Who needs a reason to go to Italy?
All that passion for life, remarkable history, cosy crumbling villages, spectacular cities, food, vino, and of course some of the best bucket-list riding on the planet… si, per favore! We thought we’d torture ourselves by touching base with some of our favourite cycling tour operators who year-after-year roll out unforgettable holidays to the land of the dolce vita. So we asked them to share with us their best-ever holiday experiences in Italy, and you’ll be surprised what they had to say…
I can’t pinpoint a single memory because it’s the magic the Giro makes that is so special. What I love is the fact we visit villages and towns that wouldn’t normally be on any major tourist itinerary; but the Giro goes through them and as a result, so do all of us!
When the Giro comes to town magic really happens – stores dress their windows spectacularly in theme, restaurants bustle with staff dressed in pink and proud as punch to see their hometown come so alive. People camp along the roadside for days just to glimpse the peloton, so when you ride along you get cheered along, and your energy soars with the collective buzz and passion that’s in the air. You discover things about what it is to be local – it might be a vinegar or a cake that is regional to the very heart of that area, and you’re right there in it, living it at such a very special time of year. It’s the real deal and it’s the authentic experience happening in the authentic place. Watching a live broadcast can never compare. Sure, you get the helicopter view from your couch but when you come on a tour, you’re there amongst it looking up at the chopper!
Part of the wow factor is the surprise experiences that just always happen – and nobody can craft them, which is why they are so memorable and special. We just happened to be in a bar at the base of Monte Zoncolan the day Michael Rogers won that climb stage. What a thrill! The bar staff and crowd went absolutely crazy because they knew we were Australian (which in itself was a shock to them – Australian? All the way from Australia to their little bar in the hills?). It was the most incredible impromptu celebration.
The script is being written as you’re there. Each tour to me is like watching kids on Christmas morning. You just know they’re going to absolutely love what lies ahead and you can’t wait to see the thrill cemented all over their face.
One of the best experiences I can recall in my 11 years of taking tours to Italy happened in Bormio.
I had a gentleman who had been gifted a spot on the tour as a 60th birthday present. He’d set about losing 15 kilos during his preparation for the time away.
The most famous climb in Bormio is Passo Stelvio (21kms long), which the Giro rides over most years.
On our first day there we rode up Stelvio. However my 60 year old guest did not make it and had to get in the support van, much to his disappointment. On our 5th and last day in Bormio he decided he wanted to give it one more go so he could return home and tell everyone he had climbed the famous pass. Given the weather was not so great, not many from our group wanted to ride that day. A couple of his friends volunteered to go along and I offered to follow him in the van in case he needed to stop.
They proceeded to ride up the mountain with me following in the van, passing from time to time to take photos. As they reached the 18km point of the climb he was travelling ok, so I said I would go ahead to the top and wait for him.
So there I am sitting outside a café when I hear this almighty scream. I look across and it’s my guest, going happy-crazy for having reached the top. I ran over to congratulate him. He grabbed me in a bear hug and said “I didn’t think I would make it, thanks for all your encouragement” as tears rolled down his face.
It was a very special moment.
The Sella Ronde is one of the most spectacular rides you can do in Europe. It is located at the heart of the Dolomites and includes four ‘Passi’ (or climbs): Pordoi, Sella, Val Gardena and Campolongo.
During our Trans Dolomites adventure in June 2014, fresh snow had covered the mountains up from the 1,500m line. The Passi are all either close to or well over 2,000m altitude, which meant that we rode all day surrounded by snow.
The weather was perfection. The day was sunny and the temperature fresh but not freezing. All the riders dressed properly and I think the amazing landscape made us feel warmer than what it really was.
We had a couple of coffee stops to enjoy warm soup and cappuccinos, which also helped! It was a truly magical day of riding – everything combined to make the perfect experience.