Day 30: San Casciano in Val di Pesa – Radda in Chianti

Distance: 35.47 km

Time: 2 hours 36 minutes

Average speed: 13.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 1567.06 km

Cumulative time: 76 hours 58 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘Cani pazzi ed uomini inglesi vanno fuori al sole di mezzogiorno‘ (cah-ni pat-zi edd oo-omm-ee-nee een-glay-zee van-no foo-oar-ee al sow-lay dee metz-oh-jaw-noh) – Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!

(With apologies to Noël Coward!)

We hadn’t originally planned to stay in San Casciano – the balance of our journey would have worked better had we stayed in Mercatale, a few kilometres further on. We’re so glad that we changed our minds though. In particular we loved the apartment, which was undoubtedly the best in which we have stayed so far (Grazie mille, Eleonora e famiglia!) .

After resting and showering yesterday we strolled around for a while, enjoying the atmosphere. At the other side of Piazza Della Republica was the Torre del Chianti – it took us some time to work out how to gain entry, but when we did, it was excellent.

It’s a modern construction, and offers three hundred and sixty degree views from the top. It enabled us to look over the town and get our bearings.

When we looked to the north, we could see the Duomo in Florence. It’s a week since we were there, but it still looked very close, on account of our somewhat circuitous route.

Last night we enjoyed a beautifully cooked meal while the evening passeggiata took place along Via Niccolò Machiavelli.

Today’s journey, we knew, would be tough. It involved two big climbs and a number of smaller ones, and the weather forecast indicated it would be very hot. The mileage wasn’t high, but the conditions would make it difficult. Still, the prospect of a day off in Radda was an excellent incentive.

Off we pedalled, then, out of the village into a lush green landscape of vines and olive trees. All of our journey today took place in the Chianti Classico area, and the views throughout the day were memorable. They were mainly seen, though, through a film of sweat! Cyclists like to describe this sort of day, with characteristic understatement, as ‘lumpy’! The first eight or so kilometres out of San Casciano were more-or-less level, but then the gradient kicked up sharply. At home, in the cooler climate, this sort of gradient would be much easier to handle. Here, though, with a temperature approaching thirty-five degrees Celsius, it was a different proposition. Before long we were both drenched, and we had to stop to take on water.

Whilst climbing the first hill there was an opportunity to look back towards San Casciano. Any excuse to stop for a breather!

Two false summits followed, until at last, legs screaming, we achieved the summit and began our descent towards Panzano. This was our only sensible opportunity for lunch today, so we diverted into town and found a café with a terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside. Here we had panini and acqua gassata. Oh, and then the Stoker spotted chocolate milk shakes on the menu. These sounded like perfect fuel for our second climb, so we ordered one of those each as well. They were delicious!

After Panzano we continued our descent for a few delightful kilometres, surrounded by vineyards.

Radda was only a short distance away, but at the top of a hill. The climb, though, was gentler than this morning’s effort, at least to start with, and our lunch had certainly helped. Our speed even picked up a little when tantalising glimpses of the town began to appear.

It was only in the final kilometre that we had to increase our effort. The sound of our ragged breathing must have alarmed those going about their peaceful business in Radda! Still, before long we were pulling up at our hotel. Here’s the Stoker, looking a little pink after a hard day’s work:

We’re staying here for two nights, so no blog post tomorrow, when we shall be eating out at La Botte di Bacco, a restaurant recommended to us by Peter and Sally.

Our next destination, on Monday, will be Arezzo. After that we intend to visit Lake Trasimeno, before climbing up to Assisi.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 29: Villanuova – San Casciano in Val di Pesa

Distance: 22.48 km

Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

Average speed: 16.2 kph

Cumulative distance: 1531.59 km

Cumulative time: 74 hours 22 minutes

Word of the day: ‘corte’ (core-tay) – short

Villanuova was pretty quiet, we popped into the Spar to pick up some ingredients for tea, and had a lovely conversation with the very vibrant young woman serving, an enthusiastic Anglophile and very keen to have an opportunity to speak English. Our Airbnb apartment wasn’t the best we’ve had, it was fine, but very slightly grubby and disorganised, and a problem with the plumbing under the sink caused a bit of a lake on washing up! The balcony had a nice view, though, and we enjoyed eating dinner and finishing the wine out there, watching the light change on the hillside and listening to the ‘thwock’ of tennis balls being struck at the tennis club at the end of the garden.

We had breakfast at the Spar this morning (it was also a café) and the young woman gleefully suggested we take a whole watermelon up the climb with us today, because it would be so refreshing at the top!

A short day today, but we knew there was a stiff climb to get up to reach San Casciano in Val di Pesa. We pedalled out of Villanuova and turned down into the Val di Pesa. The ‘Fi-Pi-Li’ road runs through it, a huge highway running from Florence (Fi) via Pisa (Pi) to Livorno (Li), and there was a big queue of traffic waiting to get onto it. We managed to bypass most of the queue, and avoid accidentally getting on to the Fi-Pi-Li (bicycles very much not allowed!), and then carried along the valley floor to Cerbaia, where the road started to kick up.

We stopped for some water first, right by the sign which read ‘9%’. It looked pretty unrelenting on Jack the Garmin’s ‘hill profile’ view.

It was hard graft. At least 9% for almost a kilometre and a half, just straight up, not a metre of respite. We took it slowly, no heroics, and were rewarded with great views back down the valley when we finally reached the plateau.

There were a few ups and downs to get into San Casciano, but we arrived pretty much on the dot of midday. It’s a lovely place.

Its claim to fame is that Machiavelli wrote ‘The Prince’ here, although it is said that he fell to writing it out of sheer boredom during his exile in the town.

Our apartment is on Via Niccolò Machiavelli, in fact, and it is the antithesis of yesterday’s: beautiful; pristine; fabulous.

We’re off out to the town’s Torre del Chianti later, from which the views should be spectacular. We’re right in Chanti Classico country here – wine buffs will remember that there’s a black cockerel on the pink label of every bottle of DOCG Chianti Classico wine:

Might have to look out for that tonight…

Here’s today’s track.

P.S. The Captain’s succeeded in having a haircut!

Day 28: Cascina – Villanuova

Distance: 47.29 km

Time: 2 hours 19 minutes

Average speed: 20.4 kph

Cumulative distance: 1509.11 km

Cumulative time: 72 hours 39 minutes

Word of the day: ‘improvvisare’ (im-prov-ee-sah-ray) – to improvise

Dinner last night was a prawn and zucchini risotto, cooked in our lodgings, accompanied by a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. Then, once England had safely beaten Australia in the T20 we settled down for a good night’s sleep.

There was no particular need for an early start today, as we couldn’t check in to our next B&B until 3pm. Time, then, for a trip to a nearby bike shop to acquire some new disk brake pads to keep as spares in our panniers. Then we headed for breakfast in Casciano’s centre, cautiously weaving our way through the extensive market which was taking place on the main street. Today we both had croccanti with a ‘fruits of the forest’ filling – very good indeed. After that we headed for the outskirts of town, looking for a unisex hairdresser, as the Captain is becoming particularly shaggy. Sadly, although he had looked up all of the vocabulary for the hair cutting process, including the word for hair clippers (tosatrice) they were too busy. Ah well, perhaps another day.

Today could best be described as a transitional day. We’re planning to arrive at Radda in Chianti on Saturday for a rest day on Sunday. Plotting this has been surprisingly difficult, as accommodation between here and Radda is scarce. So essentially today we were crossing the plains between Pisa and Empoli, in order to position ourselves for a short but steep-ish ascent into the Chianti hills tomorrow, to San Casciano in Val di Pesa, and then a more challenging ascent on Saturday en-route to the hill-top town of Radda.

So, to be honest, finding points of interest to describe today was a little difficult. So I shall be brief (!). Between Cascina and our lunch stop at San Miniato Basso most of the scenery was of small industrial estates and dull roads, like this:

We did spend some time on a gravel track, much to the discomfort of the Stoker – this also slowed us down quite considerably. We also rejected a few rougher tracks which we had incorporated inadvertently into our route. This required some rapid improvisational changes to said route, performed admirably by the Stoker. Occasionally, just occasionally, we were awarded the luxury of a small quiet road like this:

Mostly, though, it was dull! For the last few kilometres to Villanuova things started to perk up a bit – the hills loomed ever closer, the vineyards reappeared and we started to weave through small and attractive villages on peaceful roads.

Soon we arrived at our lodgings in Villanuova, which have a lovely view to the south. It’s a quiet town, with a single food shop and a restaurant, so we have all we need.

Tomorrow the climbing starts again. We’re well equipped, though, as our leg muscles are teak-hard, after all the work we’ve done so far!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 27: Lucca to Cascina via Pisa

Distance: 43.49 km

Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Average speed: 20.0 kph

Cumulative distance: 1461.82 km

Cumulative time: 70 hours 20 minutes

Word of the day: ‘pendente’ (pen-den-tay) – leaning

We went back to the Pizza Anfiteatro last night and had a square pizza (square!) in the evening sunlight.

It was a great place for people-watching, there were hordes of tourists (including ourselves, of course), but it was good-natured and the smiley restaurant staff seemed to be coping just fine. What a long summer they still have ahead of them. We swung past Puccini’s birthplace on our way back to the apartment, and after a small grappa each as supplied by our host, we turned in.

Breakfast was taken inside Lucca’s walls, after which we braved the real world once again, escaping almost immediately onto a lovely tiny green road. There were a few cheery cyclists out today, going the other way, so we didn’t have to try and catch them.

Our objective today was to get to Pisa, see the sights, and then head east to Cascina, a little town on the way to Chianti. We’d plotted a route on little roads, which were initially lovely. Then we hit the Pista Ciclabile di Puccini. Puccini’s Cycleway. It was anything but ciclabile, Puccini must have had a quad bike to get round some of those craters! We diverted to the parallel road, which was fine, and then suddenly very, very straight, leading right into Pisa and giving us a great distant view of its famous tower, albeit from an angle which made it look perfectly straight itself.

We wheeled into the Piazza dei Miracoli, and there it was.

It’s become something of a cliché, perhaps, the ‘Leaning Tower’, but it’s truly extraordinary. The bright green grass, the azure sky and the brilliant white of the tower were an incredible sight, even leaving aside its crazy angle. It’s beautiful, gorgeous pillars, sort of bigger than you think it’s going to be and smaller at the same time. It leans at a smidge under four percent, apparently, and was already slipping when they’d built only three of its stories – you can see the correction in angle beginning in the upper part of the tower.

The poor old duomo right next door hardly gets a look in – anywhere else and it would be an attraction in its own right, but being next to the tower, it’s very much the secondary thing.

There’s also a very striking baptistery round the back.

It was absolutely heaving, with an awful lot of “me holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa” picture-taking going on!

We took lots of pictures ourselves, and then headed out of the madness towards the mountains. We found ourselves riding alongside an aqueduct, for kilometre after kilometre.

Later research indicates that it was the Medici aqueduct of Asciano, six kilometres long and more than nine hundred arches. The precision required to build a successful aqueduct that long is amazing for the time. Much of it is still standing.

We had lunch in Asciano, then pushed on to Cascina, past this weird rock formation with the ruins of a tower on top.

We’re settled into our apartment now, with risotto planned for tea, and a bottle of wine from the supermarket. We went shopping on the bike, unusually. This seemed the best way to transport the wine:

Here’s today’s track.

Day 26: Montecatini Terme – Lucca

Distance: 38.52 km

Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Average speed: 21.1 kph

Cumulative distance: 1418.33 km

Cumulative time: 68 hours 10 minutes

Word of the day: ‘incantevole’ (een-can-tay-volay) – enchanting

A straight-line route from Montecatini Terme to Lucca measures only eighteen miles or so. This seemed like a feeble effort, and would have led to us arriving at our lodgings before they were able to accommodate us. So instead the Captain plotted a slightly more circuitous route, on quiet roads, with the occasional hill to keep us entertained.

We breakfasted in Montecatini’s main square – Piazza del Popolo. Not a large breakfast today, with so few miles to cover, but it was very pleasant to sit in the sun and savour our cappuccini. We set off in a westerly direction, to cross the plain between the Apennines and the Pisa Hills, which sit between Lucca and Pisa.

On our way out we were treated to a fine retrospective view of Montecatini Alto.

Today’s cycling was much more pleasant, on quieter roads with rather fine views of the mountains to the north. Spotting a small group or ‘road warriors’ ahead, we accelerated and tagged onto the back.

We were perfectly capable of matching their speed, at least until we hit a long uphill stretch. Tandems don’t climb well!

We were speeding along, although I’m not sure that this roadside sensor measured our speed entirely correctly – even on a very good day we’ve never managed 151 kilometres per hour.

Soon we encountered the only real hill of the day. We like the rolling countryside best – going uphill has at least two benefits – often there’s a fine view from the top, and then you can enjoy the long descent. Our route was bringing us closer to some excellent views of the Apennines, north of our destination.

It was just after this point that an Italian cyclist passed us, and told the Captain (in Italian) that the Stoker needed to pedal harder. He volunteered to hang around to check that she was doing so! This was the nearest equivalent to that often repeated joke offered to tandemists: “She’s not pedalling at the back!”.

Eventually we took a more purposeful turn south, and before long we reached the Luccan walls. Traffic within the walls is more-or-less forbidden (a rule casually and regularly broken by Italian drivers), but bicycles are permitted, so on finding a suitable gate (that of San Donato, to the west) we entered the centro storico and threaded our way through streets thronged with pedestrians and fellow cyclists until we located our lodgings.

Now half a day is clearly an inadequate period of time to spend on Lucca – it has available an embarrassment of riches. All we could do, really, was to enjoy a taster. So, having refuelled near Piazza Napoleon on Risotto (Captain) and Brie and Walnut salad (Stoker) we set off to make the most of our short visit.

Lucca’s streets generally follow a grid pattern, and every one seems to have something of interest. We visited the church of San Michele, admiring its beautiful facade.

Apparently Puccini was a choirboy there. Venturing in, we admired the simplicity of the interior, but were less enamoured of the grisly relic forming the centrepiece of the altar.

Next we headed to Torre Guinigi, a real curiosity – it has trees growing from the top of the tower.

We ascended two hundred and thirty steps to take a look, and were well rewarded. The view towards Piazza Anfiteatro, backed by the Apennines, was stunning.

In fact there were superb views to all points of the compass. We could even make out Montecatini Alto, in the distance.

After heading north to the enchanting Piazza Anfiteatro, we returned via the Duomo and the city walls to our lodgings.

It has been a magnificent introduction to a place to which we will no doubt return some day. Tonight we’ll have another wander before dinner.

Tomorrow we’re heading over the Pisan Hills to the town that gave them their name. We’re wondering if there’s anything to see there. 😊 Thereafter we’ll turn east and begin our journey towards the hills of Chianti.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 25: Fiesole – Montecatini Terme

Distance: 54.87 km

Time: 2 hours 58 minutes

Average speed: 18.5 kph

Cumulative distance: 1379.81 km

Cumulative time: 66 hours 20 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘brutto e bello’ (brew-toe eh bell-oh) – ugly and beautiful

Fiesole was a lovely place to spend our weekend ‘off’.

Up in the hills outside Florence it had spectacular views of the city, including from our hotel’s restaurant and from the terrace, where we had breakfast each day. The pool was small but perfectly formed for refreshing relaxation. We walked up to the main town square for dinner one night, and for lunch and a more extensive explore on Sunday.

Fiesole has a Roman amphitheatre, some baths and some Etruscan ruins, all with fabulous views over the countryside.

In the main square was a statue celebrating the little-known meeting between Richard III and Fidel Castro:

Apparently it’s actually Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II.

There were some striking contrasts between our new region, Tuscany, and our previous location in Emilia–Romagna in the Po valley. Before our heroic conquering of the Apennines (!) we’d been cycling through flat countryside full of very managed crops, cereals, fruit, unidentified other stuff. Tuscany is all green hills, silvery olive groves, pencil cypress trees. It felt very different, and we appreciated very much that travelling through a country by bicycle is both fast enough to show the contrasts, and slow enough to give you time to enjoy them.

The other contrast was hearing voices speaking English again! Tuscany is very popular with Brits, and on hearing our countryfolk around and about, we realised that we hadn’t really heard English spoken, or interacted with anyone in English for about ten days. Other than each other, of course.

So it was a fabulous weekend, very relaxing and restorative. This morning we had one last breakfast on the terrace looking down on Florence, packed everything back into the panniers and headed off downhill.

After less than a kilometre we encountered our first problem. A one way road going the wrong way. We knew it was coming, it was very narrow, and although elsewhere on this trip so far it seems everyone is entirely happy for cyclists to go the wrong way down a one way street, we knew that in Florence if you’re caught it’s a 45 euro fine. The way around it was a five kilometre detour, so we’d decided in advance we’d just walk it, there was a pedestrian lane.

That done, we tackled a succession of sharp hills, and then finally were headed out properly towards today’s destination of Montecatini Terme.

And that’s where the ‘brutto’ began. Ugh, it was grim. Awful road surfaces, lots of traffic, real urban cycling, which is mentally completely exhausting. We both have to concentrate really hard to make sure stay on the right route, keep track of all the traffic, watch for potholes and one-way streets, it’s very tiring.

Kilometre after kilometre, it was horrible.

And then, just when we’d mentally consigned the day to the ‘file and forget’ category, up pops Pistoia. We’d identified it as a suitable lunch stop, just based on its location. We rode in, completely whacked, and found a little cafe where a really friendly and caring young waiter was looking after all his customers, we had a lovely lunch, the sun came out, and when we rode to the piazza where the duomo was it just blew our socks off. It was beautiful at every side, even the one with the bank and the government building! Bello at last, completely unexpected and wonderfully encouraging.

The ride from Pistoia to Montecatini Terme was fine, not much traffic and some nice views to look at after the awful urban sprawl of the morning. We found our lodgings, and after a quick shower and laundry duties walked to the funicular station to get the funicular up to Montecatini Alto. It was gorgeous, lovely views down to the plain and across to the mountains which we’ll have to thread through tomorrow on the way to Lucca.

It had a small church and an interesting pentagon-shaped fortress. The funicular was fantastically steep at the top – 38.5 percent, it said.

After a good mooch round up there we got the funicular back down, walked back via the supermarket to stock up for a quiet night in.

So, Lucca tomorrow, it’s reputed to be beautiful, it’s not very far from here so we plan to arrive at lunchtime and spend the afternoon looking around.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 24: Popolano – Fiesole

Distance: 61.95 km

Time: 4 hours 9 minutes

Average speed: 14.9 kph

Cumulative distance: 1324.94 km

Cumulative time: 63 hours 22 minutes

Word of the day: ‘ripido‘ (ree-pea-doh) – steep

Our barbecue last night was in an idyllic setting, and the food tasted all the better for it. We ate sausages, grilled zucchini and aubergines, together with some delicious focaccia sourced from the local supermarket. A bottle of Barbera helped to wash it all down. Our apartment in the agriturismo was the biggest yet, with stone steps seemingly heading in all directions from a central hall. What a great place to stay, and it was run by Gian Martino and Veronica, who couldn’t do enough for us, including taking a picture before we left.

When we threw open the shutters this morning it was with some relief that we saw that the weather was overcast. Much of today’s pedalling was going to be uphill, and the slightly cooler weather was most welcome. We wheeled the tandem down the coarse gravel track to the main road, and set off to ascend the first of today’s two big climbs.

For the first twelve kilometres the gradient was relatively gentle. We were pedalling into a headwind, though, so we concentrated on achieving a good rhythm. We were soon virtually surrounded by forests, and the traffic on the road gradually diminished as we rose higher.

Gian Martino had warned us that there were a few steeper kilometres around the town of Crespino, and sure enough the Captain was soon reaching for the lower gears. We’d lost the headwind by now, and gained some rain, which was light and refreshing, at least to start with. As we worked our way up through the steeper section the rain grew in intensity and we heard some prolonged thunder, which reverberated around the steep sides valley for at least twenty seconds.

After about four kilometres the gradient eased off, leaving us with only another three hundred metres of ascent in order to reach the summit of today’s first climb. We stopped at the top to enjoy a cool drink, but all hopes of a fine view were dashed by the weather and the thick forest.

The Captain has spent some time yesterday evening checking that we had viable brake pads for our front and rear disk brakes. The verdict was that they were fine, but would probably need changing quite soon. We set off downhill quite cautiously, because the roads were wet. For the first eight kilometres of the descent we encountered hairpin after hairpin – it was a good job that we had checked the brakes.

The best technique with disk brakes, apparently, is to allow the tandem to run along the ‘straight’ parts and then brake hard immediately before each hairpin. This worked well, but it was a relief when the road straightened out and we could let the tandem run down to our lunch destination at Borgo San Lorenzo.

It took us a while to find a café in the town which, unusually for this trip, seemed a down-at-heel sort of place. We had a good lunch, though, while watching the pouring rain hitting the umbrellas outside.

So, lunch eaten, all we had to do was achieve the second big climb of the day. It continued to rain as we ascended, initially gently. Given the choice of beating sun or rain today, though, we’d have chosen the rain – climbing in the heat can be really debilitating. Once again we settled into a good rhythm, and though it felt slow after the flat cycling in the Po Valley we soon climbed to five hundred metres and began our descent towards Fiesole.

The views to the south were tantalising – for most of the descent we enjoyed spectacular scenery and hints that Florence was just around the corner.

It wasn’t really until we reached the lovely town of Fiesole that we could see the city centre and Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

Fiesole occupies a ridge above the city, and our hotel here makes the most of the view.

We’re not planning to visit Florence itself for two reasons – firstly we’ve already done so, and secondly we plan to stay there for a couple of nights when we drive back to Cervinia at the end of our trip. We’re going to content ourselves with enjoying the beautiful surroundings here at Fiesole.

As we’re well up on our schedule, and as a reward for conquering the Apennines (!) we’ve awarded ourselves two whole days of leisure here, so there will be no more posts until Monday, when we set off in a westerly direction for a destination yet to be decided!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 23: Forlì – Popolano

Distance: 51.8 km

Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

Average speed: 18.57 kph

Cumulative distance: 1262.99 km

Cumulative time: 59 hours 13 minutes

Word of the day: ‘colline‘ (coll-een-eh) – hills

After a relaxing evening in Forlì we turned in and set the alarm for a reasonably early start. We were out, breakfasted and on the road by 9:45, which seemed like an achievement. We rode first to the Rocca di Ravaldino, the fortress where Caterina Sforza so memorably thwarted her family’s enemies. It’s also known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza, in fact as we stood taking some pictures this morning a local stopped to chat and described it thus. Given that women did not own property in those times, and that it had been given to her husband and then inherited by her son (for whom she was regent), it’s a testament to her fortitude that it’s her name which it bears now. It’s quite a thing, inside a larger set of walls which now also enclose a modern prison.

It’s sort of inside a roundabout, so we rode around it in one complete circuit, and then headed off.

The first part of the route today was familiar from yesterday, albeit in the opposite direction, so we re-passed yesterday’s fruit salad of crops, enjoying all the little quiet roads for a second time. After Faenza the road began to turn upwards, just very slightly, but enough to feel the tension in the legs, as we properly propelled the tandem rather than just nudging the pedals to keep momentum as we’ve been doing on the flat for so many days.

It was impossible to ignore the Apennines today. We’ve been cycling along them for a couple of days. Admiring them from afar. Or possibly pretending they’re not in our way. Today, though, we knew we had to point the tandem in their direction, finally, and start our crossing. Tomorrow’s the big day, but today would be a good early workout for the climbing legs.

We stopped for a drink, and then requested water refills from a local green grocery shop – on such a hot day with some climbing to do we were determined to remember to drink regularly. With just 20km to go, the ascent started properly, it was only a gradient of three percent or so, but we knew we’d be climbing gently to the end of the day. It was too early for lunch, so we decided to do another 10km and then find somewhere to eat.

Short of our target we saw a bar serving a ‘fixed menu’, but carried on, possibly a mistake, in hindsight. We pushed on, it was very hot, and there was no shade, and no sign of habitation coming up. We drank more water whilst we pedalled along, and eventually, hurrah, San Cassiano, and a bar.

We sat inside, rather pink and leaking from every pore!

We munched some focaccia and drank gallons of water, while a group of cheerful and friendly older gentlemen gathered at one of the other tables. They were intrigued as to our climbing ability on the tandem, and when we countered with our greater velocity downhill, they were keen to advise us to watch out for each ‘curva’. Which of course we do. They were playing ‘Sette Bello’, a whist-like card game our Italian teacher Carla taught us many years ago. It was provoking much vigorous debate!

After lunch, and feeling both much restored and a little foolish for not having stopped at the first bar, we set off with just 7km to go to tonight’s lodgings, an apartment at an agriturismo. The scenery was spectacular on all sides, and even with the mildly scary view to the proper mountains ahead, it was a fabulous final leg.

We checked in, took care of some bike maintenance and laundry obligations, showered, and hit the pool.

It’s a stunning place, 300m up in the hills, near Marradi which, we are told by our friendly and engaging host, is famous for its chestnuts. He told us that although the area around Forlì, where we were last night, is known for its fruit, especially its peaches, the kiwi fruit growing is a relatively recent activity, perhaps just in the last twenty years or so. It seemed to be on the increase too, we saw several new plantings along the route yesterday and today.

The agriturismo has a barbecue, so our plan tonight is to grill something delicious. We have been given carte blanche (carta bianca?) to raid the vegetable garden too.

We’ll need to include plenty of carbs, to fuel for tomorrow’s climbing. It’s two big mountains to get over, basically. So one might also say that fifty percent of the day will be going downhill.

This is where it gets serious!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 22: Castel San Pietro Terme – Forlì

Distance: 63.96 km

Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

Average speed: 20.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 1211.19 km

Cumulative time: 56 hours 26 minutes

Word of the day: ‘piacere‘ (pea-a-chair-ay) – pleasure

Our giorno di riposo was a very relaxing affair. We strolled through a park into the centre of Castel San Pietro Terme for lunch, admired the porticoes and Piazza XX Settembre, ate some piadine and panini and then returned to our hotel, via the park, for an afternoon in and by the pool. The hotel was clearly aimed at business people working in nearby Bologna, but it was fine, the pool was deliciously cool and in the evening we had a fine meal at the restaurant opposite.

Back to the cycling, then. Today the cycling was an absolute pleasure – it was our last day on the flat, at least for some time. Again we were cycling through crops – vines, maize, wheat, potatoes, plums, cherries, apples and, for the first time, kiwi fruit.

We had plotted a route through the back lanes, avoiding town centres, so the traffic was sparse. It was thoroughly relaxing, and brought smiles to our faces as we pedalled along. There was a hint of a hill or two – just a hint, mind. Looking to the right, though, we saw the ever-present foothills of the Apennines – a reminder that tomorrow we leave the Po Valley and head uphill. Oh, and the day after tomorrow we have about twelve hundred vertical metres of climbing.

We did need to find a bike shop. This was mainly because one of the Captain’s pairs of cycling shorts was becoming somewhat disreputable. We managed to locate one, in the interestingly named Piazzale Ayrton Senna de Silva. This made more sense when we looked on the map, to find that it was in the town of Imola.

So, after passing through the centre of Imola we attempted to find the shop. It seemed to be placed at the start line of the Formula 1 track. After approaching it from several directions and being denied entry by closed gates, we had cycled right around the perimeter of the track before we finally gained access. It was indeed at the start line.

We purchased shorts, energy gels for the big hills, electrolytes for our water bottles – the shop had everything we needed, and they were very helpful and friendly. Better still, now we can discard the tatty old shorts!

Off we pedalled, then, for another hour or so before lunch, which we took in the attractive town of Faenza. The café/birreria was the sort of place where they reeled off a list of available dishes, but we both stopped listening when we heard him say Tortelli con burro e salvia! Two plates, please, and lots of acqua gassata. It was very good, of course.

After lunch it was more of the same – quiet lanes, distant church towers and looming hills.

The temperature was creeping ever upwards – thirty degrees Celsius seems to be the daily average high at the moment. It doesn’t feel too hot when we’re cycling along and generating a breeze, but when we stop at traffic lights or wait at a junction then we immediately become aware of just how hot it is. It has already been necessary to increase the amount of water we’re drinking each day, and on arrival at our destination we invariably down a few glasses more.

Our arrival into the town of Forlì was serene.

Nearer the centre we had to cope with a laggy GPS device, which led to a little confusion. Soon enough, though, we turned into Piazza Aurelio Saffi, and then into an adjacent street where our B&B host was waiting.

The Piazza is large, open, and surrounded by lovely architecture.

We popped into the Abbazia di San Mercuriale, a simple building, senza frescoes. It also had the merit of being delightfully cool inside.

One of the main attractions here is the Raveldino Fortress. This is the place from which Caterina Sforza allegedly fought off the forces of the Orsi family who had killed her husband Giacomo. This she did by means of a strikingly feminine display!

The fortress is on our way out tomorrow, so we’ll take a look at it then. Tonight we’re having a quiet night, eating in and building up our strength for the challenges immediately ahead. Tomorrow’s destination is the town of Popolano – firstly we must retrace our tracks to Faenza, before turning south-west and heading up into the hills.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 21: Modena – Castel San Pietro Terme

Distance: 84.66 km

Time: 3 hours 47 minutes

Average speed: 22.5 kph

Cumulative distance: 1147.23 km

Cumulative time: 53 hours 21 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘strada privata‘ (strah-da pree-vah-ta) – private road

Modena was really beautiful, little cobbled streets, often with colonnades…

… and several piazzas of different sizes. Its duomo was breathtakingly lovely, white and rose stone, it looked incredible in the evening sunlight. The pictures really don’t do it justice, but here’s one anyway.

More gummy lions, we’ve seen a few of these. Or is it a griffin?

It being Sunday, many of the restaurants on our host’s list of recommendations were closed, but we found one we liked the look of, and it was fantastic. A burrata to share, then steak for the Captain, one of the best he’s ever had, he said, and rabbit for the Stoker. And a bottle of Sangiovese from the ‘local wines’ list, although on closer inspection it came from Rimini. We strolled back, rescued the clean, dry washing from the balcony, where it had been slightly at the mercy of the local pigeons, and turned in.

This morning dawned cloudy, which was unexpected. We’d aimed for an early start, given that it was to be a long day, but what with the Captain having to collect the tandem from the other apartment, and then our deciding to have breakfast in Piazza Roma which entailed some on the fly navigating out, it was well after half past ten before we properly got going.

It had been a bit tricky planning the route for today, mainly because of the need to avoid Bologna, now that we’d decided that we weren’t going there. The first attempt had far too many SS roads and big SP roads, both of which we try to avoid if possible. The second attempt was, well, wiggly. Lots of tiny roads, lots of turns and twists. And it involved a river crossing, which, according to Google maps, was marked as a ‘strada privata’. There looked to be gates at either end, but when the Google Streetview car drove past they were open. What to do? The detour which would be necessary if we couldn’t get through would be around 20km, and involve a nasty big road.

We decided to give it a go.

Once we got onto the wiggly bit it was lovely. Tiny roads, no traffic, just winding serenely through the fields of various crops. The sunflowers were a bit confused by the lack of sun.

Some of the roads were a bit dissestata, like yesterday, but when there’s no traffic it’s easy enough to work around it. It was very relaxing, and actually a pleasant change to be cycling in cooler temperatures. The kilometres rolled by, we’d almost forgotten about the river crossing, then suddenly there we were, at the gates.

The gates were open, hurrah!

The track was a bit rough, but there were signs about a ‘nature reserve’ area, which looked promising. A man in a day-glo tabard was just leaving on foot as we went in, and he didn’t stop us or say anything, so our hopes were very high.

We rode down the track, and there was the river. The crossing was some sort of barrage, like a disorganised dump of concrete, very lumpy, and really noisy where the water was gushing out of the lower part. It was perfectly crossable, though, on foot, so we wheeled the tandem across and along to where the better surface started.

We decided not to officially congratulate ourselves for getting across until we were out onto the road at the other side. Just in case.

We rode along, all fine, and then round the corner and … disaster. A huge road stone depository place, with proper lifting barriers to prevent entry, like in a car park. Buildings, fences, signs.

It was very frustrating – we could see the road, only about fifty metres away.

Our secret weapon was that we had arrived at lunchtime. Lunch is very important in Italy. ‘Pranzo di lavoro’ is offered everywhere, a worker’s lunch, usually three fixed courses at a very reasonable price, and there are always lots of workers enjoying it.

So of course the whole place was deserted!

We sneaked the tandem under the barrier, mounted up, and quickly rode the fifty metres to the road, out the open gates and we were gone.

Phew! Officially phew!

We rode on for another half hour or so, had a bit of lunch, and then completed the day in increasingly sunny conditions, with the Apennines looming ever larger.

We finally arrived in Castel San Pietro Terme where we will have our rest day tomorrow. We’re in a fairly nondescript hotel, not quite Barolo or Sirmione, but it has a pool, and Castel San Pietro Terme looks worth a visit tomorrow. Or we could try the thermal baths just opposite if we so feel inclined. Either way, no blog tomorrow.

P.S. After all our intentions not to, we did accidentally go to Bologna. Twice. After the river crossing, we suddenly encountered a city sign indicating we were entering Bologna. Three minutes later, one indicating we’d left. And then a second indicating we were going back in. It wasn’t exactly ‘La Rossa’. It was a waste sorting and recycling plant, and various other industrial stuff. But at least we have actually, officially been to Bologna on this trip.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 20: Ferrara – Modena

Distance: 73.69 km

Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

Average speed: 22.5 kph

Cumulative distance: 1062.57 km

Cumulative time: 49 hours 34 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘strada dissestata‘ (strah-da dees-ess-taat-a) – rough road

It was hot last night – we sat out in the courtyard after dinner, making plans for the next few days. While the Stoker was writing yesterday’s blog entry, the Captain was trying to find accommodation in Bologna, and finding it difficult. We wanted to have a rest day there, but finding an hotel was a trial, and he found himself becoming unusually grumpy!

After a glass of wine or two, he worked out the source of this – essentially we had planned a succession of cities for our next few days – Ferrara, Modena, Bologna, Forlì. Though these are all magnificent places, cycling in cities is not great fun. Let’s take Ferrara as an example. It calls itself the city of cycling and, sure enough, there are cycle lanes everywhere. However, they are often rutted, potholed and narrow. The odd pothole may not be a problem on a mountain-bike, but on a heavily laden tandem each one is a serious hazard. If we hit one I wince at the potential damage to our spokes. What’s more, the fact that there are cycle lanes everywhere means that drivers become irritated if you don’t use them, just as they do in the U.K. Okay, well try it for yourself, first!

Wine always solves everything, though. We decided, con riluttanza, to bypass Bologna. We’ll save it for another trip, when we’re not on the tandem, and perhaps combine it with visits to Parma and Reggio Emilia, which were also on our itinerary before we decided to head up to Sirmione instead.

Back to today! Much renewed by a good night’s sleep we set off through the centro storico di Ferrara, using cycle lanes wherever possible (😉). Today being Sunday, the roads were very quiet, and we soon found ourselves on peaceful rural roads, surrounded by huge tomato fields.

It’s obviously some sort of tradition here, after church on a Sunday, to go to a bar and drink an Aperol Spritz. We noticed this phenomenon last Sunday, and today was no exception – all the roadside bars were full of smartly dressed Italians quaffing orange-coloured drinks. The unmistakable smell of barbecue fuel, too, filled the senses!

We really enjoyed our rural cycling – there were a few sections where we saw the dreaded road sign saying Strada dissestata. This indicates a section of rough road, and they’re not usually joking:

With the traffic being so light, though, we could weave around obstacles more easily. Before we knew it, we’d achieved two-thirds of our day’s kilometrage, so we stopped for lunch in the town of Camposanto. We tried three different bars before we found one serving food – perhaps it’s Aperol Spritz or nothing on a Sunday. Still, the third one was excellent, and very friendly.

After lunch we could just make out the Apennines in the distance. This was a reminder that our days of cycling in the flat Po valley are numbered!

We have two more days in the valley, before we must cross the Apennines into Tuscany. Thankfully our remaining journey into Modena was flat and easy, and marked by the presence of Lambrusco vines on either side of the road. Incidentally, if you think Lambrusco is just the cheap and nasty red fizz stocked by our supermarkets in the 1980s, then we suggest you try the quality version!

To Modena, then, where we soon found Santino, our B&B host, who showed us into his lovely apartment, only a few steps from the Duomo. He and the Captain then walked through central Modena with the tandem, in order to store it securely overnight in a second apartment. In the main piazza a classic car rally was underway – there must have been at least two dozen Ferraris and Lamborghinis there!

Today we completed our first thousand kilometres – we only need to do that two-and-a-half more times and our journey will be complete! We have a long day tomorrow, as a consequence of our decision to bypass Bologna. Our destination is the hillside town of Castel San Pietro Terme, where we’ve booked a hotel with a pool for our next rest day.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 19: Crespino – Ferrara

Distance: 36.53 km

Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

Average speed: 22.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 988.88 km

Cumulative time: 46 hours 18 minutes

Word of the day: ‘arriverderci‘ (a-ree-vair-dare-chee) – until we meet again

Our night in Crespino was fantastic. The tiniest of villages, hardly a hundred metres from the argine, it seemed like some kind of beautiful service area to us, knowing that we’d be straight back on the argine this morning. Our hosts were warm and friendly, and the apartment tiny but wonderfully well organised, with a little patio area where we could sit out. The sweet house cat, Micifu, was a frequent visitor, especially when we sat out to eat the sausages we’d bought for dinner at the butcher, along with the vegetables our hosts gifted us from their garden.

This morning a delicious breakfast feast was delivered to the patio, including four slices of walnut cake, still warm from the oven, some fabulous fresh croissants with home-made strawberry jam, yoghurt, juice. It was difficult to justify eating it all given that we had a scant 35km to ride today, but we managed, somehow!

We left around eleven, it had been a wonderful, tranquil and relaxing stay, very different to being in the cities and towns we’ve landed in so far, and a lovely contrast. The owners are building two new apartments for visitors next to the one we used, we hope very much that they will be successful, they certainly deserve to be.

And so, it was back up to the argine in the sunshine, and soon up to cruising speed. Today we continued along the Sinistra Po, but after around 10km we took a bridge, crossing over the Po for the last time and picking up the Destra Po argine on the other side. It was lucky that we’d spotted last night that the next bridge along, closer to our destination of Ferrara, will be closed until October – if we’d gone all the way on the Sinistra side expecting to cross there, we’d have had to retrace our pedal strokes, a detour of at least 20km. In any event, it was good to see the river from the other side.

There were lots of cyclists out today, it being Saturday, including a lady in a teeny tiny bikini (not in this picture)!

All too soon we reached the turn-off for Ferrara, waved goodbye to the Po for the last time, rode down off the argine and onwards towards the city.

It felt like a significant thing – we’ve spent a lot of time with the Po as we’ve travelled east, crossing and recrossing, including once accidentally! We’ve seen it in its narrower form, and then marvelled at its huge width closer to its delta. We’ve really enjoyed riding along it these last couple of days.

We were soon into the centre of Ferrara, and checking in to today’s Airbnb apartment. A quick shower and we headed in to town for lunch.

We chose a place in Piazza Savonarola serving piadine, as recommended by our host. Savonarola was born in Ferrara, he was a great thorn in the side of the Borgia pope Alexander VI, a great orator and a little ‘imaginative’ in his visions, it is said. He was executed in Florence.

We had a walk round the handsome red brick Castello Estense, it looked absolutely impregnable. It even had a moat with water and everything, which always pleases the Captain.

The duomo is undergoing some restoration at the moment, but we popped in there too. There’s often a thick curtain at the entrance, and you never know when you step inside it whether it will be a beautiful plain marble interior, or highly decorated with frescos and trompe l’oeil. This one was somewhere in between.

There’s a nice little peaceful courtyard outside our apartment, we’ll probably sit out there for dinner. The Stoker has had a craving for ‘spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino’ for a few days, and as we found a ‘mix’ for it at the supermarket today, it’s on the menu tonight. The mix is garlic and chilli flakes, this one goes by the delightful name ‘Spagghy’.

Tomorrow we head for Modena.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 18: Chioggia – Crespino

Distance: 58.6 km

Time: 2 hours 36 minutes

Average speed: 22.6 kph

Cumulative distance: 952.35 km

Cumulative time: 44 hours 42 minutes

Word of the day: ‘tranquillo‘ (tran-kweel-oh) – peaceful

So, how to describe Chioggia. In many ways it shares characteristics with Venice – there are no gondolas, but there are small canals and Venetian style bridges, there’s some fine architecture and there’s a strong smell of fresh fish (in a good way!). It’s more of a real working place, though – tourists, while present, are fewer in number, and there are plenty of Italians.

We strolled out, yesterday evening, to find the place where we moored on our boating trip, years ago. Then, it was almost full, and we had a difficult forty-five minutes trying to wedge our large boat between sets of briccole. Yesterday, it was empty, and we could have moored in five minutes!

Chioggia, though, was unchanged, a charming, bustling place where preparations were underway for a mediaeval festival. We dined between Corso del Popolo and the Canale Vena, and after a good meal, followed up with a visit to the gelateria. After yesterday’s experience, we were determined to make sure that we were well-fed for today’s cycling. It was a struggle, of course, but needs must.

We awoke to clear blue skies and searing heat. It took us a while to leave Chioggia, because of the heavy traffic, rather than navigational difficulties. We were in for a treat, though, a glorious day on riverside roads, almost bereft of traffic. Firstly we headed due south, towards the Po delta, across the fast-flowing Adige river. A feature of the last couple of days has been the presence of cicadas, for the first time this trip. We’ve also seen countless white herons, standing stock-still in the fields until we cycled past. Today’s only new crop, we think, was carrots. For the most part we had a soft tail-wind, which made the process of pedalling seem serene.

After little more than an hour we arrived at the banks of the Po, and joined the “Sinistra Po” cycle way along the argine. The surface was fully metalled, if a little rough in places, and we relaxed into a steady tempo, with the wide blue/brown waters of the river on our left, and to our right an arable landscape, separated by attractive villages, each with a church spire.

After a while the Euganean hills came back into view, to the north-west. It already seems a long time since we were climbing the hills – in fact it was only yesterday.

We stopped for a simple lunch in the town of Papozze, taking our time over it as we were going to be very early for our check-in at our destination.

Back to the argine, then, and a very enjoyable cruise alongside the river, until the town of Crespino hove into view. Still early, we descended from the argine into town and stopped at a bar for a well-deserved beer. Well, the Captain did – the Stoker was more virtuous and drank fizzy water!

Tomorrow we have an easy day planned, to the city of Ferrara. Here’s a picture of some cheerful cyclists:

Here’s today’s track.

Day 17: Este – Chioggia

Distance: 67.56 km

Time: 3 hours 33 minutes

Average speed: 19 kph

Cumulative distance: 893.75 km

Cumulative time: 42 hours 6 minutes

Word of the day: ‘argine‘ (ah-gin-eh) – embankment

We had a very relaxed evening in Este, a bit of pasta, a bottle of the local Colli Euganei red wine, some forward planning, and a good night’s sleep. The tandem spent the night at the local cinema! There was no way to get it into our third floor apartment, but our host had kindly arranged with her friend who owned the cinema in Este that it could be stored there.

After a small breakfast in the little cafe next door we set off, knowing that our first hill (in days!) would be coming up very early on. I’d like to say that it was great to be climbing again, that we sprinted up it, that we felt good, but actually… It turned out we were both a bit underpowered for some reason, a ‘jour sans’ as the pro-cyclists call it. The breakfast had perhaps been a little too small, and we’d not eaten all that much last night. Or maybe we’d just pushed it a bit hard yesterday. Who knows why it happens, but when it does, all you can do is ride within yourself, take it steadily, and conserve what energy you have.

That said, we made it up all the hills without stopping, and the views were lovely.

We enjoyed a short break in Acquà Petrarca, a lovely little town known for having been the chosen home of Petrarch, a scholar and poet, discoverer of a collection of Cicero’s letters, and generally considered to have been the founder of Humanism. He also climbed Mont Ventoux, apparently, just because he wanted to.

A bit more up and down, and then we were back on the valley floor, and suddenly on our first ‘argine’, an embankment usually next to a canal, on which there was a cycle path. We’d heard of the Po cycle paths which are all on the argine (one on each side, known as sinistra and destra), we hope to find them tomorrow, but hadn’t expected to get any argine practice in today!

It was pretty idyllic and just what we needed, traffic-free, easy cycling, opportunities to spot herons and a couple more crops to tick off in the I-Spy book of food sources we’ve cycled past. It was mostly tarmac, with just the odd stretch of hard-packed gravel, so not too much moaning from the back.

At Pontelongo we stopped for a quick lunch, scoffed some panini, and then headed back up onto the argine for the last section to Chioggia.

Unfortunately no-one had told our route planning system of choice that this bit of the cycle path was not really finished! It had a name and everything, the ‘I2’, part of the Itinerario del Sale system of cycle paths, but when it split into two directions we took the cycle path less travelled, clearly!

It started as gravel, which was reasonably OK, but then we got to a stretch of about two kilometres of much rougher surface, with tufts of grass. By this stage we were fairly committed, we could have gone back and found a route round, probably, but it was a straight line, the Captain was pretty confident we could ride it safely, and we could see it was leading to where we would have to rejoin the road in any case. Here’s the Captain, looking confident, as we decide to keep going.

And he was right, it was fine. Eventually it became tarmac, and then the main road into Chioggia, and we knew it would all work out. We detoured slightly to Sottomarina, and found the public beach so we could dip our toes into the Adriatic.

And then we crossed onto Chioggia, fondly remembered from a boating holiday in this area, quite a few years ago now.

It feels like the end of the first phase, arriving here at the east coast. Effectively we’ve crossed Italy from west to east at this widest part. Tomorrow we’ll turn south, and find the Po Sinistra cycle path to a tiny place called Crespino.

Tonight, though, we’ve earned an ice-cream, I reckon.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 16: Verona – Este

Distance: 72.3 km

Time: 2 hours 50 minutes

Average speed: 25.51 kph

Cumulative distance: 826.19 km

Cumulative time: 38 hours 33 minutes

Word of the day: ‘mele‘ (may-lay) – apples

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the Captain should have listened to the Stoker, who suggested we should take rain jackets with us when we left for our evening meal in Verona last night! While we very much enjoyed our meal in Piazzetta Navona, we couldn’t help noticing the rain growing in intensity throughout. As it turned out we walked most of the way back in a lull in the downpour, and it was really only in the last three hundred yards or so that we became thoroughly drenched.

Everything had dried by this morning, though, and after a swift cappuccino and cornetto at a nearby café we pedalled off into the inevitable morning traffic. It’s never much fun getting out of a city – the infrastructure (unless you live in Belgium or The Netherlands) favours the driver over the cyclist, and the drivers are significantly more impatient. So the first ten kilometres or so were to be endured, rather than to be enjoyed. We did spot Porta Nuova, whilst whizzing past!

Gradually, though, the traffic tailed off, and we managed to find quieter roads. Our speed increased, our shoulders relaxed, and we started to enjoy the day. We seem to be rather strong, now. The cumulative effect of all the cycling we’ve done so far is really starting to show, and, while we’ve not tackled many hills lately, our speed on the flat has surprised us.

Again we were cycling amongst arable crops. Today we added potatoes, asparagus and apples to the list of items we’ve seen growing by the roadside. There were apple orchards everywhere around the town of Zevio. Often, though, it’s still maize. The Po Valley is often described as the bread basket of Italy, but to us it seems more like a polenta pot.

Later on we started to see the Euganean hills rising from the valley floor. We’ve seen them before, from the treno notte between Paris and Venice. They are very striking, as they occupy the only high ground in the Po Valley, at least in this area.

The conical shapes of the hills hint at their volcanic origin. The Stoker, in particular, was very taken with the view, and I could hear her taking multiple videos of the view from the back of the tandem.

We stopped for a lunch – panini and gallons of cold water – at Poiana Maggiore, then tackled the last few kilometres to our destination, Este, which sits at the foot of the Euganean hills, at their southern extremity. What a gorgeous place though – from the window of our rented apartment we have a magnificent view of Castello Carrarese.

We wandered into the grounds to take a closer look:

Just around the corner is Este’s main piazza, surrounded by colonnades, which provide a cool place to walk on a scorching hot day – thirty-three degrees according to one illuminated sign.

After the huge crowds of visitors yesterday in Verona, it was very pleasant to be wandering the quiet streets of this delightful place.

We’ve now completed our first five hundred miles! Tomorrow we’re cycling up into the Euganean hills, so that we can check that our climbing legs still work after all of this cycling on the flat. We hope to have fine views over to the east, towards tomorrow’s destination: Chioggia. This will be our first and only exposure to the Adriatic Sea, before we turn southwards and back inland.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 15: Sirmione – Verona

Distance: 39.45 km

Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

Average speed: 18.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 753.89 km

Cumulative time: 35 hours 43 minutes

Word of the day: ‘temporale‘ (tem-pore-ah-lay) – thunderstorm

Our rest day was fabulous, the sun shone, we enjoyed a lie-in and then a wander round Catulla’s Roman villa, right next to our hotel. It must have been quite the place in its day, beautiful views, baths, olive groves. Much of it is still standing, which is a testament to the strength of Roman concrete. Apparently no-one knows the formula for it, but it’s way stronger than anything modern.

A small lunch in a shady restaurant near the port, an afternoon by and in the pool, a lovely dinner in the main part of Sirmione and we were restored.

This morning we shared breakfast with the many sparrows of Lake Garda. Very cheerful little birds. Very fond of croissant!

The clouds were dark and foreboding, and as we loaded up the first clap of thunder sounded. We rode to the peninsular gate behind a couple of cars, and then out along the lake road, quite quiet, maybe because of the weather.

We’d tried to adjust the route today, just forty kilometres to Verona, to avoid larger roads and use the local roads wherever possible. That worked well to start with, pretty villages and a little up and down, but then we turned onto a very gravelly track. There was some whimpering from the rear motive unit, who is really not keen on those kinds of surfaces!

On the plus side, it was traffic-free, winding through vines and cherry trees. One set of vines had actual bunches of tiny grapes forming, and the leaves were much darker green than most of the others we’ve seen.

After a scant few kilometres (phew), we rejoined the tarmac, and began a 16km descent into Verona. We joined the Verona cycle way, along the canal, which was an excellent way to enter the city. The canal could not have been described as attractive in any sense, but the cycle path was smooth and fast. The last five kilometres were proper city roads, not very busy, but we were glad to turn into the road where tonight’s apartment is located, just along from Castelvecchio and its bridge over the Adige.

We showered and got the first load of washing on (it’s such a joy not to be hand-washing!), and then walked into Verona centre for lunch, in Piazza Erbe. Whilst we were having coffee afterwards the heavens opened and there was more thunder. Everyone scuttled inside, but it was quickly over. We’re not doing the tourist sights this time, as we’ve been to Verona a couple of times, but it’s impossible not to marvel at the arena.

Tomorrow we’re going to Este, which is pretty tiny – it’ll be nice to be away from crowds after these last days in the throng of such popular places.

Here’s today’s track.