Tips and advice

Published on:  | Last updated: 6 March 2017

Getting the most out of your trip

Be streetwise

Pick your roads with care - don't just leave if it to autorouting software. Look for the less-obvious roads.

Look for the old road: in many cases new roads have been built as faster altern­atives to older roads or to bypass villages on the way … leaving the old road as a quieter and more inter­esting altern­ative

Be curious

The Italian road system is very efficient: it does it's job of routing traffic around towns. But that means that if you want to see the most inter­esting places you need to be prepared not to go with the flow - to turn off the main road and take a detour.

Go to places you've never heard of

Yes the big tourist cities like Rome, Firenze, Venezia have lots to offer, but if you're a touring cyclist it can often be the little towns and cities that have the most to offer

Focus on where you are: not where you've going

I've met people on the road who've been so preoc­cupied with getting to Roma that they've bypassed, or ignored all the inter­esting places on the way.

Eat food and drink wine you've never heard of

One of the features of Italy is the local speci­al­ities you'll find only in one area or town: there's nothing to stop you having your favourite pizza if the mood takes you, but look out for the dishes you won't see at home

The same goes for wine: Italy has hundreds of wine-growing areas producing wines that you almost certainly won't see at home outside of a specialist wine shop. Make the most of it.

Learn a few words of Italian

No you don't have to spend years studying. And English is widely spoken. But making the effort learning a few words always helps. A handful: Buongiorno/​​Buonasera (Good morning/​​Good day and Good evening/​​Good afternoon), Ciao, Arriverderci, per favore, grazie, will get you a long way.

Be courteous

This is where that handful of Italian words you've just learnt come in. In Italy little courtesies are appre­ciated. Saying 'buongiorno' to the barista before you order your coffee won't kill you.

Have a head for heights

Italy can be very hilly - when you're planning your trip also take the amount of climbing into account. Sometimes the amount of climbing can be the deciding factor - not how many miles

Don't underestimate the heat

Italy in mid-Summer can get seriously hot. If you come from somewhere where temper­atures rarely go above 30 degrees you're probably thinking 'great bring it on' but you can have too much of a good thing, and a big climb in temper­atures in the upper thirties is really not much fun (riding on the flat can be a bit easier as you generate a bit of a breeze as you ride). If you're planning on cycling in the hottest months then start early and finish early. The summer mornings are my favourite time of the day. Start at 7am and you can put in a good days ride and still stop for lunch.

Alternatively head for the mountains July and August are the best times to ride in the mountains. For every 1000 metres of altitude the temper­atures are about 6 degrees less - the margin between comfortably warm and hot.

Keep a sense of perspective

It won't all be wonderful. The bar-owner who doesn't seem partic­u­larly friendly may be preoc­cupied with how he's going to pay the rent at the end of the month. It's probably not you (although if you've ignored the 'be courteous' bit, then it maybe you.

Occasionally you may be given bad food or bad service (or both). Complain. Or walk out. Or put up with it. But don't let it get to you.


The top ten gotchas for foreigners in Italy

Forgetting to validate your train ticket

It's easily done - even if you've travelled in Italy a lot. If you do forget then go in search of the capo di treno - don't wait for them to find you

Forgetting to weigh fruit and veg in supermarkets

A few Italian super­markets have machines for weighing fruit and veget­ables at the checkout, but these are a tiny minority: generally you need to weigh them and attach the price sticker before you go to the checkout

Forgetting to buy a gettone

Most Italian campsites have free showers, but a few use gettone (tokens). Buy a spare one as well - if there's one thing worse than getting to the showers and finding you need a token, it's finding that the gettone runs out just as you've covered yourself with soapy suds (although usually they last for longer than you need).

Asking for a latte … and getting what you asked for

Latte is the Italian for milk if you want a milky coffee ask for a caffe' latte or a latte macchiato

Leaving off the 0 in phone numbers

If you come from a country where, when dialling inter­na­tional numbers, you remove the first zero you'll need to remember to leave them on.

Caldo

Caldo may sound like 'cold' but it means hot. I can't be the only person who's reached, without thinking, for the tap marked C only to find that the results were the opposite of what I expected (generally taps and shower mixers are colour-coded blue and red)

Prickly pears

Prickly pears are a common sight in central and southern Italy, and the flesh is really tasty. The problem is that the skin is covered in tiny spines and if you grab hold of one you can be pulling them out of our hands for days to come. If you know what you are doing you can cut the skin off without ending up with a hand like a pin cushion but this is something best left to someone who really does know what they are doing

Huge stamps

If you still send the occasional postcard then bear in mind that Italian stamps can be enormous - you write and address your postcards then buy the stamps and then find there's nowhere to fit the stamp. (If you're thinking 'what's a postcard?' you can safely ignore this.)

Buongiorno and Buonasera

Buonasera means good evening, but you can hear it in the afternoon, partic­u­larly in the south, but it varies a lot. I've come to think of it as the Italian equivalent of scissors, paper, stone.

Change from ticket machines

Sometimes you may find that if a ticket machine is out of change that it will issue you with a note you can present at a ticket office to claim your change —but the reason you went to the ticket machine in the first place was to avoid queueing for the ticket office. The newer-style ticket machines accept cards so these are probably the best bet.

Munirsi con il scontrino

This one's fairly simple: generally you pay when you've drunk your coffee etc, but at places like train stations you'll be expected to pay first get your till-receipt (scontrino), and then go to order. Gelaterie often do the same thing.


Useful words and phrases

Reading a route description

There's always Google Translate, but sometimes but a few useful words and phrases can help to make sense of a route description.

  • sinistra/​​destra - left/​​right (abbre­vi­ations SX or DX)
  • dislivello - the amount of climbing
  • impeg­nativo - a hard climb or ride
  • difficile/​​medio/​​facile - difficult/​​average/​​easy
  • strada - road
  • strada sterrata - unsur­faced road (also carrareccia)
  • fondo [stradale]- road surface (normally either asfalto or sterrato)
  • sentiero - path
  • pista/​​percorso ciclabile - cycle path but don’t assume it’s rideable with a roadbike
  • percorso ciclope­donale - path shared with pedes­trians (pretty much all cycleways are shared with pedes­trians)
  • discesa - descent
  • discesa ripida - steep descent
  • salita - climb
  • salita ripida - steep climb
  • pendenza - gradient
  • incrocio - junction
  • scaricare [traccia GPS/​​roadbook] - download GPS track/​​roadbook]
  • s.l.m - altitude above sea-level
  • sede propria su asfalto - part of traffic-free cycleway with a tarmac surface
  • sede propria su sterrato - part of traffic-free cycleway with aggregate surface
  • sede promiscua a basso traffico - part of cycle route on roads with light traffic
  • sede promiscua forte traffico - part of cycle route on busy roads

Bike parts and repairs

Useful phrases
  • c'è un problema con questo - there's a problem with this
  • non funziona - it doesn't work
  • funziona male - it's working badly/​​not working properly
  • Mi sirve […] I need
  • mi sirve un utensile per questo - I need a tool for this
  • mi sirve una camera d'aria come questa - I need a new inner tube like this one
  • sarebbe possibile farlo oggi? - can you do it today?
  • quanto tempo ci vuole? - how long will it take?
Parts and consumables
  • inner tube - una camera d'aria
  • valve - una valvola - Schrader/​​Presta - you defin­itely don't want Regina)
  • tyre repair patch - un Tip-Top (this brand is so common it has become the word people use, but if you prefer, una pezza reparazione)
  • tyre repair kit - un set di reparazione (or un set Tip-Top)
  • tyre - una copertura (may also be referred to as un copertono - un coper­toncino)
  • folding tyre - una coperta pieghevole
  • cable - un cavo
  • brake cable - un cavo di freno
  • gear cable (stainless steel) - cavo di cambio (acciaio INOX)
  • brake blocks - un paio di pattini di ricambio (or 'pads')
  • a pair of disc brake pads - un paio di pastiglie (or una coppia di pastiglie)
  • chain (9-speed) - una catena (nove velocità)
  • chainlube/​​lubricant -  lubri­ficante [per la catena]
  • grease - grasso
  • olio (eg for forks) - olio
  • brake fluid (for hydraulic brakes) - brake fluid
  • screw/​​bolt - un vito
  • chainring bolt - un vito guarnitura
  • chainring - una guarnitura
  • water bottle - una borraccia
  • bottle­holder - una portabor­raccia
  • Co2 cartridge - una bomboletta di CO2 ('ci-oh-due')
Wheels and tyres
  • 26-inch - ventisei pollice
  • 2-inch - due police
  • tyre lever - una levagomme
  • puncture - un buco (or una foratura di camera d'aria)
  • tubeless - tubeless (non tubeless - montaggio con camera)
  • quick-release - un bloccaggio rapido
  • wheel(s) - la ruota - le ruote
  • spoke(s) - il raggio (i raggi)
  • rim - il cerco
Brakes
  • brake - il freno (i freni)
  • disc brakes - i freni a disco
  • v-brakes - i freni V or i v-brake
  • canti­lever brakes - i freni di corsa
  • brake lever - leve freno
  • brake blocks - i pattini di ricambio
  • brake block holder portapattini
  • disc brake pad - una pastiglia freno (or pads)
  • a pair of disc brake pads - un paio di pastiglie (or una coppia di pastiglie) or due pad
  • sintered/​​organic pad - una pastiglia sinterrazzata/​​organica
  • resin pad - una pastiglia in resina
Transmission
  • gears - le marcie
  • pedal - il pedalo - i pedali
  • front mech - il deragliatore anteriore
  • rear mech - deragliatore posteriore or il cambio
  • shifters - i comandi cambio
  • bottom bracket - il movimento centrale
  • external BB cups - le callotte delle guarniture
Other bike parts
  • frame - il telaio
  • forks - la forcella
  • suspension fork - una forcella ammor­t­izata
  • seatpost - una regisella
  • stem - piantone
  • handlebars - il manubrio
  • bar ends - gli appendici manubrio
Tools
  • pump - una pompa
  • mini-pump - una minipompa (probably best not to ask for a pompino (blow-job) in a bike shop)
  • Co2 cartridge - una bomboletta di CO2 ('ci-oh-due')
  • minitool - un minitool
  • cassette tool - chiave cassetta
  • spoke tool - una tira raggi
  • screw­driver - una cacciavita ( - crosshead screw­driver)
  • spanner - una chiave
  • pedal spanner - una chiave per pedali
  • cone spanner - una chiave per coni
  • adjustable spanner - un chiave inglese
  • chaintool - un estrattore catena
  • allen key - una chiave esagonale
  • spanner for chainring bolts - una chiavetta bussole viti guarnitura
Tools for hollowtech cranksets/​​external BBs
  • Shimano tool for left hand  crank - una chiave per montare la ghiera pedivella sinistra
  • external BB tool - una chiave per montare le calotte delle guarniture

Get in touch

Please get in touch if you find any errors in the information, or if there’s anything, good or bad, that you’d want other cyclists to know.


Join the mailing list?

If you’ve found this site useful why not sign up to the mailing list for occasional updates about new routes.