My second cycling trip to Italy was just a bit different from the first one I took three years ago. In 2019, I went to Puglia, the heel of Italy, where it’s basically flat. I was new to cycling trips and it was the perfect mix of flat roads with a few climbs.
The touring company I used was FoodStoriesTravel.com. I’d been in contact with owner Cristiano Bonino about tourism in Italy since the lockdown. He sent an email in January to alert me that the September Piedmont 2022 tour was filling up in case I was still interested in that trip. After two years of the pandemic, I was more than ready to get back to Italy. I signed up.
The explainer on the company’s website spells out in detail the level of the ride, the number of miles each day and the elevation gain. There is an option for an e-bike, which Cristiano said is starting to become more popular. So nothing should have been a surprise to me. I knew it was going to be hilly and thought I’d train enough in the spring and summer, if not on the roads, then at least in my Spinning classes. I thought I’d be able to do it and was game for all of it!
Did I mention that Piedmont has a lot of hills?
Piedmont is in northwestern Italy and is home to two of Italy’s big wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, among others, white and black truffles, delectable chocolates and beautiful panoramas of vineyards and bucolic towns perched amid rolling hills – long gradient hills, short steep hills and then more hills.
After six days of scenic rides around grapevines, hazelnut trees and medieval churches and castles, we clocked more than 220 miles and climbed more than 18,000 feet. Well, I didn’t do all of that (came sort of close) but that’s what was on the itinerary. And climbs that ranged from a three percent slope to as steep as 12 percent.
It was an experience in my bell’Italia that I’ve never had before. I pushed myself up those hills, willing myself to get to the top only to see the curve of the road as it turned and went up another 800 feet. It was tough. I stopped often to get my breath and take photos. I had the GPS app on my phone and a Garmin, both which were pre-programmed for all our rides, and I still managed to lose my way once. (I blame menopause).
It was also six days of enjoying local specialties, from gutsy red wines and combinations of Piemontese (shaved truffles on risotto, pictured below) and Ligurian cuisines (pesto) as Liguria is Piedmont’s neighbor. We ate vegetable dishes at agriturismi (family farms) with ingredients that came right from their gardens.
Our group numbered 15 and we were from all over the U.S. We were a mix of all levels of experience and we revelled in the rides and the atmosphere.
One of the best things about cycling with FoodStoriesTravel.com is the “Food” and “Stories” part of the title. We were lucky in that Cristiano and our two other guides, Gian Luca and Davide, are all from Piedmont and have worked together for 20 years. This was their home and we could tell how proud they were to share with us stories about the region, the wine, traditions, and their lives in these parts. We also learned a little bit of dialect, which was fun.
“I have goose bumps,” Cristiano told us the first day. “We’re playing at home.”
Each day, one of them was in the van while the other two were on bikes with us. They were encouraging, they offered guidance and coaching when needed.
“Coaching guests is the part of the guiding I like the most,” Davide wrote me in a message.
Now, having said all of that, about the beauty and the cuisine and the adventure, did I mention Piedmont has a lot of hills?
Next: Day One – Around Alba, the Langhe wine region and a ride to Barbaresco!