Day 5: Pinerolo – Saluzzo

Distance: 41.2 km

Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Average speed: 21.5 kph

 

Cumulative distance: 243.87 km

Cumulative time: 11 hours 30 minutes

 

Phrase of the day: ‘Pelle d’oca’ (pell-ay d’ock-ah) – goose bumps

 

The Captain made a beautiful risotto for dinner last night, which was followed by the cakes we’d bought at lunch. After dinner there was a huge thunderstorm, it seemed to be right overhead. Rain fell into the internal courtyard of our building, but it did clear the air, it had felt quite humid.

This morning after a breakfast of ‘toast’ (sort of!), we packed up and left the bags with the tandem whilst we visited the duomo. Very ornate inside, the ceiling a vibrant blue. Back at the apartment, the father of our very helpful host unlocked the door so we could get the tandem out, and asked us about our trip. When we told him we were headed ultimately for Sicily, he looked like he thought he’d misheard. And then when we confirmed, he looked horrified, then impressed. “Ho pelle d’oca!”, he said (see the phrase of the day).

We left Pinerolo (eventually… one of these days it’ll be a flawless exit), and struck out for Saluzzo, an early climb to loosen the legs and then a fast run pretty much due south. We’re still in the foothills of the Alps here, they have been a constant presence at the right shoulder for the last couple of days. Today we had views of snowy tops, shrouded still in cloud, and then a brief but remarkable view of a distant ‘proper’ mountain.

The local industry seemed to be mainly rock-based, there were any number of huge yards full of enormous lumps of grey rock, alongside tidy piles of the small grey cobblestones they were destined to be worked into.

We spotted Saluzzo from about 10 km out, terracotta roof tiles, spires, looking lovely. Tonight’s apartment was located in the old town, we knew, so it wasn’t a surprise when we were turned off up a rather vertiginous cobbled street to get to it. It got worse, though, an even steeper street, 1 in 3 perhaps, large round stones, a completely unrideable surface. We got off and pushed.

The young postman passed us on his moped, which seemed ambitious! He stopped and left it on its stand whilst he ran about delivering post. We tortoised up on foot, and then watched him struggle to get the moped off its stand to get going on upwards. He yelled for assistance, which the Captain duly provided, and then he disappeared up the street and around the steep bend.

There was a loud crash, and a feeble ‘parp’ as the moped failed to handle the gradient, crashed and fell over onto its horn. When we rounded the corner, the postman was on his feet, unhurt but cross. Maybe his first day on this round?

After a bit more tandem-wrangling around a closed section we found the road where tonight’s apartment is located, complete with a nice-looking osteria, so we parked up and enjoyed a small but gorgeous lunch.

Silvio arrived and let us into the apartment, and we wheeled the tandem down to his own garage for the night. A quick shower and change into ‘civvies’, and we headed out to ‘La Castiglia’, once the seat of the Marquesi di Saluzzo, and then a prison until surprisingly recently. One of the cells was set up to show life as it was for the inhabitants during the seventies.

One of the ladies in the ticket office told us to come back after we’d finished looking around so she could take us up to the viewpoint – it was spectacular, even though she said the clouds were preventing us from seeing all the way to Turin. She suggested a visit to Vicoforte when we are in the vicinity of Mondovì tomorrow or Saturday, so we’ll build that in to our plans.

Saluzzo is just impossibly lovely, up here where our apartment is located are little tiny streets, incredible views, a feeling of times past, and then just down below is a more modern town, still pretty, but quite a contrast.

Well worth pushing the tandem up those cobbles.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 4: Castello di Rivoli to Pinerolo

Distance: 31.99 km

Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

Average speed: 19.6kph

Cumulative distance: 202.67 km

Cumulative time: 9 hours 35 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘Dissuasori di velocità’ (diss-ooh-ah-soar-ee dee vay-loh-chee-ta) – speed bumps

We ate a fabulous breakfast this morning, in a gazebo in the sunny courtyard of our B&B in Castello di Rivoli. Roberto, our very friendly host, had assembled a range of delicious cheeses, including Caciotta from Umbria, Fiera from Alba and Tomme from Lanzo, a town through which we passed yesterday on the tandem. There was prosciutto (crudo and cotto), salami and some great ciabbatine, all washed down with more than the authorised number of cappuccini (i.e. 2).

After breakfast we walked up the cobbled streets to the Castello. This was a more difficult process than might be imagined. We have ‘cleats’ on the bottom of our cycling sandals, which allow us to clip into our pedals. These are recessed slightly into the sole of the sandal. On cobbles, manhole covers and other perilous surfaces they can be very slippy, so extreme caution must be employed, particularly on a rainy day.

We made it up to the Castello unscathed, though, and spent a fascinating ninety minutes there.

It sits on a high ridge, overlooking the town of Rivoli, and has spectacular distant views over the city of Turin, and towards the Alps in the North and West.

The Castello now hosts a museum of modern art, with permanent and temporary exhibits, including a fine piece from Ai Wei Wei.

We wandered around enjoying the art for some time. Gradually we became aware that one of the members of staff at the gallery was following us around, none too discreetly, to check that we weren’t up to no good. At last, disreputable old age…!

Returning, cautiously, down the cobbled Via a Castello we made our way back to collect all our belongings and set off for what we knew would be a short day. The first couple of kilometres were on busy cobbled streets, so the Captain had to weave slowly around pedestrians until we hit smooth tarmac, at which point he accelerated, missing the turn-off to the cycle path. Can we never leave a town flawlessly?!

We’d plotted the route today to make use of strade provinciale – these are normally peaceful roads with little traffic. What we hadn’t taken into account, perhaps, was our proximity to Turin, and the roads turned out to be busy and moderately unpleasant. The roads were fast, though, and so were we – at least as fast as we can ever be when carrying all we need for months of cycling. We were also able to enjoy picturesque views of the Alps, which today were hooded with sinister-looking grey clouds. These looked as though they might open at any moment, so we were surprised to remain dry all day.

Eventually our route took us onto a dedicated cycle path, metalled and secluded from the traffic. Merrily burbling along, smelling the jasmine and listening to the birdsong, we were really enjoying ourselves until we saw a sign warning of flooding, and then this:

There was nothing for it but to man-and-woman-haul our heavy tandem over the pipes, so we got on with it, carefully and ultimately successfully. There then followed a couple more kilometres of cycle path before we returned to the busy main road leading into Pinerolo.

The Stoker likes to take a picture of the town signs for our destination each day, for use in later videos. Today, when the Captain alerted her to the presence of the sign (he is in front, so sees them first!) she noticed a supplementary sign indicating that the use of horns is forbidden in Pinerolo. She never was one for slavish adherence to the law:

http://tandem.lynas.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/DC4610FB-9003-4F59-9795-79C4F41AF495.mov

All of this had taken such a small amount of time that we hadn’t eaten lunch, so instead of heading straight to our AirBnB we found a pasticceria, where we ate focaccia and the Captain enjoyed a tasty artisanal birra bionda. We also selected from their fine array of cakes in order to supplement tonight’s planned risotto.

So here we are, in a very pleasant apartment, in a building dating back to the 15th century, with a fine internal courtyard. It’s a tough life. Tomorrow we are cycling to Saluzzo, but we will plan the route a little more carefully – it looks as though there is a fine road circumscribing the foot of the mountains.

…and here’s a picture of some contented tandemisti:

Here’s today’s track.

Day 3: Ivrea – Castello di Rivoli

Distance: 77.77km

Time: 4 hours 10 minutes

Average speed: 18.7kph

Cumulative distance: 170.68km

Cumulative time: 7 hours 57 minutes

Word of the day: ‘pioggia’ (pee-odge-ee-ah) – rain

On every tour a little rain must fall. And so it proved today. It was forecast, so not a surprise, but as we left under leaden skies, it seemed inevitable that the ‘macs in sacs’ we bought in the Netherlands would be making an appearance sooner rather than later.

We stopped briefly in Ivrea to purchase some gloves for the Captain (a left and a right, what a novel idea!), and then followed the usual initial navigational faffing about with Jack the Garmin. For some reason, leaving never seems to be as easy as arriving. Roads are unexpectedly one-way in the wrong direction, or cobbled (ugh), or shut, or something. Anyway, there were lots of cheerful greetings of ‘buongiorno’ and ‘ciao’ from locals, and offers of directions, and we followed a lady on a bike who seemed to know how to find the cycle path, and then we were away.

The heavens opened, of course, and it absolutely poured. Proper rain, the sort that runs down your face and off the end of your nose in a stream. It wasn’t cold, just very, very wet. We’re wearing open ‘sandal’-style cycling shoes – it turns out these are brilliant in the rain, because it just runs out of the toes!

We headed up the first climb, towards Castellamonte, a gentle gradient, we seemed to get up it with little effort. There was plenty of time to smell the jasmine which seems to be everywhere here, and the honeysuckle.

At the top of the climb a high, narrow bridge crossed the river far below. There had obviously been some sort of incident, blue flashing lights at the other side and traffic crossing in turn, directed by carabinieri. He made us wait after we’d crossed the bridge while the traffic behind us went ahead, then we had the road to ourselves for a while as the queue of cars crossed back the other way. We descended, carefully in the wet, and then tonked along the flat for a while as the clouds lifted.

At the second climb we saw our shadows for the first time, and tried to decide whether to eat before the big climb coming up soon at 50km. We both felt fine to continue, but if you don’t eat before a big effort you do run the risk of the ‘hunger knock’ part way up – like your batteries have suddenly run down completely.

All too soon Jack was displaying unmistakeable signs of upcoming hairpin bends, and we were onto it. It was grand – we absolutely bossed it! “Not bad”, we said, smugly, and enjoyed the descent, the roads dry now, and the sun out. But wait, what are those curvy lines coming up on the map? The second half of the climb, more hairpins, a bit steeper. No problem, though, still enough in the tanks, and soon done. There were fleeting views of Turin below, away to our left, and then an interesting lunch concept – a butcher’s shop with attached grill. You choose your panino filling from his handmade sausages, hamburgers and other products, and he grills it fresh for you. Fabulous. While we waited, a friendly local from Susa who’d been having lunch chatted to us about our ‘giro d’Italia’, and recommended a local point of interest.

Just 10km to complete after lunch, mostly downhill to start with, and in no time we were knocking on the door of our friendly B&B in Rivoli, very close to the castello. It’ll be a short day to Pinerolo tomorrow, so there’ll be time for a visit to the castello before we leave.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 2: Saint Vincent – Ivrea

Distance: 43.71km

Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

Average speed: 25.8 kph

Cumulative distance: 92.91km

Cumulative time: 3 hours 47 minutes

Word of the day: ‘librarsi’ (leeb-rahr-see) – to swoop.

After a simple dinner and a bottle of Vallee d’Aosta wine last night we slept soundly, despite the lightning storms in the valley. We also got the chance to repeat (in Italian, of course) the same joke on which we relied when cycling the length of France. It goes like this:

Random stranger: Dove andate?  (Where are you going?)

Captain or Stoker: A Sicilia (To Sicily)

Pause

Captain or Stoker: Ma non oggi! (but not today!)

Okay, perhaps you have to be there…!

Today we were following the path of the Via Francigena, the ancient route that in mediaeval times connected Canterbury to Rome. Our destination, Ivrea, sits at the entrance to the Aosta Valley, where it gives way to the valley of the River Po. Our plan, over the next few days, is to skirt around Turin to the west, in the foothills of the Alps, with the aim of being in Barolo for the Captain’s birthday on June 3rd. That may prove expensive!

We left Saint-Vincent on cobbled streets, soon joining via Roma. At this point the Aosta Valley takes a sharp turn towards the south, and narrows significantly.  There’s just enough room for the Autostrada, the railway, the Dora Baltea river and via Roma itself.

 

 

In practical terms our journey involved large but shallow descents for much of the day – if I can be forgiven for stealing two of the Stoker’s favourite descriptions of cycling descents, we were swooping and gliding down the valley on roads recently resurfaced for the Giro d’Italia.

All of this could be described as exhilarating. The scenery was spectacular – narrow glacial valleys, a turbulent river filled with glacial meltwater, ancient forts guarding the valley floor. If it were not for our natural British reserve we may well have been whooping with delight. Instead we relied upon murmurs of approbation and the occasional ‘Oh my word’!

Occasionally we cycled along the riverbank. The striking feature of this was the drop in temperature – the river was frigid with glacial meltwater, and this had a significant chilling effect on the surrounding air. Brrrr!

 

We had planned on visiting the Forte di Bard, but in Italy, as in France, many places remain closed on a Monday, so we could only admire it from a distance. There was much to be admired, though.

 

Instead we continued downhill, at a fast pace, encountering the first Nebbiolo vineyards (the Barolo grape). As we approached Ivrea the surrounding mountains diminished in size until we emerged from the valley into the outskirts of Ivrea.

Here we are self-catering and staying in an AirBnB loft apartment, a few minutes on foot from the centre of Ivrea, a place which, in common with most Italian towns, consigns industry and commerce to the outskirts, preserving the historical centre.

 

Ivrea’s fortune arose in the sale of Olivetti typewriters. Adriano  Olivetti invested heavily in the town, aiming to build a ‘more human’ industrial town, much like Sir Titus Salt and the Yorkshire town of Saltaire.

Well, I had planned to be concise. Tomorrow we’re having a longer day, cycling via Castellamonte to Castello di Rivoli, due west of Turin. 

Here’s today’s track.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1: Cervinia – Fénis – Saint Vincent

Distance: 49.2km

Average speed: 23.4 kph

Time:  2 hours 6 minutes.

Word of the day: ‘discesa’ (dee-shay-zah) – descent.

So, finally, we’re off. After breakfast we packed up the apartment, drove the car down to the garage, retrieved the tandem, squeezed the car into the garage, loaded the panniers onto the bike, helmets on, gloves on…

Oh. The captain has two left gloves!

Disregarding this minor packing error, we climbed on, turned our backs to Il Cervino (the Italian side of the Matterhorn) and set off downhill.

The Giro d’Italia finished here yesterday, the place was heaving, and we saw Chris Froome take the penultimate pink jersey, on the last contested stage. It’s been a fantastic race, Simon Yates was doing so well until he faded, but he’s young, he’ll be back. Today, though, everything was back to normal, all the race infrastructure had disappeared as if by magic overnight. We coasted slowly, slightly nervously through town, getting used to the laden weight of the tandem. The road descends for more than 22km, with several sets of hairpin bends, so we took it very steadily, noting the ‘road art’ from the race.

There are several tunnels – wow, they were cold. Mostly, we felt the air thickening (Cervinia is at over 2000m in altitude) and the temperature rising, the tandem felt good and it was wonderful to be on our way at last after all the build-up. As we reached lower altitudes the valley became greener, meadows on either side and the trees in full leaf.

Eventually we arrived at the bottom of the descent, marked by a scale replica of the Matterhorn in the middle of the roundabout. We headed west first, towards Fénis, for lunch and a look at the castello, a slightly foreboding thing, lovely crenellations.

After lunch it was back to the Matterhorn roundabout, past several noisy, rushing waterways taking the winter meltwater down to the valley flow. The colour is amazing – opaquely green with all the minerals it carries. Through Chatillon, past the entrance to the autoroute and onto the Saint Vincent road. We found the hotel, parked the tandem, checked in and, after a quick shower, headed straight up the funicular to the Terme, a lovely spa complex with thermal pools. It was fabulous, especially the outside pool, in the fresh air, wildly forested slopes on either side and a view right down the valley.

 

 

It wasn’t a great distance today, although more ‘up and down’ than we’d expected after the initial plummet from Cervinia. Good to get the legs moving, though, and to get some kilometres recorded.

Here’s today’s track.