10 Reasons To Pedal The Viva Italia Cycling Tour
It has been said that all roads lead to Rome and the Viva Italia Cycling Tour is simply more proof that this may indeed be the case. Rome, of course, is home to the Coliseum, Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Roman Forum and the Spanish Steps but there is much, much more to see along the 2500 km route that the Viva Italia follows through Tuscany, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Southern Italy. This year, it is even easier to ride with us as rental bikes and e-bikes are available in Rome.
Here are 10 excellent reasons to join us on our giro en bicicletta!
1 – Chianti Vineyards – Raise a glass to your ride
One of the world’s most famous wines, Chianti dates back to the 13th century but, surprisingly, was originally known as a white wine. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became widely recognized as a red wine and its composition was not firmly established until 1967 when, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) regulation set by the Italian government firmly established the “Ricasoli formula” of a Sangiovese-based blend with 10–30% Malvasia and Trebbiano. Chianti Classico was promoted as the ‘Official wine of the 2013 UCI Road World Championships’ and sold in bottles with special labels. Perhaps there will be a TDA Viva Italia Chianti in the future?
2 – Piazza del Campo, Sienna
Considered one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares, it was paved in 1349 in fishbone-patterned red brick with 8 lines of travertine, which divide the piazza into 9 sections, the divisions symbolic of the rule of The Nine (Noveschi) who laid out the campo and governed Siena at the height of its power between 1292-1355. Within the square can be found The Fonte Gaia (Fountain of the World) which was built in 1419 as an endpoint of the system of conduits bringing water to the city’s centre. Many miles of tunnels were constructed to bring water in aqueducts to the fountain and to drain to the surrounding fields. These days, a twice-a-year horse-race, Palio di Siena, is held around the edges of the piazza and it is also the finish line for the annual road cycling race, Strade Bianche.
3 – Florence – Cradle of the Renaissance
Florence, often called ‘the Athens of the Middle Ages’ was the centre of medieval European trade and finance and the birthplace of the Renaissance. Home to such notable historical figures as Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini, the Medici family and Savonarola, the city is now famous for its culture, Renaissance art and architecture and monuments. Florence contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti and has consistently been ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The best-known site of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo, still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world.
4 – Calanques de Piana, Corsica
Scientifically, a calanque is a narrow, steep-walled inlet that is developed in limestone, dolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coast. However, a better description, to my mind, is from Maupassant who wrote that they were a “nightmarish menagerie petrified by the will of an extravagant god.” South of Porto on Corsica’s western coast, riders will enjoy a ride through these amazing formations, some of them rising 300m above the sea. An old local legend holds that these incredible formations were the work of the devil who apparently created them in a fit of rage after a local shepherdess refused his amorous advances. Unable to punish her pure soul, he conjured the forms of the shepherdess and her fiancé out of the rocks that tower above the road.
5 – Orgosolo, Sardinia – Bandit Country
The route of the Viva Italia will take riders through Sardinia’s most notorious town, the island’s former bandit capital of Orgosolo. Situated high up in the brooding mountains, its name was a byword for the area’s not so distant violent past. The area is known as Barbagia, from the Greek word barbaros – barbarian, so named by the Romans after repeated unsuccessful attempts to subdue the local inhabitants. The town is also famous for its over 200 political murals, started in 1975 by a local professor to mark the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Italy from the fascists. The styles range widely but, in general, the paintings document the struggles of the underdog in the face of a powerful, and often corrupt, establishment.
6 – Palermo – 3000 Years Young
Palermo has been at the crossroads of civilizations for over 3,000 years – hosting the Phoenicians, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish, amongst others. This history has created an incredible array of architecture – Baroque churches, Gothic palaces, Byzantine mosaics, Arabesque domes – all rubbing shoulders throughout the city. North Africa’s influence can be felt in the city’s cuisine, especially in the street markets like Ballaro, Vucciria and Del Capo. Here you can find glistening fish like swordfish and tuna, watch anchovies being filleted, inhale pungent cheeses, sample plump olives, and wander aimlessly though luscious fruits and a dazzling array of vegetables. Palermo is also renown for its street art, be it playful depictions of imaginary creatures or politically sensitive murals about immigration and crime.
7 – Abbey of Thelema, Cefalù – The devil is in the details
Just over 100 years ago, Aleister Crowley, a mystic and occultist known as ‘The Great Beast,’ had a revelation. He and his followers had to create a sanctuary for themselves, an anti-monastery. The occultists settled in Cefalù, a small fishing town of the Sicilian coast and built the Abbey of Thelema. Crowley introduced sex and drugs as sacramental rituals in his complex syncretic system, Magick, and encouraged participants to shirk societal norms and follow hedonistic impulses. The cultists were evicted by Mussolini’s regime in 1923 and the villagers whitewashed the murals, which they somewhat correctly saw as demonic. However, it’s still possible to visit and see a few scant remains of the wall paintings, giving you a glimpse into Crowley’s transgressive cosmology.
8- Catania – The City of the Elephant
In the 12th century, geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi created the most accurate map of the world yet produced which included the Sicilian city of Catania where locals venerated an ancient basalt elephant called ‘U Liotru’, said to possess magic powers and the ability to predict the eruptions of nearby Mount Etna. The enigmatic pachyderm now sits atop an 18th-century fountain in the middle of a piazza and was constructed in the 1730s by Sicilian architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini who inexplicably plopped an Egyptian obelisk on the elephant’s back. A 8th century folktale includes a nobleman who turned to necromancy after losing a bid to become bishop of Catania. The sorcerer built the elephant and brought it to life, at one point even riding it to Constantinople.
9 – Mount Vesuvius/Pompei
Pompeii was a large Roman town in the Italian region of Campania which was completely covered in volcanic ash following the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Quickly lost and forgotten, it was wiped from the face of the Earth and not rediscovered until 1755. The fact that the city and all the people in it were quickly buried meant that the ruins were remarkably well-preserved and not completely destroyed. This allows visitors to wander through Roman streets, past temples, shops and houses. Remains, including wooden objects and human bodies, were entombed in the ash and decayed leaving voids which archaeologists found could be used as moulds to make plaster casts of unique and often gruesome figures in their final moments of life.
10 – Amalfi Coast
This area, a 50-kilometre stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula in the Campania region, is certainly one of the world’s most picturesque spots. Turquoise seas. Pastel coloured houses. Verdant forests. Rugged rock faces. Towering mountains. Secluded beaches. Fabled towns. Chic boutiques. Challenging walking trails. Gourmet restaurants. Sun-filled piazzas. Luxurious hotels. Charming cathedrals. Amalfi’s natural beauty and international popularity, however, obscure the fact that the area was once a maritime superpower, with a population of over 70,000 (today – under 5,000). Sadly, in 1343 most of the city, and its population, slid into the sea during a massive earthquake.
It has been said that all roads lead to Rome and the Viva Italia cycling tour is simply more proof that this may indeed be the case. Participants will...