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Cycling, Italian style. We ride delightful Emilia Romagna

Alia Parker's picture
Terrabici hire bike at the Via degli Ulivi olive oil farm. Cycle Traveller

The warm early summer air rides the sea breeze as we roll through the streets of Riccione. There are about 14 of us, all in brightly coloured Lycra to match the holiday mood, cruising along in a procession of pairs.

By the side of the road, an old man's face lights up at the sight of us and reaching for a bottle, he splashes us with water as if we are sweating in out in a race.

Here in Italy, respect for the sport of cycling is undeniable: cars give way, or slip around us like well greased components moving in sync, and as we reach the top of a climb, tourists line the way with their hands outstretched, hoping we'll tag them like a champion athlete. Suffice to say, riding a road bike in Italy is infectious.

Alia at the lookout at Palazzo Pubblico, San Marino. Cycle Traveller

But I'm not just in any part of Italy – I'm on the Adriatic coast of Emilia Romagna, and that's significant because the region reared one of the world's greatest cyclists, Marco Pantani. Winner of both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia in 1998, Pantani was one of the strongest climbers of his time. Riding the hills of Emilia Romagna, it's easy to see where he got his cycling legs.

San Marino

We're climbing from sea level up to the Palazzo Pubblico which sits at about 700m near the top of San Marino – an enclaved microstate of 61km² with a population of about 32,000. It's steep and as we near the top of the old city, its narrow cobbled streets demand even more effort.

Having a drink mid ride at the top of San Marino. Cycle Traveller

At the top, the world drops away on either side, making everything below look so miniature you'd be forgiven for thinking you were looking down at a rural diorama of green rolling hills and tiny farm houses. But it's real, and thankfully so because we've got a great descent to look forward to as we loop out of the mountains and back to Riccione and its beach umbrellas, oh, via lunch at the region's best olive oil producer for good measure. All up, about 90km return.

This is a very different sort of cycling trip for me. Normally I'm found living off my bike, panniers loaded, snaking my way across countries, not zipping around in loops on a carbon roadie. However, it has been exhilarating to ditch the weight and fly with the bunch through the quiet and ever-so-scenic Italian countryside.

Lunch at Via Degli Ulivi (Street of Olives), Emilia Romagna. Cycle Traveller

And for such a short trip (I'm only over here for a week), it has been so easy not having to bring my own bike.

Bike hotels

Making this whirlwind trip possible is my hotel. I'm staying as a guest of Terrabici – a consortium of individual bike hotels throughout Emilia Romagna, which includes groups like Riccione Bike Hotels, Rimini Bike Hotels, Bike Hotel Cattolica and Giro Hotels Cesenatico. All up, there are 43 bike hotels across the region, and they make a cyclist's life so easy – in many respects, a real “vacation”.

There are three tiers to Terrabici: bronze, silver and gold. Bronze class is great if you're travelling with your own bike and want to stay somewhere with secure bike storage, repair workshop as well as bike route information.

Silver and gold class go a step further. Basically, you just have to turn up to the hotel, where you can rent a good quality touring bike, road bike or mountain bike (there's some pretty good mountain biking around these parts too), get given maps and cycling routes to explore, or take part in one of the daily bike tours. They're also prepared to wash your cycling clothes, massage those aching muscles, or cook up a feast for a hungry cyclist.

By the way, lunch at the boutique olive oil farm Via Degli Ulivi was divine. Go there.

Tomorrow we'll be riding along a panoramic coastal road that features in the Giro d'Italia, then looping back inland via a winery. Stefano Giuliodori, manager at Hotel Dory where I'm staying, says it's his favourite route – the route of love – he says. I'll let you know...

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Images from top: 1. My Terrabici hire bike at the Via Degli Ulivi olive oil farm. 2. Alia Parker at the lookout at Palazzo Pubblico, San Marino. 3. Cyclists having a drink at a cafe at the top of San Marino city. 4. Lunch at the Via degli Ulivi olive oil farm, Emilia Romagna.

Alia Parker is staying as a guest of Emilia Romagna tourism and Terrabici.


You've got me planning holidays!!

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