Cycling Italy in the Shadow of the ‘Giro’

The Giro d’Italia is a cycling road race in Italy equivalent to the Tour de France. Top professional cyclists from around the world gather to compete in one of the most grueling road races, covering every region of Italy. The three-week competition began May 4th, which sent the competitors on a designated route of 2,116 miles.  Diverse terrain through valleys and mountains in cold and wet weather conditions made this year’s event one of the more brutal in recent memory. This 96th edition of the race began in Naples and finished in Brescia.

Adnan on the Passo Campolongo
Adnan on the Passo Campolongo~ all photos credit of Adnan Kadir

Adnan Kadir, an avid cyclist and friend from my own hometown of Portland, Oregon, just returned from Italy. Accompanied by his fellow cycling athletes and his French-made Cyfac bicycle, he had planned this trip to overlap with the Giro d’Italia. As anticipated, they observed two days of the race while also cycling through Italy along some of the same designated routes, passing through the rolling hills and vineyards of Tuscany and up into the mountains of northern Italy. The first two weeks of his trip were handled by what he describes as a ‘stellar’ outfitter called InGamba.

Adnan's Cycling Gang
Adnan’s Cycling Friends
Giro d'Italia racing through town
Giro d’Italia whips through a village-the 4th guy back is the race leader, and eventually winner, Vincenzo Nibali, wearing the Maglia Rosa (pink winning jersey)

Adnan described the Giro d’Italia as one big cultural event. The cyclists in the Giro rode in a rolling enclosure between official vehicles while police kept cars off the road. He saw people pack themselves along the roadside as the racers came through. Several actually broke rank and ran beside the riders. This year’s route took the competitors up the steep ascent through the mountains of northern Italy to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the highest point at an altitude of 7,550 feet. On the final stages of the climb, the road was surrounded by huge banks of snow. Last year’s racing route took the cyclists to the top of Mt. Vesuvius and on to Sicily for a couple of days.

Adnan and the Sella
Adnan with the Sella behind him

One of Adnan’s favorite rides while in Italy was around the Sella Ronda. This ride is about 90 km and takes in the Passo Gardena, Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordio, Passo Sella, and finishes on the pass where his hotel was located, the Passo Pinei. They started in sunshine but encountered snow while climbing the Sella.

Snow Zone
Snow Zone-Adnan with friend Christoph from Munich

Is competing in the Giro d’Italia a goal of Adnans? Not at this point in his life, he assured me. “After spending a year racing in Europe, I liked racing but I didn’t love it. I wanted to use my brain, so I came back home and went to grad school.” Good choice! Adnan has raced in Guam, competed in a 7-day mountain bike race in the TransRockies in Canada as well as a 7-day road race, the TransAlp, in Europe (2008). Today he races 2-3 times a week around home.

Spiazzi
Cyclist resting in Spiazzi
Caprese
Caprese, an easy favorite

Adnan is his own boss. Not only does he live adventurously, but he is an entrepreneur as well. He organizes training camps and cycling trips and works as a cycling/triathlon coach through his company Aeolus Endurance Sport. But not all of his fellow athletes are in the same country. With the help of a power meter, specifically the QuarQ power meter, he can utilize remote coaching. Adnan is also a partner in LifeCycle Adventures cycling tours, which operates in California, Oregon and Hawaii. Here is a great short promo video where Adnan explains what he does- https://vimeo.com/66683243

Piazza Pastrengo
Piazza Pastrengo

There are loads of hotels around Italy that cater to riders. One that Adnan stayed in and recommends was the Enjoy Hotel Garda, but there is a whole network of them all around Italy (bikehotels.it).

Adnan and pals on ridge
Adnan and pals on ridge

“The ride to Asciano was on a magnificent ridgetop. The fog cleared and the sun came out, revealing amazing views in every direction. After Asciano, I rode through the sunny valley back to Lecchi, stopping for coffee in the sunshine in Castelnuovo Berardenga.”

Group heads out together
Alpt de Suisi
Adnan’s good friend Christoph from Munich at  Alpe de Suisi
Gate at Asciano
Heading for the Gate at Asciano, photo taken by fellow athlete Jenn Reither

*Promo from Giro d’Italia

Streets of San Gimignano
Streets of San Gimignano

Adnan left me with this one final off-bike experience that he had during his visit to Castello di Ama winery. Originally a walled fortress, wine is now produced and artists hosted who are required to produce one installation while they stay there. Adnan was impressed by how they integrated artwork into the winery spaces. After viewing the art, a gourmet dinner made by the resident chef awaited him and his friends. The food, he emphatically states, like his cycling trip, was unforgettable.

Morning in Chianti
Morning in Chianti

Cycling with Hitchcock through “The Pleasure Garden”

Alassio Waterfront
Classy Alassio Waterfront on the Italian Riviera

Alassio’s passaggieta of cyclists, roller-bladers, hikers and joggers happens on the long promenade that overlooks the bronze-grey beach of the Italian Riviera. The charm of the old town center is hidden behind tall peachy buildings that stand sentry over its medieval charms. But Alassio has other attractions as well that make it surprisingly irresistible. Perched high an a hill above the old town center, like icing on a cake, is a magnificent villa that draws the attention of admirers from below.

Villa della Pergola sits regally above Alassio – check out those domes!

 As “one of the wonders of the Italian Riviera,” according to William Scott, the Villa della Pergola is inspiring and outstanding in natural beauty and elegance. Alfred Hitchcock shot scenes for his first movie, “The Pleasure Garden,” in the exotic grounds that surround the Villa. The two-acre garden with its Wisteria-covered pergolas, little fountains, climbing roses and quiet leafy areas provide the perfect backdrop for a movie.

Designed with a unique architectural style encompassing large balconies, luxurious verandas and a sweeping white-marble staircase, the Villa is a show-stopper. Dazzling orthodox Russian-type domes rise from the roof. A fountain near the central staircase and opulent marble floors add to the liberal taste of its origins from the 1870’s British winter holiday-goers. Alassio was the playground for sun-starved Brits before the action passed on to the French Riviera.

Cycling the Italian Riviera
Cycling the Italian Riviera

Cycling is big on the Riviera. Alassio lies on the “Ring of the Bay” cycling route that brings the sparkling blue Mediterranean up close. A long stretch of the route is on the promenade that skirts the waterfront. You then have a choice of circling up the hills above Alassio and beyond, (which is mountain bike domain), making a complete loop back down to the waterfront, or stay on the promenade and enjoy the ambience of the sea. Of course, there are always rewards for ‘going the extra mile,’ such as sweeping views of the Mediterranean. The entire route is 24.9 km with an elevation max of 482.2m.

Up for a hike? The famous Via Julia Augusta path along the water will transport you back to the year 12 BC. Built by Emperor Augustus as a link between Rome and southern Gaul, the path stretches from Alassio to Albenga and is just under 8 miles long. Starting in the square of Santa Croce in Alassio, the pathway takes you by an ancient stone arch. Cecil Roberts penned his novel, “The Portal to Paradise,” which is set in Alassio and inspired by this same arch. From there on out, the views of the Mediterranean and the Island of Gallinaria remain with you. Gallinaria is a term the Romans used for wild chickens, and evidently this island was full of them at one time.

Albenga greets you with medieval towers and an intriguing historical center. Worthy of a look-about, you then have the option of taking a bus back to Allasio or regrouping for a hiking rondez-vous back.

Did Alfred Hitchcock actually bicycle the promenade? Who can say for sure. But for a lover of the exotic and beautiful, it’s very likely. Besides, wasn’t he notorious for making surprise appearances when least expected?

Additional Information Links 

* Ring of the Bay Bike Path

English: Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitc...
 Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitchcock. 

Cycling the Sun-Splashed Ligurian Riviera

“With the Mediterranean on one side and the Alps on the other, this new cycle-pedestrian path is one of the most beautiful in Europe, the first on the Italian Sea.”       Claudio Burlando, developer of Cycling Riviera

Cycling along the Mediterranean
Cycling along the Mediterranean

Liguria has a brand new cycling/pedestrian pathway that hugs the coastline and provides level, bump-free pedaling. Come experience the beauty of the Italian Riviera by bicycle. Cascading flowers cover old rock walls, palms sway in the cool ocean breeze that carry the citrus scent of lemon trees, and sandy beaches edge the wide expanse of the ocean. Vineyards and olive groves creep up the terraced hillsides, nourished by the warmth of sole. Sun-washed and sophisticated, the Riviera is picture-perfect.

Stretching for 74 km altogether, the Cycling Riviera pathway runs from Tuscany to the south of France. The eco-friendly cycling path is smooth and wide, with plenty of room for every speed of bicyclist. The first 24km stretch, from Ospedaletti via San Remo (think Casino) to San Lorenzo al Mare, follows an old railway line, winding though eight historic fishing villages. However, several options for shorter bicycling routes are given in the link at the bottom of this article. Some of the pathway goes through a tunnel that is well-lit and roomy.

“This is the first time in Italy we are replacing an old railroad with a cycle/pedestrian path that will create a protected natural environment, car free, and tourist friendly,” said Tullio Russo, a member of the private partnership that developed the project. The path provides access to pristine beaches and an ecological coastal sea park that protects a whale sanctuary. For those who want to ride further, the path becomes a gateway to the Milano-San Remo route. Mountain bikers can explore the nearby Maritime Alps.

Liguria is actually separated into two “Rivieras.” To the west is the Riviera di Ponente, which hosts resort towns like San Remo. The Riviera di Levante to the east, with classy Portofino and the dramatic Cinque Terre, is preferred by many writers and artists. Genoa, the Ligurian capital, separates the two of them.

During the 19th century, the Riviera was famous with European expats who outnumbered the locals. Wealthy aristocrats were attracted to the very temperate climate, amusing themselves with lavish botanical gardens. They gambled in the casino’s of San Remo, and dined in several fine art-nouveau villas.

Villa Hanbury
Villa Hanbury

The Villa Hanbury, also associated with Villa della Pergola, was popular with Queen Victoria and later Winston Churchill as a holiday stay. The last years of Alfred Nobel were spent here. Worthy of a peek, the villa is located in Alassio, just 20 km from San Remo and not far from the cycling path.

Of particular delight are the unique local wines and foods of Liguria. Stop along the way for a taste of the famous Taggiasche Olives, the unusual Albenga purple asparagus, or the Ligurian red prawns. The basil Pesto sauce is the culinary masterpiece of Liguria. Being on a bicycle makes so many things possible, providing the flexibility to explore as parts of the pathway wind through villages.

So much to see and do on bicycle, and so little time. Choose your itinerary and proceed with reckless abandon. A great memory is in the making.

(see link below for pathway sections, bicycle rentals and eating/drinking ideas along the way)

*Riviera Cycling Path divided into 5 routes plus where to rent, lodge, eat, and everything you need to know about cycling the Riviera

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