Postcards from Italy

So, You Want to Bike in Italy…

One of the things we love about our Italian pied-a-terre in Foligno is how easy and pleasant it is to get around the city center by bike. Unlike most hilltop towns in Umbria, Foligno is located on the valley floor, so its streets are wide and level, and many residents eschew their cars and instead pedal around on their daily errands and to peruse the market and shops. In fact, as in most historic Italian towns, the movement of cars is very restricted in the town center.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

All this to say that we understand how charming it can be to explore Italy by bike, especially in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler, the towns are buzzing with residents, and the countryside particularly picturesque. Cycling in Italy does come with its own set of caveats, however, so if you are interested in toodling around on two wheels, take a look at our tips first.

What to Expect

Italians love their cars (Italy has the highest rate of car ownership in Europe), but it is also a nation of bicyclists. From local cycling clubs clocking hundreds of kilometers through the mountains each Sunday morning to elderly ladies pedaling along the city streets in sensible heels and skirts, laden with shopping bags, Italy’s roads are filled with bikes of all shapes and sizes.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

That said, there are very few bike lanes along Italy’s roads, so you will most always be sharing the road with other vehicles. The number of dedicated bike paths for recreational bikers, however, has grown exponentially over the past few years, so if you are averse to cycling alongside cars and scooters, you can plan an outing on a nearby “pista ciclabile”.

Italy often gets a bad rap for their hot-headed drivers, but you will find that most drivers are careful and courteous around cyclists. Just as in the US, cyclists in Italy must abide by the same rules of the road as cars, maintain a single file when cars are passing (which the cycling clubs and groups don’t always observe!), use the bike lane when available, and wear reflective gear when cycling after sunset. Bike helmets are not required by law in Italy.

Getting Kitted Out

Though some international travelers who are avid cyclists pack their own high-end sport bikes, that can be a hassle for anyone who plans on taking more leisurely rides or combining riding with a more traditional itinerary in Italy. A much easier way is to arrange for equipment rentals/loaners once you have a trip itinerary and have decided on when and where you would like to explore. There are a number of ways to arrange for bike use and/or rental:


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Bike rental
This is the most independent option, and once you rent your equipment (bike and helmet, usually of very high quality) you can expect to be largely on your own. Some bike rentals can provide local maps or tips, but route planning and navigating is up to you. This is a good choice for an impromptu turn around a city center or a longer, rural ride that you have already researched and mapped out before departure.

Accommodations with bikes
Many luxury hotels and countryside estates, especially those located in particularly cyclist-friendly areas, have bikes available for their guests to use, and their concierge service can recommend the best routes suitable to your fitness level and schedule. You may have to request bikes in advance, or it can be first-come, first-served. This is a very stress-free way to explore the neighborhood or countryside around your hotel or resort at a slower pace.

Guided bike tours
This is a best option for longer, all-day rides, which usually wind their way through the countryside with a stop or two in local villages and lunch. All your equipment is provided, and you don’t have to worry about planning a route or navigating: just follow your guide and enjoy the views. Lunch is either a prepared picnic or a stop at a restaurant along the way, and the route can be a circle, bringing you back to your starting point, or one way with a van service to transport you back to the meeting point or your hotel. This is by far the most enjoyable and user-friendly way to experience the countryside on two wheels.

Best routes

The perfect ride varies from person to person, depending upon their fitness level, interests, and experience. An avid, fit cyclist may love an all-day ride through the mountains, a more casual cyclist is happy to pedal the rolling countryside, and the beginner or family delighted to explore the center of a small city.

Mountain Rides
The towering peaks of the Dolomites beckon to cyclists from around the world, and you can bike along the winding Alpine roads through the mountain passes, from the town of Bolzano up to the Seiser Alm plateau, or take your bike on the lift from Cortina d’Ampezzo for a thrilling ride back down along the bike trails. The Dolomites also boasts one of the longest bike paths in the world, the “Lunga Via delle Dolomite”.

For a ride that combines lovely mountains with incredible food and wine, Piemonte at the foot of the Alps has rolling vineyards, hilltowns, and Alpine scenery. You can tackle the peaks and stop for wine tastings, a hearty lunch of truffles from Alba, and some famous local chocolate. There are a number of bike paths in Piemonte, but most routes connecting towns and wineries run along country roads.

Countryside Rides
If you’d like a less strenuous itinerary that includes beautiful countryside and picturesque towns, Tuscany and Umbria are perfect choices. There are stretches in both the regions with challenging hills and relatively easy valleys, so you can tweak your route to your ability, and the slow pace of life and sparse traffic in the countryside take much of the stress out of the ride.

One of the prettiest areas of Tuscany to ride through is Mugello, known for its villas, churches, and breathtaking – in the literal sense, at times – hills. In Umbria, the valley route below Assisi passing through the rolling wine country between Montefalco and Bevagna and climbing up to Spello is fairly easy and rewardingly scenic. For a more challenging, but unforgettable ride, the former rail line between Spoleto and Norcia is now a hiking and biking route, and dotted with trestle bridges and tunnels along the way.

Urban Rides
There is much talk of exploring Italy’s major cities, including Rome, Florence, and Venice, by bike, but we don’t recommend biking in these dense urban areas. Between dodging the heavy traffic, crowds of tourists, and badly parked cars, it’s hard to enjoy the beauty their historic centers have to offer. Instead, opt for a smaller city or provincial town with a large enough center to justify exploring by bike, but less hectic motor and foot traffic.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

One of the loveliest towns to bike around is Lucca, in Tuscany. One of Italy’s cycling capitals, Lucca has a perfectly proportioned center, easily navigated on two wheels, and imposing Medieval town walls, on top of which runs a 4-kilometer loop perfect for cycling. Other towns which offer a great center for a two hour ride are VeronaBolognaRavennaMantua, and Lecce.

Related posts:

So You Want to Hike in Italy…
Staying Fit while Traveling in Italy
Italy’s Picture Perfect Wheels

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore