July – August 2001, by Owen Barder & Grethe Petersen
For the second year running, Grethe Petersen and Owen Barder travelled to Davos for the Davos Marathon, part of the annual running festival, and then set off on bikes for a two week cycling tour. This year the aim was Naples, via Siena.
Day 1 – Davos to Silvaplana (Julier Pass 2284m)
Distance 76km Time 4h45
We had both run the marathon on Saturday, and so set off with fairly tired legs. Last minute shopping in Davos delayed our departure until 11.30am. We left Davos (alt 1535m) on the cycle path out from Davos-Platz railway statio towards Frauenkirch. The quiet road rises briefly to Wiesen and then descends to Tiefencastel (alt 851m). (There is a 2km tunnel which we rode through without problems).
Turn left just on the outskirts of Tiefencastel, signposted to St. Moritz. From there it is essentially a 38km climb to Julier Pass (alt 2284), gaining 1433m. The road is quiet, and there are plenty of little villages and cafes on the way. At Julier Pass you reach a cafe about 500m short of the summit. Then descend easily into Silvaplana (alt 1815m). This village sits alongside a lake, and is a centre for sports activities. We stayed at the Hotel Bellavista, which is on the other side of the lake in Surlej (email@example.com – 081 838 6050) (recommended).
Day 2 – Silvaplana to Bellagio (Passo del Maloja 1815m)
Distance 95km Time 4h27 Avg 21.3 km/h
The road is flat along the lake from Silvaplana. The pass itself is in Maloja, at the tourist office, and you then descend sharply down a series of hairpin bends. We went to Soglio (highly recommended) for lunch. This beautiful village is perched on the hillside – requiring you to cycle up the road. (We took the footpath from Stampa, requiring us to carry our pannier-laden bikes uphill for about 3km – not recommended unless you are very fit.)
The Val Bregaglia down to Chiavenna is pretty. It is an easy and fast descent. There was a cursory glance a the border post, and then into Italy. At Lake Como we kept on the east side of the lake, through Colico and followed the beautiful lakeshore road through a series of villages. However, Just before and just after Bellano there are some short (<1km) tunnels, which are dark and dangerous for cyclists, but unavoidable as far as we could tell.
At Varenna, we took the ferry across to Bellagio, and stayed in a Hotel Splendide, where we had a huge, high-ceilinged room overlooking the lake. Bellagio is a splendid little town of cobbled streets and passageways leading down to the lake.
Day 3 – Bellagio to Oggiono (then train to Bologne)
Distance 42.7km Time 2h41 Avg 15.9 km/h
The road from Bellagio to Lecco is exceptionally pretty, along the side of the lake. It is marred by two long tunnels at the end as you come into Lecco – these do, however, have lighting. We took the wrong turning outside Lecco and nearly got swept onto the Autostrada (NOT recommended). We ended up in Suello, and then cycled to Oggiono. The roads were suburban, busy and not at all attractive, so we decided to take a shortcut by train down to Bologna skipping the industrial northern outskirts of Milano.
Bologna is a fantastic city to spend a few days. We stayed at the Hotel Roma (051 226 322), just metres from Piazza Maggiore – not too expensive and highly recommended. We had excellent pizzas at Nicola’s Pizzeria, Piazza San Martino (051 232502) which was authentically full of local-looking Italians.
Day 4 – Bologne to Vaglia (just outside Fierenze) ***
Distance 91.2km Time 5h57 Avg 18.4 km/h
Fabulous day’s cycling – strongly recommended route.
We left Bologna on the Via Tuscana (S65), down to Pianora. We went a slightly longer way here to avoid the main road – this was beautiful and more remote, but involved more hills. Stock up with water in Pianora: then turn right and immediately left (signposted Loiano, Monzuno). Follow the road along the river. There is a bar by the river at the crossroads near Bibulano. Keep straight ahead, signposted Monghidoro.
There is a long climb to Fradusto (alt 691m) and to Monghidoro (alt 841m), where you can stop at one of several cafes. (If you stick with the S65 instead, this is where you rejoin the route.
Then descend before rising gently to Passa di Raticosa (at 968m). There is a little taverna at the top. The scenic road then falls and rises, with great views of the Tuscan countryside, and climbs again to Passo di Futa (alt 903m). There is a cafe at the top (run by a former Italian professional cyclist, judging by the photos). Then a splendid, long scenic descent of 40km into Fierenze.
We stayed 17km outsite Fierenze, in a small village along the road called Vaglia. The Albergo Padellino (055 407902) was empty and lifeless, but perfectly clean and cheap. Nearby the Pizzeria Ballini (Tel 055 407910) was excellent, with home made pasta. But you could equally well finish the ride in the centre of Fierenze.
Day 5 – Vaglia (Fierenze) to Siena ***
Distance 93 km Time 5h 39m Avg 16.5 km/h
Breakfast in Florence, lunch in Chianti, supper in Siena. And a beautiful day in the vineyards and olive groves, and rolling hills of Tuscany, in between. (We left Fierenze at 11.30am, and rolled into Siena at 5.30pm).
We cycled the 17km into Fierenze easily first thing in the morning – the road rises at first but it is downhill from Pratolino (alt 476m). There was a fabulous view over the city from about 6km out.
We had breakfast in Piazza della Signora – very expensive but elegant. We walked our bikes across the Ponte Vecchio and headed south on the S2 towards Siena. We turned at Tavernuzze and went up to Impruneta (alt 275m) to join the S222 just north of Strada in Chianti. You could equally stay a little longer on the S2 and cut across trough Ferrone instead.
The S222 is highly recommended – a quiet road, winding its way through the vineyards and olive trees. It is by no means flat, but none of the hills is too serious. There is an 8km climb out of Greve in Chianti (alt 236m) to Campana (alt 500m), then a descent down to cross the River Pesa; the road then climbs for 9km up to Castellina in Chianti (alt 578m), a pretty hilltop village with cobbed streets. There is a short descent, then an undulating last 10km into Siena.
Siena is a jewel of a city: we stayed an extra day to enjoy the mediaeval town centre.
Day 6 – Siena to Porto San Stefano (Monte Argentario)
Distance 125 km Time 5h 52m Avg 21.2 km/h
In retrospect, from Siena to Rome might be better tackled on the S2 down to Lago do Bolsena than heading along to the coast and down the S1. The reason is that the S1 has party been upgraded to Autostrada, and is now not suitable for cycling. This makes it difficult to cycle along the coast.
We didn’t know this, so we went down to the coast. The road from Siena to Grosseto is fast and interesting. The bad news is that we could find no simple way of getting by bike from Grosseto to Orbatello, and ended up taking the train.
Leave Siena in the direction of Cerchiaia, to avoid the S674 dual carriageway and there pick up the S223. The S223 is flat or downhill practically the whole way. It includes three tunnels, all of which permit bikes. There are regular roadside cafes for drinks stops. The road is beautiful, in a bleak and rugged way, and there are no towns before Grosetto.
We went in to Grosseto, in the hope of bypassing the dual carriageway section of the S1 by cutting through Spergolaia to the west. It turns out that although there was a road shown on our map (a) iit s a dirt track and (b) there is no way of getting over the river Ombrone. We tried going along the S1 instead, but it has now been upgraded to Autostrada status,a nd bikes are not allowed. So the only way we could see to reach Orbetello by bike is to go up into the hills via Scansano (alt 500m). (We took the train from Grosseto.)
The island cum peninsula of Monte Argentario is remote and elegant. The beaches are mainly around Porto St Stefano. We stayed in the Hotel Vittoria (recommended) which had magnificent views over the port. Runners will enjoy the 20km Route Panoramique around the west end of the island.
Day 7 – Porto San Stefano to Civitavecchia
Once again, the upgrading of the S1 to Autostrada make it impossible to cycle along the coast. For the second day we were forced on to the train – we took it all the way to Civitavecchia, where the A12 Autostrada takes the traffic to Rome, leaving the S1 Via Aurelia to follow the coast in relative peace.
Civitavecchia is a working port, handling the maritime traffic to Sardinia. It has a small beach and a rather dull and unattractive city centre (not recommended).
Day 8 – Civitavecchia to Anzio
Distance 124 km Time 5h 49m Avg 21.4 km/h
This route along the coast is fast, flat and fun. Ladispoli is not particularly pretty, but we stopped there for drinks. You can pick your way behind the airport without going on to the motoray (Maccarese, Focene, Fiumicino, S296, Lido di Ostia).
The beaches really begin at Lido do Ostia. For the rest of the day, the road goes along the coast, with jammed with parked cars and people trying to find a space to park for their favourite spot on the beach. There are plenty of bars and restaurants on the beach where you can stop for refreshment.
We stayed in Anzio, which is the port for ferries to Ponza. (Anzio was also the site of the Anglo-American landings in 1944, and there are nearby military cemeteries). Anzio is small and undistinguished. We stayed cheaply in the Hotel La Bussola (Tel 06 9831477). Nettuna, a few kilometres down the road, has rather more places to stay.
Day 9 – Anzio to Terracina
Distance 84 km Time 4h 07m Avg 20.4 km/h
There are some pleasant beaches after Nettuna, if you are looking for somewhere to stop.
At Fogliano, the road leaves the coast, and (despite what is shown on the map) you cannot rejoin the coast until the after Lago di Caprolace.
At the mountainous headland of Monte Circeo, the road goes round the back. To our surprise, the road remais flat and fast.
There was a lot of traffic once the S148 rejoined the coast road just befor Porte Badino, and the cycling became rather hot, dusty and hard work.
We stayed in Terracina, which has some fairly undistinguished Roman ruins, a reasonable beach, and a perfectly respectable town square. We did not find many hotels, and we ended up staying in the pleasant but overpriced Grand Hotel Palace (0773 709523). They were amenable to haggling to bring down (a lot) the price of their cheapest rooms.
Day 10 – Terracina to Capo Miseno
Distance 118 km Time 5h 13m Avg 22.6 km/h
From Terracina, we continued along the coast road (stick to the S7 Q) past Sperloga, and then towards Gaeta. The road becomes more mountainous now, rising up along corniches which plunge down to magnificent little beaches and bays. If you are planning to stop and spend some time on a beach this would be a good place to do it.
After Gaetata, the road deteriorates progressively. In places, it seems like the Third World: street vendors selling roast corn cobs and matches, rabid and dead dogs by the side of the road, and prostitutes hoping to get a little custom from the passing truckers. The traffic was heavy and the driving unpredictable and dangerous.
At Lake Lucrino we turnde right down the peninsula towards Bacoli, past Lake Fusaro. This is a popular holiday spot for Neopolitans, and the roads were busy. We stayed in Cala Moresca (recommended) (081 523 5595) on the slopes of Miseno with beautiful views over the bay. If you don’t want to make such a big diversion, you could stay in Pozzuoli instead.
Day 11 – Capo Miseno to Naples and Torre del Greco
Distance 42 km Time 2h 38m Avg 16.0 km/h
We cycled along the coast road, through Bacoli and Pozzuoli. The traffic was heavy and unpredictable and the cycling was handicapped by cobblestones most of the way.
We had no difficulty navigating along the coast past the ports in Naples, and out the other side. The cobbles and traffic, however, conspired to make this an unpleasant morning’s cycling (which could be avoided by taking the train).
We chose to stay in Torre del Greco because it stands at the foot of Vesuvius, and is a good location to explore Pompei and Herculano. Unfortunateley, it is a town with no character or charm, and we would not recommend it. However, there is a good suburban railway line (the Circumvesuviano) which enables you to stay anywhere in the region and get to the main attractions (bikes are theoretically not allowed on the trains, but the staff turn a bind eye).
General guidance on cycling in Italy
- Roads turn in to motorways.
- We found that you don’t usually need to book accommodation in advance. As long as you are not too fussy you can always find a room somewhere. This means that you can be fairly flexible, cycling for longer on days that you feel inclined, and cutting short cycling on other days.
- Pack light (see the packing list below).
- The weather in early August was really hot – from 30 to 35 degrees.
- Drink lots of water. We managed 4 to 5 litres a day on really hot days in Italy.
Here is what we took with us:
- 2 pairs cycling shorts
- 2 t-shirts or cycling vests
- 1 pair runnig shoes and shorts (we are runners!)
- 1 long trousers, smart shirt, sandals for evenings
- 2 underwear and socks
- a tube of travel washing liquid
- toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shampoo
- sunglasses, sun tan lotion & after-sun
- cycling shoes, gloves and helmet
- water bottle
- maps (see below)
- folding anorak
- tools: allen keys, pump, spanners for rack, headset and pedals, inner tube, brake blocks
- a bum-bag
- camera, film, personal organiser, pen
- mobile phone and charger
For Italy, we used 1:200 000 Touring Club Italiano maps (Grande carta stradale d’Italia). There are 15 sheets, covering the whole country. On this tour we used the Lombardia, Toscana, Lazio and Campania E Basilicata sheets.For Switzerland we used the [Swiss Cycling Map]
We used the Michelin Green Guide to Italy. For booking accommdation ahead, the Michelin Red Guide is available to be downloaded onto a palmtop computer, which saves room and weight in your panniers.