Bici, vino and passion in Italy
Bolzano – Verona – Vicoforte Seems like a million years since I last blogged about my European adventure (which began July 14th ), although it’s only been 4 days. Interestingly, I accidentally pulled up the screen on my GPS which gave me all the stats since plugging it into my car in Frankfurt. I’ve spent 49 hours driving that wonderful Audi some 3400 km’s across Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. There were other stats but I’ll have to get back to you on those... In addition to the km’s I’ve driven there have been road taxes (Switzerland) of 40 euro and tolls in Italy that have likely cost me upwards of 100 euro so far. Don’t mind paying tolls here because the roads are meticulous. I think we need to take a page from some of these countries books and get with the program; our roads are deplorable for driving AND cycling.
Bolzano was stunning; an amazing city for cycling with hundreds of kilometres of bicycle paths and lots of mountain passes to climb in the Dolomites. I had a great couple of rides there but was really not happy with the food selection (Austrian/Tyrol than Italian) and my hotel room was not exactly up to my standards (insert remarks here). So, on Thursday morning I packed up the car (again) and decided to pick between Chianti, Menton (Nice, France) and Cuneo. In the end, Cuneo won so driving towards the French Alps began...
Driving south of Trento I thought it made sense to get on my blackberry and find out where Tedeschi and Tomassi were located in Pedemonte so I could taste some wonderful Amarones. Twenty seconds after inputting the coordinates (into GPS) I had a small tasting detour to embark upon on my way to Cuneo. Verona here I come!
Reaching Tomassi; I got in a quick Amarone tasting before they closed, bought some wine (which I’m still not sure how I’m going to bring back to Canada) and then was on my way into Verona. Verona was very beautiful and it was great to see the city (even if only while driving through), the waterway, the bridges and the architecture. After driving around Verona, I found the autostrada and decided to get back on course as I still had a sizable trip to Hotel Portici, a “bicycle-friendly” hotel about 25 km outside of Cuneo in Vicoforte. With a long day behind the wheel, it was all about getting there before sun down so I could quickly check-in; explore the small city before finding a decent place for dinner.
The hotel is alright, which is a welcome change from that in Bolzano, my room has 14 foot ceilings and a huge window which overlooks the city square and a huge Duomo. After speaking with a few people they suggested trying a restaurant called Moretto. Best place EVER. Hands down, the best Italian I’ve had. Place maybe seats 15 people and was completely empty which meant I had them serving me countless courses over 2.5 hours.
After a day of rest (driving from Bolzano), the first day of riding began. After riding around for an hour, I got lost (again, Italians and directions don’t marry well) while looking for a way to Barolo; a mostly “flat” route. Well not surprisingly, I ended up in the mountains (surprise, surprise) on a road headed up a mountain that has seen both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia finish at the summit. I had no idea what Prato Nevoso meant on the sign when I saw it; all I knew is that I was riding at the base of some decent size mountains. Turns out this climb was 14km long and reached 1750m, pretty comparable to Alpe d’Huez but felt steeper (must have been the Barolo/Moscato at dinner).
With another 4 hour ride under my belt I was feeling pretty smug so decided to treat myself to gelato for lunch (which has become a staple in my diet with nothing open here from 130-430 and dinner at Moretto (again) where I’d take on the rest of the menu and anything else Julian and Maria would throw at me: Another amazing dinner. Second day of riding was great, finally managed to find my way out of Vicoforte to Barolo. I’ve learned something about this area; you’re going up/down a hill or up/down a mountain. The word “flat” becomes relative to the amount of grade that you’re either climbing or descending. I’m pretty sure a flat road doesn’t exist within 50km of here and if it does, I’m yet to find it. Barolo is spectacular, similar landscape to any wine country but SO MANY vines. Rolling hills as far as the eye can see, scattered with vineyards and grapes.
After enjoying my ride to Barolo so much, I decided to jump in the car and return to explore the beautiful countryside and do some tastings. Fortunately, I found 2 wineries that were open; Rovello and Corino where tastings began! The first place was really nice and very small. I was the only one there and I wasn’t sure if I was even at the right place because I was basically at a house with a doorbell and it was such a change from the wineries I’d been to in Niagara where it’s all very corporate. As I’m standing at the door I’m greeted by a lady who offers to take me into their tasting area and sample some of their wines. It was really quite something to sit there and taste the wines while looking out onto hundreds of acres of vines. After tasting 5 different varietals it was suggested I check out another winemaker a very close distance away so off I went in search of Renato Corino’s place. Only a 3 minute drive I found this winery and (again) pulled up to a “house” that didn’t look like a winery but saw cars in a driveway so pulled in. After walking around the property I could hear people talking so I found some stairs and went up to a huge terrace that overlooked Barolo. Immediately, they asked me if I’d like to try some wine (there were a group of 2 couples and the winemaker and his wife, Lilianna) and asked me to sit at their outdoor tasting table where they served some sort of pepperoni/bread and 3 different Barolos. Then there was the tour, where I got to see the barrels where the wine was aged which was very cool as they only produce a very small amount of cases each year.
With 7:30 approaching, I asked them where I could find a good pizzeria. They quickly decided that I would join them (and the couples from Germany) for dinner at some local place. Fast forward; dinner was great and then we went to a gelateria where Renato’s brother and some other local winemakers were hanging out sampling (what else) wine. I left the gelateria with an open-ended invitation to return anytime for dinner or to help harvest the grapes.
Grey skies and the possibility of rain yesterday meant a rest day, hanging around the hotel, eating gelato (not once but twice) and then dinner at a pizzeria in San Michele. Dinner was ‘ok’. I expected more and was somewhat disappointed to find a mostly bland penne arabbiata and pizza but was very happy with the Ratti Dolcetta d’Alba that I washed it down with.
After a restless sleep (I miss air conditioning at this hotel), It was time to get back on my bike this morning and do a ‘decent’ ride which meant a) hitting the mountains or b) doing a long ride in the countryside. Not feeling like climbing (a mountain) today I decided on heading down to Savona on the Mediterranean Sea. So much for my rest day from climbing, the hills were relentless and then I plunged from 770 meters down to 57 where I took a few pictures, bought some water and then turned around to greet a 63 km return trip of climbing back up what I had just descended. Fun.
One of the scary things about today’s ride wasn’t the fact that it was 32 degrees (before the humidex), the fact that I was doing an ‘out and back’ ride putting me pretty far from the hotel, but the half a dozen tunnels that I had to ride through en route to Savona and then back to Vicoforte. Technically the little sign with a bicycle and a BIG red circle around it means that you aren’t supposed to ride in the tunnel but how else am I supposed to get there if I don’t take the Autostrade? What’s awesome about these tunnels is that they vary in length from a few hundred metres to a few kilometres. What’s even better is that lighting in these tunnels is sort of well, crap or non-existent. This all meant one thing for today’s ride... when you hit a tunnel, go like hell and time trial until you see light again and try not to look back at 18 wheelers coming from behind and pray that the one coming at you and the one coming behind don’t try to squeeze through (at the same time) with you riding on the side of the road.
Gave it about all I had today, riding as hard as I could down to Savona then back to Vicoforte. Feeling pretty spent the last few days from a combination of factors, not sleeping well, burning a gazillion calories and the constant barrage of hills that are never ending. Thinking tonight will be my last at Hotel Portici and then I’ll head somewhere closer to the Alps where I can begin preparing for ride that will define this entire trip; Galibier. I’ve done Galibier twice in the past, on 2 separate occasions, tackling Col du Telegraph first and then on to the monsterous Col du Galibier. Each time I’ve ridden up Galibier it was like an out of body experience, flooded with emotions and attempting to balance mental strength with physical exhaustion. To this day, nothing has touched me more than this ride. It holds the ace, yet to be trumped by something else.
I’ve undoubtedly spent more days riding in Europe than my previous trips to France (today was number 12 to be exact of 19 days) although don’t have a racing season under my belt (for the past 4 years), I’m 5 years older and exactly how strong can you really get from only 12 rides? Guess we’ll find out soon enough... Wine consumption is also undeniably higher this go-round. Thankfully, I’ve managed to balance riding with eating and drinking (perhaps in excess), but my riding hasn’t exactly been leisurely so I think the 2 ‘excesses’ balance each other quite nicely.
I’ve never been one to approach things half-fast, settle for normal, mediocre or the status quo. Why would I start now?
In Europe, one word continues to resonate with me: PASSION.