and we’re soon back at the car after a round trip on our bikes of 20 K and ready for a couple of hours of R&R back at the apartment in front of that wonderful view again!
We have been driving most of the day. After a lunch stop in Cavaillon, famous for its melons where we have a delicious lunch under a shady terrace recommended by the lady in the bookshop where we buy a guide book, we have an afternoon tea break in Saint Laurent du Var, just next to Nice. It seems easier (and quicker) to go there than into Nice itself. We discover some beautiful oleander avenues and the pretty little village of Saint Laurent.
We cross the border into Italy and leave the motorway at Sanremo. Our destination is a B&B in Baiardo, up in the hills, about 20 km and ½ hour away according to my iPhone. We have reserved a room with a view. The GPS says 50 minutes. We find ourselves on a very narrow road with a succession of hairpin bends. We get lost a couple of times and tempers are getting frayed. I’m too stressed to even take photos!
Before we even reach the B&B we have decided that we are only staying one night and not the three we’ve booked. The further we get up the hill, the less sun and more mist we have. We see no other cars on the way, only three cyclists obviously in training for the Tour de France. We reach the address at last and ring the bell. No response. We try the house next door and a friendly German who speaks both English and Italian phones the owner.
She talks to us through the intercom and explains how to get in the back way. We bump over a dirt road and she is waiting for us at the door. She greets us warmly asking if the drive up with OK. She sees the stress on our faces and asks if we have a “navigator”. Our GPS didn’t choose the right route it seems. There is a much easier one but which is just as long.
We visit the room which is very pretty and see the mist enveloping the hills from the balcony. The deck chairs look a little superfluous. She apologizes for the weather and hopes it will be better next morning. We explain that we will only stay for one night, because 45 minutes of such horrendous roads twice a day is not part of our cycling schedule.
She is very understanding and says it’s important that her visitors are happy with their stay. We are relieved that we have a picnic with us and don’t have to go out again! We have a good wifi connection, thank goodness, and are able to find another place to stay for the next two nights. We sleep well and wake up next morning to bright sunshine and a most spectacular view.
We are able to have breakfast on the terrace overlooking several hills and valleys. The breakfast is excellent with freshly made apple juice, apple cake, scrambled eggs and bacon, fresh fruit and different sorts of bread. “Make the most of this”, I tell Jean Michel. “This is probably the best breakfast you will get in Italy.”
With instructions from our hostess, we take the easy road down to Sanremo which includes a couple of large villages, but it’s still 45 minutes so we don’t regret our decision to move on. We’ve found a one-bedroom apartment with a view in Imperia, only 15 minutes from the centre.
Parking around Sanremo proves to be impossible so we ask the GPS for underground parking. It is practically empty which is suspicious and no prices are displayed. I ask someone but my Italian isn’t sufficient to understand the answer. I try someone else who fortunately speaks English. “Not expensive”, he says, “just a few euros.” We lug the bikes up the stairs (there is no lift or ramp that we can see, and join the bike path from Ospedaletti to San Lorenzo, 25 km of converted train track, reputed to be one of the best bike paths in Italy.
It lives up to its name with beautiful houses, oleanders and plumbago along one side and the sea on the other. We turn left towards Ospedaletti, 6 km away, passing through a 2-km long tunnel which relates the history of a famous 298 K bike race from Milano to San Remo nicknamed “La Primavera” which first started in 1907. At Ospedaletti, we have a cappuccino at Il Golfo di Napoli.
We turn back in the other direction and pass Sanremo. What a wonderful place to pass through by train (though I imagine the soot and noise were less attractive to the inhabitants).
As we go past Taggia, we see a large church so decide to explore. Closer up it proves to be quite recent so we join the bike path again. The next section is the least attractive of the entire route, but we eventually get to San Stefano al Mare and are feeling puckish but don’t seem to be able to leave the bike path. I see a lady emerging with a pram so we follow a ramp down to a children’s playground. I’m not keen on any of the waterfront restaurants so we push on further.
We come to a likely-looking restaurant near the marina called Il Sandolino where I have a fritura mista (mixed battered fish and seafood) and Jean Michel has a tuna steak. Both are delicious but very copious. We choose a very cold and very welcome frizzante (slightly bubbly white wine). Riding under a bright blue sky at 30°C after a miserable 20°C in Blois is hot work even if the bike route is flat most of the way.
Back on the bike path we continue to San Lorenzo past more seascapes and through another tunnel. We will have been through 4 altogether but none as long as the first one.
As the town looks totally deserted, we turn around to go back to Sanremo and are surprised to see that the sky is looking a little murky. We arrive back at the car just before it starts spitting! It didn’t even occur to me to take our rain capes with us.
We end up paying 6.80 euro for our 4 ½ hours in the car park so the man was right – it wasn’t expensive. However, we saw that we could have parked right next to the bike path in an above-ground carpark about 2 k from Ospedaletti where they also have rental bikes. It would have been simpler.
By now it’s 4 pm and it’s a half an hour’s drive to our apartment in Imperia. Our cycling holiday is off to a good start!
I do not understand where all my time goes. When I lived in Paris, I had lots of time for blogging. Now that we live in Blois, I don’t seem to have any spare time at all! I do keep up with Loire Daily Photo though.
I have several posts in the making: Secret Blois, the arrival of our inlay marble table from India, flooding in the Loire, Montreuil Bellay …. but don’t seem to be able to finish them.
We personally did not suffer from the flooding. There was a flash flood in our street but it disappeared within a couple of hours. There is still a lot of water on the low-lying areas around us and the mosquitos have arrived in droves.
Our roses were momentarily lovely but most have succombed to the rain. It seems to rain most days but tomorrow, the sun is supposed to come out and from a maximum of 20°C today it will be 30°C. We are hoping to go cycling. We should also mow the garden as everything is hopelessly overgrown.
We are currently debating about where to go on our next cycling holiday in 9 days time. We had thought of going to Saarland in Germany but it has also been flooded which means the bike paths will be a little worse for wear. At the moment, we think we’ll go to the south of France – I have never been to either Marseilles or Toulon – then to the new bike path in Italy that goes from San Remo to San Lorenzo al Mare. We hadn’t cycled in Italy until last year in Padua because 1) there are a large number of hills and 2) there are not a lot of bike paths but at least there is sun! Stay tuned.
After a rest day at our flat in Arqua Petrarca, the town where the famous Italian poet, Petrach, chose to spend his last five years (he died in 1374), we are back on our bikes.
We’ve driven the 6 or 7 kilometers to Monselice and are following the official cycling itinerary that links up the walled cities of Monselice, Este and Montagnana and should total about 30 k. We set off on a sealed road along the Bisatto Canal which looks promising.
It lasts for 3 kilometers and then we are on a gravel road which soon becomes somewhat worse for wear. We come to a fork and see a big sign announcing the Colli Euganei route but nothing to indicate our road. We eventually find it after crossing a bridge over the Frassine river.
The bike road gets worse and it’s slow going but we have the Colli Euganei in the background to inspire us.
As we approach the mediaeval town of Este, about 10 K from Monselice, the road improves and despite the lack of sun, we appreciate the little town with its castle on one side and vast Piazza Maggiore with its municipal clock tower on the other.
We buy some food for lunch (it’s an intermittent fast day) and set off again.
After a couple of kilometers of sealed road, we find ourselves on another gravel road along the river which slows us down again. We come across two churches side by side, one little and old and the other big and new. We have our picnic on a low wall. There is not a soul in sight.
We continue the path along the river and it gets so bad that even Jean Michel, a truly seasoned cyclist, has to get off and walk part of the way because the stones are so big. We see a wild rabbit on the track that doesn’t run away until we’re practically on top of it. We eventually find a very steep stony road leading down to a sealed road and head for what we think is Montagnana.
On the way, we stop and ask a farmer what his crop is. Jean Michel, a true country boy, has been intrigued for some time about the local crops. Soy, we are told. Ah, that’s it. However, we later realise that the crop Jean Michel actually meant is tobacco. We keep going until we finally come to a town called Saletto that is not on our map. Hmm.
We ride around the town until we see a sign saying 6 k to Montagnana. We ride along a busy road with large trucks whizzing past us at 90 kph, cursing the people who dreamt up the itinerary. They were obviously not cyclists !
Montagnana turns out to be a 14th century walled city whose 24 x 17 metres high towers are still in perfect condition. We ride through one of the four gates and into the main square with its impressive cathedral and historical houses. There is obviously an important funeral going on so we don’t visit.
We then ride halfway around the walls to have a more complete view of the town. By now, we have clocked up 39 k which is our usualy daily average. We still have to ride back again and it’s already 4 pm. We’ve identified an alternative route and are hoping it will be better than the official itinerary we have just taken.
As we ride past farms and tobacco fields on a quiet sealed road running roughly parallel to the gravelly river path, we wonder why on earth anyone would even suggest using the other one. Our road starts getting busier as it approaches the motorway and we debate whether or not to rejoin the gravel road (we’re about level with our picnic spot) or cross the bridge over the river and try the road on the other side.
We vote for the alternative route and congratulate ourselves on our choice. We eventually have to leave the sealed road when it veers off to the left. We take another gravel road but this time it’s acceptable. When we reach the Bisatto Canal again, we have a sealed road once more. It’s then plain sailing until we reach the car.
All in all, it took us 3 hours to cover the 39 kilometers to Montagnana and 2 hours to cover the 31 kilometers back – a total of 5 hours’ cycling and 70 k, the most I’ve ever ridden in one day! I can’t wait to get back to our flat but we have food shopping to do first.
It’s next day and we’re feeling a little sluggish after our long ride yesterday so decide to drive down to Monselice which we didn’t have time to visit yesterday.
After a cappuccino and a pastry in what looks to be a favourite caffè with the local ladies, we explore the town. We walk up a side street to the Castello, a fortress dating from the Middle Ages and rebuilt in the 13th century.
A little further up the hill is the Villa Nani-Mocengio, whose statues of dwarfs on the outer wall are most intriguing. They are an illusion to the noble family that commissioned its construction (nani means dwarfs).
We have studied the bike route carefully this time and are avoiding any paths that are not sealed so we drive to Battaglia Terme 6 k away to leave the car. We take the incredibly comfortable sealed road along the canal to Montegrotto Terme past numerous vineyards and soy and tobacco fields not to mention to occasional castello.
At the entrance to the town I spy a shoe repair shop and we stop to have the leather covering on my orthopaedic soles restuck – all in Italian, including a discussion about Vespa scooters between Jean Michel who speaks about 10 words of Italian and the shoemaker who is a self-proclaimed Vespa passionato.
We continue into the town which is of absolutely no interest but we find a small osteria for lunch. The prices are the lowest we’ve seen yet – 6 euro for primi piatti and 8 to 12 euro for secondi. I ask what braciole is and am told it comes from the animal’s rib. Jean Michel immediately swaps from his mixed fish grill, thinking it’s rib steak. It turns out to be a small pork chop served with excellent chip potatoes.
After also eating a side salad, we’re still hungry so order fusilli with basil and datterini, another new word for me. It means cherry tomatoes. Very tasty.
We then continue on to Abano Terme which I thought was just down the road. By the time we get there, once again on an easy sealed road, we’ve clocked up 20 kilometers. So much for an easy day! It turns out to be a spa resort with absolutely nothing to redeem it. I ask a policeman to direct us to the Piazza del Sole et Pace which the tourist office brochure indicates is of interest. He gives us directions and tells us we shouldn’t be riding our bikes in the centre. Hmm.
We decide to take the quickest route back to Battaglia for an ice-cream, then home. The ride along the canal is fast so we only take 2 ½ hours to cover a total of 49 kilometers, much better than yesterday’s slow going.
The ice-cream is delicious (chocolate, fiori di latte and fig in a very good cone) and according to the newspaper clippings in the window, has won many prizes. What a lucky find!
Meanwhile, my bike speedometer is no longer working because the sensor has fallen off. I think I know when it happened yesterday, just as we arrived back in Monselice, but there is little chance of finding it so I ask in the ice-cream shop for a bike shop. The lady looks at me with astonishment. In Battaglia, she says, I don’t think so, then asks her husband who’s chatting with a customer. Of course, he says, and the customer starts explaining how to get there.
I ask him to come outside an point the way, lentamente per piacere I understand it’s on the other side of the canal. Bingo! We are able to buy a new speedometer and a second tyre because Jean Michel says the other one on my bike is pretty worn as well and we need to be prepared for another puncture.
We arrive back at Zorzi apartments in Arqua Petrarca at 6 pm, practically a record these days and are able to spend some time in our little garden. We’ve decided on the next stage of our trip – two nights in Zagreb, which is 5 hours away, then onto to the Danube, starting at Nova Sad if the weather is fine, or further along if it’s not! The current immigrant events may also force us to take another route.
As promised, Paola, our lovely hostess at La Casa di Paola e Marco, the B&B where we are staying in Noventa Padovana near Padua, gives us scrambled eggs, ham and cheese for breakfast so we are ready to start a hard day’s cycling. We are off to the Brenta Riviera, with its Palladian villas between Padua and Venise. We park the car at Stra in front of the first Palladian villa on our list, Villa Pisani, which looks more like a palace than a villa.
Built in the first half of the 18th century, it has 114 rooms. We begin the visit at 11.15 and considering the size of the second villa that I can see at the bottom of the grounds, I make my way through the rooms quite quickly.
Some are richly furnished but the frescoes on the walls and ceilings are what really take the eye. They are quite sumptuous.
It’s not until we get to the end of the visit that I discover that the second villa is not a villa at all but the stables, and designed soley to provide a harmonious view from the first building. It’s actually only one room deep! I think that is amazing.
Time for cappuccino so we walk down to the bottom of the gardens to the Museum Café which is in the old donkey stables.
On the way, we pass the Ice House, built at the same time as the villa and which served as a refrigerator in the summer back. During the winter, snow and ice were stored in the area under the man-made hill and used to keep food and drink cold throughout the hot summer. Holes in the ceiling provided air-conditioning in the room above where the inhabitants of the villa came to keep cool. It reminds me of the Tivoli Gardens near Rome.
We’re now back in the parking area which seems a good place to leave the car for the day. There is a group called Travel & Bike next to us so I ask the man running the show where the bike route starts because our map isn’t detailed enough. He starts directing me, then says, “Here take this map”. I show it to Jean Michel who suggests I ask for a second one.
I wait until the T&B organiser has looked after all his cyclists , making sure they have what they need and that their bikes are properly adjusted, and ask him for another one. He’s still in a bit of a hurry so asks his mate to give me one. By now it’s nearly 1 pm.
We lock the car and set off, as instructed, passing in front of the villa and down to the bridge 300 metres away. When we arrive at the end of the path, the Travel & Bike van is there. The organiser comes over and apologises for not taking more time with us earlier. He has a few suggestions to make : we should stop in Dolo where there is a 16th century watermill and old dockyard, leave the path at Malcontenta to see Villa Foscari, another Palladian villa, and then go the extra 5 k to see Venice from the boat terminal at Fusina.
His bike tour seems extremely well-organised. He’ll be picking up the bikes at Fusina so the cyclists can take the vaporetto to Venice. He already has their luggage as they’ll be staying overnight.
Meanwhile we are limited, once again, by the fast diminishing number of daylight hours. It’s already 1.30 pm. Our bike route takes us along the south side of the Naviglio di Brenta along a tranquil road, past many villas owned by rich Venetians, which explains why the area is called the Brenta Riviera. Some of the villas are in better shape than others, Villa Badoer Fattoretto, built in the 17th century being one of the better ones.
We stop at Dolo as suggested and have lunch at the Mulino di Dolo restaurant on the little esplanade which has a view of the dockyard (squero) and church.
After Dolo, the bike route runs along the river and we see more villas. The route takes us through Oriago until we come out on a main road. Fortunately the T&B organiser has explained where to go or we would have been lost! The group turns out to be just in front of us and we follow them to Villa Forcari a few hundred kilometers off the main path.
Unfortunately, it’s closed on Sunday afternoons but we are able to see it from the outside. Not that we would have had time to visit.
The remaining 5 kilometers to Fusina mainly run along the Brenta except for the last couple which take us on the main road leading to Fusina terminal. We arrive at the esplanade and can pick out some of our favourite places in Venice with our binoculars. We’re glad we made the extra effort. However, the 30 kilometers have taken us 2 hours and it’s 5 pm. Nightfall is at 7.15 pm at the moment …
We start the return journey, intending to eat a gelato in Malcontenta where I spied a gelateria on the way. When we arrive, there is only one table left (out of two!) and it’s in the sun. The owner immediately sees the problem and moves the table. We go in to choose our gelati. “No”, she says, “we don’t have any ice-cream, only cakes”. Well, I am not a great fan of Italian cakes. so it’s a bit of a disappointment, especially after cycling for 25 K without a break Jean Michel chooses one but I prefer to eat the biscuits we always carry with us.
There is an alternative bike route that skirts around Oriago and will save a couple of kilometers so we decide to take it. We’re cycling along the canal again when we hear a horn blowing behind us. We stop and who do we see – Paola and Marco from the B&B in Noventa Padovana! They’re on their motorbike bound for Venice for the evening. When they went past several minutes earlier, they thought it was us so doubled back. What a coincidence!
At kilometer 43 out of 58, we come to a fork near Mira and I choose the right hand path. Jean Michel, who’s just behind, calls out “no, to the left.” I brake, without realising I’m on gravel and over I go. I try to save myself by getting free of the bike and only have a few grazes on my hands and knees. No holes in my pants, thank goodness.
We get back to the car at 7 pm, just before nightfall. We arrive at our next location, Arqua Petraca, an hour later, just in time for an excellent – and well-deserved – dinner at the Osteria al Guerriero, run by the owners of the appartment we are renting for the next four nights. – Casa
We are delighted with our accommodation – a 2-bedroom flat on the ground floor with our own table and chairs in the garden just in front. Tomorrow is a rest day and we’re pleased to at last have more space than just a bedroom.
We set out on our bikes at 10.30 am after having a typical Italian breakfast at our B&B. A bit too high carb for cyclists. Our hostess spontaneously suggests eggs and cheese for tomorrow.
It’s a little muggy to start with but not at all cold. This time, when we get to the canal, we don’t cross the bridge as we did yesterday and discover a very different path – either gravel or asphalt the entire way.
We go past the Villa Giovanelli again but the view is better from the other side of the canal. It affords a close-up view of the statues though.
We also avoid the narrow passageway across the second bridge because we come out on the other side. Just before the bridge, we turn left until the zebra crossing then join the path on the other side.
We decide to keep going along the canal and enter the city of Padua from the entrance closest to Cappella degli Scrovegni so we can pick up our tickets. We go past Porta Ogni Santi also known as Portello, which is a meeting place for the students who frequent the nearby university.
The chapel is just next door to Arena park where we had our lunch yesterday. I get our tickets without even having to stand in line (we reserved yesterday for 2.30 pm today) and we head for Porta Specola. En route we stop for a cappuccino near Piazza della Fruta.
As we’re cycling along one of the little paved streets off the Piazza, I realise I must have a puncture. Jean Michel pumps it up (we always carry a puncture kit) and we go to a little square nearby so he can repair the puncture.
It turns out one of my tyres has a big tear in it. While Jean Michel’s repairing the inner tube a lady comes by walking her dog. I ask her if she knows where there is a bike shop to buy a new tyre. She phones her son and directs us to the Duomo – all in Italian! A young girl and her mother come by and ask if they can help. The other lady relays the message about the bike shop to the young girl who explains it to me in English adding that the shop will be closed during lunch time.
That’s OK. We’ll have lunch first, visit the chapel, then find the shop. So we set off for the old Observatory tower built in the 18th century to experiment with astronomic theories.
We then keep our eye open for somewhere to have lunch and I spy a little Trattoria under the arches of a gallery called Savonarola that looks just right. We order the pasta of the day – maccheroni al torchio alla norma which I later discover is a dish of Sicilian origin with a tomato sauce to which fried eggplant, ricotta and basil have been added.
At the chapel, we arrive with 10 minutes to spare. Only 25 people can enter at a time and prior reservation is compulsory. We watch a 20-minute video in Italian first, with subtitles in English and German. It explains the origin of the chapel and some of the frescoes. I’m a little disappointed in some of the paintings. Giotto finished only took 2 years to paint the entire chapel and I guess he rushed through some of the scenes …
Next stop is the duomo but no one has heard of a bike shop there so we go back to the tourist office where we are directed to another shop not far from our next stop, Saint Anthony’s basilica. L’Angolo del ciclo is on via Facciolatti, 22. We stop by the Palazzo del Bo on the way, but don’t have time to visit.
We soon have a new tyre and two bike locks because the one that Jean Michel uses to protect our bikes when they’re on the bike trailer takes quite a long time to attach. It’s better to have a faster system when you’re visiting a town centre by bike. He manages to put the tyre in one of the paniers and we start look for a gelateria.
After our ice-creams, we visit the Basilica, which I consider is the most interesting monument in Padua. It is quite sumptuous. It has a Roman façade, Byzantine cupolas, a Gothic central tower and bell-towers and a late Renaissance chapel containing the tomb of Saint Anthony. Photos are not allowed inside.
We continue the visit with two cloisters offering wonderful views of the outside of the basilica.
By the time we get back to our bikes, it’s 5.40 pm. We debate about when Jean Michel will change the tire since it’s a bit cumbersome. However, the decision is out of our hands. My tyre is completely flat again. I am a bit worried about the time because we need a good 40 minutes to get back to our B&B and the sun sets at around 7.15 pm. We don’t have our lights with us. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. We even have time to stop at the supermarket and bancomat.
The light as we cycle home is quite lovely.
We’ve really enjoyed our stay in Padua. It has a good feel to it and is very relaxing. Despite its popularity, it feels like a place where people live and not just a tourist attraction like Lake Garda. Visiting it by bike is perfect despite the puncture. Staying out of the main area is also a good solution as it has enabled us to see another part of the city.
Tomorrow, we’re moving to an appartment at Arqua Petrarca 25 kilometers away for three days of cycling – the Palladian villas, the fortified towns of Mnselice, Este and Montagnana, and the Euganei hills. Fine weather is forecast for Saturday and Monday, with a maximum of 25°C, but we might have a bit of rain on Sunday morning.
I’ve been wanting to visit Padua for a very long time. Many years ago, we toured northern Italy and got as far as Vicenza. We can’t remember why we didn’t go any further. Our Routard guidebook tells us that the best way to visit Padua is by bike. Jean Michel is a little dubious, especially after Lake Garda which is not really geared towards cyclists, even though we made the most of the bike paths that do exist, particularly on the eastern side.
We’ve reserved a B&B seven kilometers from the centre and I’m hoping we’ll be able to cycle into the old town. The Routard also says that if we buy a Padova (Padua) Pass, we can park for free in the Rabin car park just outside the historical centre. The only catch is that you have to park first, then buy the pass at the tourist office.
It turns out that you enter your registration number in the ticket machine, then insert one euro. You pay the balance when you come back to get the car. We set off and are very impressed by the number of people on bikes. Most of the roads have a bike path on one side, though it is usually only separated from the road by a yellow line. It doesn’t seem to pose a problem.
We get to the pedestrian only area and see that everyone is wheeling their bike. I ask at the tourist office, which is just nearby, and the lady explains it only concerns the immediate vicinity (Piazza Cavour). Elsewhere, you can cycle wherever you want. You just have to watch the pedestrians. Which we do.
Our pass costs 16 euro for 2 days and also includes free public transport and free entrance to several monuments, the most important of which is the Scrovegni Chapel which already costs 13 euro so it’s worth it. The lady then reserves our entrance to the Chapel at 2.30 pm next day which seems to me a very civilised way of doing things.
We head off for the Parco dell’Arena to have our picnic lunch (it’s an intermittent fast day) and decide what to do next. Although the old town isn’t that big, having our bikes gives us a much better choice than if we reon foot.
We visit the Piazza della Fruta and the Piazza delle herbe where they are starting to pack up after the daily market, including a visit upstairs.
The 13th century Venetian-style building has both a clock and a sundial.
But the oldest clock in Italy is in the nearby Piazza dei Signori, unfortunately being restored.
At the Piazza del Duomo, we visit the Baptistry next to the cathedral with its lovely frescoes. Entrance is covered by our Padova Pass.
We’ve had enough visiting for one day so head back to the car. I have to press the SOS button on the ticket machine and give the car registration number and Padova Pass number so we can get out the car park.
The B&B is in a residential area called Noventa Padovana and has a large garden. As soon as we’ve taken our things up to the room, we take our bikes off the tailer and, following our hostess’ instructions, cycle down to the canal. So far, so good. It seems we can take the path on either side. Not far along we see the most amazing building which turns out to be Villa Giovanelli, a Paladian villa built in the 17th century.
After that, the road narrows to a couple of deep ruts and we’re no longer sure if we chose the right bank. We eventually come out on a road and don’t know whether to turn left or right. I ask another cyclist for the centro historico and he sends me to the right. We go over a bridge and see the Brenta on our left. By now it’s about 5.30 pm and people are obviously coming home from work. We follow the path along the river hoping we’re going the right way.
I ask for directions again and am told to go left over the bridge and straight on. Jean Michel is his usual doubting-Thomas self but we eventually reach an intersection that he recognises. He then takes me back to Piazza dei Signori for a cold drink.
The ride home is less eventful and takes a little over a half an hour. Wonderful ! We won’t have to take the car tomorrow to visit Padova.