Sunday, October 8, 2017

Bike Across Italy

September 8-17, 2017

12 years in the making, we finally completed Ciclismo Classico's trademark Italian bicycle tour, Ride Across Italy! Actually it took us only 11 days to complete the tour, but we first looked into booking this tour in 2005 for our 25th wedding anniversary! This was our third Ciclismo tour, last year we biked across Southern Italy. This is a long post, so grab a cafe doppio and get ready to join us as we bike across Italy!
The Route


We left Phoenix for Rome on Labor Day weekend and after arriving Sunday morning and attending a local Mass, we took the train to Florence and spent four days exploring that awesome town. After a three hour train ride to Pesaro we arrived at the start hotel and enjoyed an afternoon at the spa before the tour began.
At the hotel in Pesaro
Let's ride:

Day 1 Pesaro(click for GPS data)

The tour officially started at lunch, so after breakfast it was time to assemble the bikes. Shortly after starting the process of assembling the bikes, our guides Marcello and Vincenzo stopped by to introduce themselves and offer tools or assistance if needed. They were fitting the tour bikes to the other guests at the far end of the garage, so as the other guests passed through we had a chance to make introductions.
This pile of parts will become our rides for the next 11 days!
After getting the bikes assembled, Marcello locked them up with the rest of the herd. With a couple of hours before lunch, we set out on foot to explore Pesaro and pick up a few items at a local store.
Perfect weather so far!
We assembled for lunch, had our first review of the 'rules of the road,' introductions of the group, then adjourned to our rooms to put on our riding kit. We picked up our bikes in the garage and set out on the warm-up ride. It was a short out and back route with some reasonable climbing, a chance for everyone to shake out the travel cobwebs and dial in their machines.
Lookout at Parco Naturale del Monte San Bartolo
We arrived at the first 'regoup' about 5 miles into the ride. The options were to turn around and head back, or do the first "extra loop" of the trip and continue another 6 miles up the coast to Fiorenzuola di Focara for a cafe regroup and then turn around.
At the first regroup
Everyone opted for the extra loop and we were off. Unfortunately, the skies darkened and a local rider mentioned that it was raining a little bit further up the road. So we skipped the cafe stop and headed back to Pesaro, just slightly ahead of the rain.
Back at the hotel with a recovery beverage
Before dinner we enjoyed aperitifs while Marcello and Vincenzo provided an overall trip review and a preview of the Day 2 ride.
Vincenzo, Marcello, waitor, Ray, Joel, Victor, Deborah, Jeff, Laura

Day 2 Pesaro to Urbino

Daily ride schedule
The daily schedule is fairly consistent, the only variation seemed to be if the hotel started breakfast at 7:00 or 7:30. The rest of the day was; bags in the lobby, ride brief/clinic, lunch somewhere along the way, arrive at the next town, check in, local tour/activity, meet for dinner, sleep, and repeat!
Breakfast at the Excelsior in Pesaro was HUGE!
The beginning of the route required a little city riding to get out of town, then a nice bike path, and finally into the country on secondary roads.
The morning peloton; Debby, Peter,
Rolling hills dominated the day's ride
Debby and Nancy taking a break in the shade
Debby and I opted out of the extra loop while the rest of the crew continued on to a lunch stop, then some extra miles.
Main route through rolling hills
As we entered the town of Urbino, the 'extra loopers' caught us and we arrived at the
Hotel San Domenico (a converted monastery) together. We enjoyed a guided tour of the Palazzo Ducale with a local guide and then headed off on foot to hike to the fortress above the city.
Urbino at dusk
The sun was setting as we arrived, so we took some photos and retreated back into town for dinner to complete our day.

Day 3 - Urbino to Genga

Marcello giving the morning brief on Roman ruins!
Quite possibly the most historic setting for our morning brief, Marcello gave us the run-down for the day while we sat on a Roman arch! Since the day would start with a steep descent, the plan was to start carefully and regroup at the bottom the hill, before heading out at our own pace.
Debby, Kathleen, and Jeff at the bottom of the hill
We continued on to the first regroup near Calmazzo, Vincenzo had parked the van near a fig tree and was able to harvest a few figs that were hanging out over the road. They were delicious! The road continued along an ancient Roman route into a beautiful park.
The gorge outside Furlo
Roman tunnel on the way to Furlo
The route continued through an ancient tunnel. We stopped for great views and a Mary shrine on the other side. The views were well worth the stop and we took a photo break before continuing to the morning cappuccino break in Furlo!
Mary shrine outside Furlo
Time for a selfie in the forest!
We continued along the ancient roman route to the bridge and ruins outside of Cagli.
Three beauties!
There was a huge wedding happening in the Piazza Matteotti in Cagli. After a short 'traffic' delay as the bride processed across the square to the church, we continued through the square. The group stopped for lunch, still a little full from breakfast and fresh figs, Debby and I continued on the route to our destination near Genga.
A little warm on the climbs, taking a break in the shade
Genga in the distance
Our destination was the Hotel Le Grotte in Pontebovesecco, a few kilometers past Genga. Today's extra loop started a few kilometers before Genga, so we rode to the hotel together and Deb checked in. Backtracking to the start of the extra loop, a few riders in the group that also opted out of the extra loop passed in the other direction. While not on the 'extra loop,' Genga look like an interesting place to explore, so why not add a side trip, it was a nice climb with great views.
Streets of Genga
The descent from Genga alone was worth the climb and by heading toward Sassoferrato for a few kilometers before the start of the extra loop, total mileage for the day would be a nice round 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)!
The top of the climb on the extra loop
The extra loop was along a narrow country road that climbed gently through farm country for about 10km to Collegiglioni, then a quick 2km descent before rejoining the main road for gentle rollers back to the hotel.
Time to do a little laundry
The day concluded with a short Italian lesson and a video introduction to the Ceri race that takes place every year on May 15th in Gubbio, tomorrow's destination! Another great meal at the hotel and this day was in the books!

Day 4 - Grotte di Frasassi to Gubio

The weather forecast showed a 100% chance of rain after 10:00am, right about the time we would be finishing the tour of the Grotte (cave) di Frasassi! Just like clockwork...
100% chance of rain with darkening skies
Jeff and Laura waiting for the tour to begin
The caves were only a few kilometers from our starting hotel, so many of us rode there in our walking shoes for the tour of the cave, and put our bike shoes in the van for after the tour. The skies darkened as we entered the caves. The caves were discovered relatively recently (1971), recently in cave terms that is, our guide told us that the formations are estimated to be millions of years old. Also interesting is Frasassi is partnered with several other sister caves around the world, including the Kartchner Caverns in Benson Arizona. We toured the five main chambers and concluded our tour about 90 minutes later.
Many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites
Upon exiting the caves, we were greeted with heavy rain! Unfortunately, the weatherman's prediction was spot-on. We layered up, put on the rain jackets, and donned our fancy helmet rain covers (shower caps from the hotel) and pushed out into the rain.
Hey its brevet weather!
Traffic Jam?
The route was a basically a 28km climb through the forest on a gentle 1-3% grade. There was little traffic, until a historic auto club (lots of vintage Fiat 500s) rolled by. Kind of cool at first, but after a while as it seemed there were hundreds of them (OK maybe only 40), and the noise and fumes were becoming annoying. Finally the broom wagons; two tow trucks and an ambulance, ostensibly for broken down cars and/or drivers, rolled by! Relief, but as we rounded the next curve, all stop for a traffic jam. The broom wagons were greeted by two large RVs and it took them a while to figure out how to get past each other!
Wet riders in a warm dry inn!
About 2/3rds up the climb we entered Ponte Calcara, where an inn keeper that has served many Ciclismo tours (she opened just for us on a Sunday!) welcomed us in. It was a delicious spread served with lots of local items, and best of all, in anticipation of our moist state, she had started a fire in the fireplace! What a host!
Most of the rain was now behind us.
The climbing continued and the rain eased off as we reached the top of the climb (Madonna della Cima). The van was available for snacks and water (really not needed) today!
Ray had his own fancy hat! At the Madonna della Cima shrine
The descent is steep, twisty and potentially fun. But with the road surface still wet, we were only able to hit a top speed of 33 mph on the straighter sections before slowing for the hairpin curves. Did I mention Debby descends like a pro!

Soon we were at the hotel and had time to clean up and explore the grounds. The desk clerk helped us find a church with an evening Mass. We all headed to town to explore and see the sights. We peeled off and found the San Francesco church in time for evening mass!
San Francesco and the She Wolf
San Francesco church (after Mass)
The mass was well attended, and with our Laudate iPhone apps we were able to read along in English. As for the Homily, while the priest was energetic and clearly passionate about his message, we were quite lost!
Streets of Gubio (Dinner restaurant lower right window)
We met the rest of the group at the restaurant (they had taken the funicular to the upper city for some site seeing) and had another fantastic Italian meal!

Day 5 - Gubbio to Spello

With a rest day coming up on Day 6, why not cover nearly 100km (60 miles) and climb 4000+ feet. Throw in a loop through Assisi, and Day 5 looked like another winner!
Marcello gives the ride brief in Gubbio
 The first 15kms of the day were through rolling farmland on good roads and we made great progress.
Rolling farm land
Ever present/smiling Vincenzo
Your humble correspondent
As the climbing commenced the road surface deteriorated, but the scenery made up for it. The route continued to the 'Rock 'n Roll' section that Marcello described in the morning briefing. His description was spot-on, short steep climbs and descents on a rough deteriorating road surface!
No sunblock needed today!
Nancy all smiles on the Rock 'n Roll section
She climbs like a boss!
Soon we cleared the summit and the surface improved dramatically as we descended out of the forest and Assisi came into sight!
Victor and Deborah debating the origins of Rock 'N Roll?
We regrouped at a cafe just inside the first gate of Assisi. Finally we were groupo compacto, and we remounted our bikes and rode into historic Assisi in a light drizzle.
Rolling to the lunch spot.
We arrived in the main square, locked our bikes together, and fanned out to several restaurants on the square. So 35 miles into a 60 mile course, what to eat? A nice 'light' meal of antipasti, pizza and beer!
It didn't take long for that pie to disappear!
Or that beer!
We rolled out together through the historic section of town. The extra loop included another climb to Bettona. About half the group took the extra loop, and the other rode direct to Spello. Deb wisely took the direct route.
Rain over Spello
It was a steep descent on very slick roads and Marcello and I found ourselves off the front. He doubled back to check on the group. I continued on riding alone, the Garmin was working great and soon Bettona came into view. Descending, the rest of the group was heading up just as it started to rain again.
Heavy rain on the road to Spello
After riding past the hotel, Vincenzo shouted me down and the bike was stowed. After a warm shower, the rain eased off and we explored the town on foot.
Street in Spello
Nancy and the Chef sharing some finer points of cooking
Our evening activity was a gourmet food demonstration, wine tasting, and multi-course meal. It was located only steps from the hotel and was a great end to another memorable day.

Day 6 - Assisi Loop Ride 

'Rest' day in Spello, or optional loop ride to Assisi, described as "hilly, very hilly." With 2400 feet of climbing over 22 miles, that's a lot of climbing, but generally it was one sustained climb of 8 miles, followed by a rolling descent through Assisi and back to Spello.

There were 3 takers for the loop ride, and with Vincenzo (on his birthday no less) to guide us, we were a party of four heading up and out of Spello.
Kathleen, Vincenzo and Ray on the climb
Perfect blue skies, not a hint of rain, and cool temperatures were the order of the day. We rode mostly through olive groves and vineyards on our way to the forest.
First stop, San Giovanni
4 km of steady climbing, with a nice false flat on the run in to San Giovanni. Vincenzo led us to a great overlook for stunning views and a fun group shot.
Today's Extra Loopers!
The climbing continued for another 2 km on broken pavement that turned to gravel. At one point the paved portion of the road was about 4 inches wide!
On the descent
Happily the pavement improved on the descent, and with only a little debris and no moisture, it was an E ticket descent to that same cafe on the edge of Assisi!
Regroup in Assisi
We regrouped at the cafe and made our way back to Spello via farm roads through more vineyards and olive groves. We were back in Spello within 3 hours, and after a shifter repair (removing grit in the cams of my SRAM 22 rear shifter that was causing great difficulty shifting gears), we were ready to start the 'rest' portion of the day.

While the extra loopers were playing on the mountain, Debby found a laundromat and washed our  dirty kits, what a gal! We had a light lunch and met at the hotel for the van ride back to Assisi for a walking tour.
On foot in Assisi
The guide met us near the regroup cafe and we were off. She was very informative we enjoyed the tour. Much of Assisi is built on, and using re-purposed Roman ruins.

Typical coat of arms on a home
 Homes are owned by the same family for 100s of years and rarely change hands!

Basilica of St. Francis
We made our way to the Basilica of St. Francis where our guide bid us farewell. We passed through the heavily secured checkpoint, purchased a brochure, and toured on our own. No photos allowed inside!
Lawn at Basilica of St. Francis
After touring the Basilica, we made our way back to the van, stopping for a little shopping and a not so little gelato!
Light dinner in Spello
We arrived back in Spello about 6 pm. We were on our own for dinner, but most of the places didn't open for dinner until 8! Neither of us thought we could stay awake through a late dinner! The bistro across from the hotel (where we had lunch earlier) was open and we selected a few items from the menu that we hadn't tried at lunch, had a light dinner, and an early bedtime!

Day 7 - Spello to Todi

The morning started with an easy flat ride to the village of Bevagna, another historic town with heavy Roman influence.
On the road to Bevagna
We regrouped at the gate to the city, parked and locked the bikes, and headed in for a morning cafe in the center of the old town. Marcello led us to a historic paper shop where the owner provided a demonstration of how paper was made in the renaissance times. Starting with rags and old clothes, and ending with remarkably smooth paper.

Water powered pulverizing mill at Paper demonstration
Paper drying
After the demonstration we were able to purchase samples and enjoyed a snack in the garden behind the shop. Of course with an old Roman wall in the background.
The group at the paper shop
Back on the road we headed to Montefalco for another regoup. We had been riding ahead of schedule all week, so instead of lunch here we continued on to Bastardo for the next regroup and lunch.
Great views at Montefalco
Entering Bastardo we found the Bar Liliana where Marcello had arranged for sandwiches prepared in advance. Washed down with a birra, it was a nice lunch in the shade. The extra loop for the day departed here for a climb up to Giano dell'Umbria. Adding 10km and 300m of climbing. The routes rejoin only 10 km from Bastardo, so we decided Deb would take the direct route while I headed up on the extra loop. We agreed that Deb would text when she hit the point where the routes rejoined and we would meet up somewhere before Todi.
Extra loop to Giano dell'Umbria
Sounds like a civilized plan, but once we left the race was on! Yours truly determined to catch Debby before we reached Todi, and Deb equally, if not more determined, to reach the finish before getting caught! Marcello and I were off the front the on the climb, he dropped off to check on the group. There was road closure in Giano, so doubling back, I ran into Jeff. Instead of starting the descent, he waited for the rest of the group as I pointed the Calfee downhill and continued the chase.
Near the intersection where the route rejoined
Debby hit the rejoin point and sent the agreed upon text, with several kilometers to go, she was much further ahead than her 'normal' pace. Clearly the hammer was down!
Climb to Todi
Making great time on rough open roads, but no sign of Debby! Reaching the outskirts of Todi, there was only a few kilometers left and she was nowhere in sight!
Church in Todi
With 1 km to go, the route sheet says "at huge white church" go straight for 200m and turn left to the Hotel Bramonte. Race over! I rolled into the hotel just behind Victor and Nancy, but Deb had arrived 10 minutes earlier!

In the room, we laughed at ourselves for the unspoken, but deadly serious competition to Todi. We had time to wash out the kits, and with a west facing balcony, a great place to 'put out the laundry.'

We enjoyed another Italian lesson and videos of the L'Eroica (grand fondo on pre-1984 bikes) event and tour (shameless promotion of a Ciclismo tour that combines that event with a tour of Tuscany). Some of the group walked and the rest of us piled into the Van for the short ride to the funicular up to Todi.
On the way to the pizza place
We were treated to endless pizza and beer, topped off with a Gelato!

Day 8 - Todi to Orvieto

Sunrise in Todi
Day 8 started with spectacular sunrise and a nice descent before the real climbing began. The main route was about 30 miles with 3000 feet of climbing. That ain't noth'n, that's somethin'!
Great morning
We made great time to the first cafe stop in Prodo under crystal clear skies. After coffee the next regroup was in Colonnetta where the days extra loop started. We decided to take the direct route to Orvieto and I would backtrack on the extra loop as time permitted
Wide open views
From Colonnetta di Prodo, the route was downhill to the edge of Orvieto. Of course the old town was on top of a plateau, and reached by a funicular or two miles of a steady 4% grade. We missed the turn for the funicular and found ourselves on the climb.
On the climb to Orvieto
The climb was not bad and soon we were picking our way through old town looking for the hotel. We finally found it (with help from a local), and it was back down to head out on the extra loop in reverse. The route was easy to find, even in reverse, and the extra loopers flashed by as I headed up.
On the extra loop
There was not enough time to cover the entire extra loop, so turning back in sight Monte Peglia, it was a straight shot down back to Orvieto.
On the second climb to Orvieto
The climb was so nice, we did it twice! Rolling into the hotel, Deb was waiting in the lobby bar. We enjoyed some refreshments and set out on foot to explore Orvieto. We completed some shopping and enjoyed gelato before we rejoined the group and the Duomo for a tour.
The Duomo in Orvieto
The Duomo is a stunning structure, and photos do not do it justice. We sat in the square for 30 minutes marveling at its beauty and detail.
We entered and toured cathedral, and the interior was equally stunning with soaring pillars and incredible detail throughout. Again we lingered in this awesome place!

Alter at the Duomo containing corporal of the Bolsena Miracle
In 1262, at nearby Bolsena, a Eucharistic miracle occurred. Pope Urban IV, then residing in Orvieto,  had the relics of that miracle placed in the Duomo, where they reside today. The story of the Eucharistic Miracle is here. 
Hungry cyclists in a cave under Orvieto
One more gelato, then it was off for aperitivos prepared at Di Mario. A local chef prepared tasty treats and our hostess provided a tour of the extensive caves under the restaurant!

Dinner was on our own, but quite satisfied with the days ingestion, we simply picked up a couple of slices to go and returned to the room to prepare for Day 9.

Day 9 - Orvieto to Sovana

Many options on tap for Day 9, with two extra loops on offer.

Heading out
We rolled out of Orvieto together and enjoyed a 2 mile descent before starting a 6 mile climb that offered great views as we made our way to Bolsena.

Last look at Orvieto and its Duomo
What goes up must come down and we enjoyed another great descent to the Lago di Bolsena and our first cafe stop at the edge of the lake.
Where is their cappuccino?
One of the day's extra loops set out around the lake. With building clouds and a strong headwind, it was an easy decision to pass on this one. We rolled out along the flats around the lake. Large stands of bamboo, and lush farms actually reminded us of Maui!
Climbing the streets of Gradoli
Today's route was a series of steady climbs and descents, next up another 5 miles of 5% grade through Gradoli and around Latera before starting a gentle descent to Pitigliano. Another ancient city with many lunch options. Vincenzo highly recommended Restuarante Ceccotinno at the far end of the centro, and it did not disappoint. It was the best lunch of the trip!

First course
Second course

Great food and lots of it. Luckily only a short descent and one more climb to Sovana and the end of the main route. We decided to head for Sovana, and any extra looping would be done solo after Deb was checked in!

Ready for the final push to Sovana
Vincenzo unloading the van in Sovana
We found Vincenzo at the hotel unloading the van, with Deb checked in, it was back out on the road for an improvised extra loop!
Ruins in Sovana
Passing the ruins on the edge of Sovana, my route went back through Pitigliano to San Quirico, then to the Sorano centro, which was on the planned extra loop #2. Still early, so instead heading directly back to Sovana, Elmo looked interesting so off I went!
Decisions, decisions
 The climbs and descents were on great roads all the way to Elmo.
Are you ready for a fixer-upper?
Reaching Elmo, and taking the back way to Sovana, the road was steep (-15%) and rough, but the scenery was great, and knowing the riding would end tomorrow, it was great to get some extra time in the countryside!
Rough patch on the descent to Sovana
After a few cold ones on the patio with the group, it was time to clean up and head into town for another great meal!

Day 10 - Sovana to Porto Ercole

Sovana, aka Cat Heaven
As a fitting end to our journey across Italy, at breakfast the weather report predicted 100% chance of rain on both the regular and extra loops by mid-morning. We selected the main route and with rain gear in our pockets set out on the route.
Rain gear and fancy hats
The route backtracked to Pitigliano, and by the time we hit the climb out of the city, it was coming down in sheets!
Cafe stop in Manciano
The rain eased off as we approached Manciano, the first scheduled regroup and cafe stop. We told Vincenzo that we were warmed up but very wet and the thought of stopping, cooling off, and setting back off into the rain was not appealing so we pressed ahead.
Fog and rain in the rear-view!
The route continued on a primary highway with good pavement and moderate traffic. There would be few food options along the way, but we were making great time and decided to make a run for the water while the weather was holding.
Approaching Capalbio Scalo
We rolled into to the designated regroup point at the Cafe del Mar about 12:30. By skipping the extra loop and cafe stop, we had a leisurely lunch of panini, cappuccino, chips and birra! The sun was finally out and we found ourselves looking for shade!
Great lunch!
More than an hour later, we decided it was time to go and put this one in the books! We had one more short climb, then a flat run to the finish in Porto Ercole!
Dirt road through Corpo Forestale Le Dune di Feniglia
5 km on a dirt road across a forested sand bar was a picturesque way to cap off the ride. About 4 kms into it, Debby had her (our) only flat of the trip. We made a quick repair, and rode through the remainder of the park and found Marcello at the exit. We topped off the tire with the floor pump in the van and rolled into Porto Ercole. Vincenzo directed us to the beachside bar for our end of ride celebration.
We made it!

The celebration continued!
Another great ride!
To make if 'official' we dipped our toes in the water, finished our gelato and birra, then headed to the hotel. Retrieving the bike boxes from the bellman, it was time to disassemble and pack the bikes. Marcello and Vincenzo were hard at work packing the tour bikes and removing pedals/seats for the guests that brought their own. The garage at this hotel (in fact the whole hotel) was not nearly as nice at the Excelsior in Pesaro, but soon the bikes were packed and it was time to clean up for dinner.

Our final dinner was at a harbor side restaurant and it did not disappoint! We toasted our success and lamented that the tour was complete and time to say goodby to our fantastic guides and new friends.
Porto Ercole at night

Day 11 - Porto Ercole to Rome

After breakfast, we said good-by as the guests shuttled to the train station. We did not have a tight connection, so we took the later van to the train station. We arrived at the airport Hilton and checked in for our last night in Italy. We caught our flight the next morning and we arrived home at 8 pm (thanks to the 9 hour time difference), with our bike boxes, however our suitcases missed the connection in Dallas, but were delivered home the next day.

This trip was well worth the 12 year wait. We continue to be impressed with the quality of the Ciclismo Classico tours, and especially their guides. This was our third Ciclismo tour, and are happy to report that all 6 of our guides belong on the top step of the podium!

Soon after arriving home we booked next year's tour: Bike Across Belgium!

Join us!

Steve and Debby Atkins