Cycling adventures: Riding from Venice to Umbria | VailDaily.com

Cycling adventures: Riding from Venice to Umbria

Rob Philippe
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series about a Frisco cyclist's month-long bike tour in Italy. Read the first article of the series at http://www.vaildaily.com. The first article chronicles Rob Philippe and his wife Valerie's bike tour from Bolzano, Italy, to Venice, where this article continues.

If Venice is sinking into the lagoon, it is because of the weight of all of the tourists — 85,000 visitors each day create a mob scene. Mi scusi, if you don't want to be jostled, jam-packed and groped on every bit of your body, then stay out of Venice. Actually we did stay out of Venice on the adjacent mainland in the boring city of Mastre. We knew this was going to happen but no amount of conversation was going to get EuroBike, our tour service, to book our hotel in Venice. It is a bit of a downer to complete the weeklong ride to Venice and not be in Venice. But we had stayed in Venice previously, and two nights on the Grand Canal cost as much as the entire weeklong bike tour we had just finished.

Arrivederci to the semi-friends from one tour and buon giorno to the next group of middle age Northern Europeans plus a couple of Australians. Another organizational meeting, more maps and instructions, soon we are off on a weeklong, self-guided bike tour from Venice to Florence. We finally get to ride what turned out to be a difficult urban route to Venice and pedaled right on to a ferry boat. There's no better way to see this fascinating city than in the early morning with the sun rising up under dark clouds.

The damp, drizzly day turns warm and sunny as we island hop, ferry to and ride south down the length of Lido Island, ferry to and ride Palestrina Island then ferry to Chioggia. By the end of the day, we have seen much of Venice's fishing fleet and the outlying fishing villages. We spend the night in Chioggia, and it's cobblestone main street is alive with people from the ancient Roman arch all of the way down to the busy harbor. Next time in Venice, this is something you must do.

Every town with a canal calls itself 'Little Venice" and it takes us several long days to ride across the expansive Po River delta. The route is some bike path, lots of gravel road (called white road) and a surprising amount of vegetation clogged singletrack.

Each night, we find fantastic food and because of my involvement in the business, I get a tour of almost every kitchen. For the most part it is always a family run business, grandma is in the kitchen and the rest of the family working out front. Every business in Italy is understaffed, terribly over burdened by outrageous employment taxes; still the service is as good as the food.

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No longer on flat land, we head up river past several ancient cities that we had never heard of before. We pedal past medieval Faenza with famous ceramics still made there today, on to the most typical medieval hill town of Brisighella , always slowly climbing into the Apennines Mountains and away from the coast and back into the land of rabbit bolognese and grass-fed beef.

Hills, Hills and more Hills

Florence, the capital of Tuscany, would be the perfect ending of a two-week long bicycle tour for any normal person. For us, it was just another two-day stop to lick our wounds before embarking on the more strenuous and, I think, more beautiful ride through Tuscany and Umbria. Did I mention that my traveling partner, Valerie, lives by the creed of "Must see everything and must do everything?" I need a shopping bag to carry the validated museum tickets from the past two weeks.

We take leave of EuroBike in the rain and wake up to sunshine in Siena, once the second largest city of the Middle Ages. Wow… this is real Tuscany! This style of life is easy to get use to: every day a parade of ancient, interesting and beautiful scenery. There is a price to pay, as in this part of Italy, everything is built on a hilltop and reached by some fairly steep climbs. Beyond the hilltop towns, there are higher mountains to be crossed. Sometimes we are riding in the clouds; there is an eerie lack of traffic and few opportunities for supplies exist.

Besides being groped on a bus in Rome, there is only one other bus story to be told. We got some bad advice and ended up on the wrong bus with our bikes and had to find our way back to where we started. Still, the day ends well and soon we are safe in Montalcino.

We enjoy the next several days as we ride up and down through some of the most prized wine country in all of Europe. It is like a dream. The narrow endless, empty roads broken only by steep climbs, countless switchbacks and beautiful vistas. Every night is spent in a picturesque village and each day the directions end with "enter through the Roman Gate." Our reward is great food, world-class wine and a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Dreaming in the mountains

I think I'm becoming an Italian as I drink only mineral water and I'm eating smoked goose liver carpaccio, sausage stuffed rabbit, deep fried poached egg swimming in liquid cheese. Bring it on, after 30 days of this I may be an "al dente' expert.

The next day we cycle up to Cortona chased by lightning, rain and dark clouds, riding too many switch backs to reach the walled city said to be founded by Noah's son Crano. The next morning it's up and over a high mountain pass into the Mussolini friendly hill country below. Finally, we enter into Umbria with rolling green hills and more hilltop citadels, starting with the steepest most condensed walled village of the trip, Montone, often called the most beautiful of medieval towns.

Things really get interesting in the hilltop town of Assisi as my Colorado cousins Jim and Eugenia who are traveling in Europe have picked up our trail and want to take me up on the offer I made back home in Colorado: "Find us and I will buy you the best lunch in town!"

What a welcome relief, we have been on our own for almost a month and now we get to speak English to someone but ourselves. We eat, we drink. The next day is a beautiful and thrilling ride down ancient pilgrim paths, down steep and narrow alleys through Spello famous for olive tree topped towers. Soon the route becomes rolling wine country filled with inviting wineries. This is repeated for several villages where we repeat the eating and drinking.

Hard to believe it is over. We find our way to the train station for a short rail hop into Rome, sans bikes. We become tourists in Rome for a day and then go to the airport where our flight is delayed for several hours due to a strike by the cabin cleaning crew! We get on a brand-new trash-filled Airbus and come home. Of course by now we are pretty tough characters, so we laugh it off. To borrow a line from the opera Pagliacci "La commedia e finita." Would we do it again? You bet!

Rob Philippe lives in Frisco and is a connoisseur of the fine art of bike touring. Send comments about this article to kdriscoll@vaildaily.com.