Tim Milliken is working on the 2021 Trans-Europa Cycling Tour and sends this report from Nice.
We crossed into Italy with jubilant smiles as the tour cycled over its first international border. The pre-crossing nerves subsided as we saw the border post was unmanned and we were able to put away our passports, Covid tests, locator forms and QR codes. We were cycling again, touring to new countries, witnessing the mix of language, food and culture as we exited Slovenia and crossed into Italy.
The talk of Italy was food, coffee and gelato. And it was not long until we found our first Italian hotel in the border town of Gorizia. After checking in, showering and drinking a quick Moretti, we all decamped and walked to the restaurant La Tarantella, where we were treated to a beautiful three course meal, the highlight being the homemade tiramisu. The chef used his traditional family recipe, which was passed to him from his grandma just three years before our arrival. The sponge was fresh, the middle boozy and the flavour and memory of the evening lasted us well into the night. Italy was proudly showing us why it has earned its reputation for delicious food. We all looked forward to cycling and eating our way across this new country.
We left Gorizia after a light Italian breakfast of croissant and macchiato and began our crossing of Northern Italy. The first two days saw us ride across the flat, agricultural heart of the country. We passed open farms and waved at the local farmers going about their daily business. It was a momentary glance at a life which would continue whether we passed by or not. We cycled alongside the Po River on a service road which felt more like a bike lane than a road due to the lack of traffic we encountered. We stayed in San Stino De Livenza, a town which had more church bells than people, before heading towards Venice.
There are many ways into Venice, but for our riders, we had decided to treat them to a water taxi tour around the historic city before heading towards our hotel on Venice Lido. We passed the Grand Canal, St Mark’s Square and Basilica and waved at locals and tourists alike as we spent 90 minutes on route to our hotel. There, we were reunited with our bikes and checked into the Venetian style, Hotel Antonio Augustus, before our riders were able embrace their first rest day of the tour. A day off to explore, sightsee, and dine in the Italian manner. We were also lucky that our hotel was a directly opposite a stunning little gelato outlet. A single window and range of rich ice creams and sorbet meant our riders were never far from the most perfect Italian treat. Venice Lido is a short boat ride from the mainland and is where the locals live. It is quieter and has the added bonus of public and private beaches for our riders to relax on after their day out in the hustle and bustle of Venice.
Leaving Venice required another couple of boat rides, two separate ferries that would take our riders to Chioggia. A short riding day from Chioggia meant that everyone was itching to leave the following morning, ready to head westwards across Italy toward the mountains. We passed the walled city of Ferrera, where we stayed in a beautiful four star Novatel hotel directly outside the Este castle. A fortified moat surrounded the castle, once owned by the powerful Este family in the 1400’s. We spun past the busy city of Parma and stopped to taste its famous ham (Prosciutto di Parma) before the route changed course. Instead of continuing west, we were to venture south, heading towards the mountain range of the Apennines. We said goodbye to the farmland and rivers of the province of Parma and looked up at climbs and down at the elevation gradients on our Garmins!
This would be the first tough climbs for our riders and there was some nervousness in the group. Some declared they would take the bus from lunch, others like Yvonne said “I am Dutch; I am not used to big climbs!” Each rider decided that they would begin the day and see how they felt but, like some of their moods, the weather decided to change too.
The sunshine of the flat farmland had been replaced by thunder and lightning, bringing an erratic energy to the group in a way that only a looming storm can. Heavy rain moved in and everyone had to don waterproof and protective clothing for the first time on the trip. As the riders began to climb, the weather matched them with bolts of bright lightning crescendoing from the sky above.
Everybody was soaked. Each rider battled on towards the lunch van and the chance for some dry space under the canopy. Only one rider decided to take the van to the hotel with 20 others bravely going back out into the thunderstorm for more climbing. Navigation became hard with phones not working, paper notes and maps spoilt, and soggy flagging tape not being clear in the wet mist. The riders worked together to make it to the town of Bobbio, riding in teams where only one person had a working device. One rider, Peter from Seattle, even went 10km in the wrong direction, not having heard the shouts from those closest to him. Eventually he had to ask locals in the nearest village for the route back to Bobbio. It was a day for true adventures and everyone arrived at the hotel in Bobbio with stories to share and memories made. The battle over the route, over the weather, over their own willingness to continue, was not easy, but as British adventurer Alastair Humphreys puts it “It doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun!”
To celebrate everyone’s arrival, our hotel for the night featured an award winning, Michelin approved restaurant. The wine corks popped and everyone was able to celebrate their day with delicious, traditional Italian food. The warmth of the local family run restaurant soon soothed our wet memories and each rider had a story to share having overcome the worst and embraced a day of true adventure.
Not every day is easy, but it truly was all downhill from here. The storm passed, the sun came out and our riders were able to descend towards Genoa and the Mediterranean Sea. Greeted by the warmth again and spectacular views of the water, our Italian journey was complete. We had cycled 790km over nine cycling days across the country, and would soon enter the third country of our journey towards Gibraltar, France. We enjoyed sunshine and sea views, cycled through tunnels and enjoyed our last good coffee and ice cream in Italy. The road kept winding west and would soon enter France and the Cote d’Azur.
Italy had been an example of the adventure and experience that makes cycling a TDA tour so special. The change of terrain, weather and altitude meant that each day was different. The staff were on hand at all times as support but the riders had to have the mind-set to ride positively and they did marvellously. Touring in Italy was more than just delicious food, it was friendship and new experiences shared and as we approached France ,we all hoped for more of the same.
Join us on this spectacular Trans-Europa bicycle tour. The route winds through Hungary and Slovenia before visiting glorious Venice. Riders will then...