Published on: 6 April 2014 | Last updated: 7 April 2018
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
The Italian road system is very efficient: it does its 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 are full of treasures, 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.
Plan to be flexible
If you’ve only got a week or two of holiday it’s tempting to plan a schedule that means you’re on the road every day. But sometimes things go wrong: you have a major mechanical problem, or you get food poisoning, or even the weather is truly miserable and you fancy a duvet day. It’s worth building spare day or two into your plans.
Take a break
There’s nothing in the Touring Cyclist’s Book of Rules that says you can’t, every now and again, stop somewhere for a couple of nights and treat yourself to a rest day, or a day when you can ride without your luggage.
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.
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. 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 may indeed be 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.