Daniel Groves

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Eurovelo: Italy

Published: 26 May 2019 · Tags: expedition, bike, eurovelo

A brief glimpse into the Italian countryside and culture.

This post is part of the nine part series Eurovelo. To see more from this series check the series index.

We’d camped next to another cycle tourer from England when we arrived the night before. He’d seen us arrive and invited us to camp with him, so we spent some time in the morning packing down at a leisurely pace while he told us he was cycling to China and teaching English along the way.

 alt: Officially entering Italy.
Officially entering Italy.

We expected to be finished by late lunch today as we were only heading a few miles along the perfectly level coastline to Grado, and then a few miles inland to our campsite. Today wasn’t about the miles, it was just about enjoying riding our bikes in the Italian sun.

 alt: View over Trieste.
View over Trieste.

We left the campsite by rolling downhill towards the coast; a nice and easy start. Turning right we followed a small coast road north until the flat-lands opened up to our left and we turned in above the Mediterranean Sea. The land here had no rises or falls, and there were no turns in the road. It was like being in one of those wild west films where the road runs perfectly straight through the desert until it disappears over the horizon, or in this case through luscious green fields until it hit the sea. When we did make turns they weren’t on winding country roads, it was because of a crossroads or running out of land.

 alt: Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.
 alt: Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.  alt: Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.
Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.

Following the old farming roads, we eventually had to join a much larger road into Grado where we found somewhere for lunch, some Gelato and then sought out our first Italian brew. Much to my own amusement, Max went to order a Café Latte, asking for a Grande Latte and coming back confused as to why he had a large glass of milk.

 alt: Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.
 alt: Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.  alt: Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.
Views through the Italian backroads as we made our way towards Grado.

After my coffee, and Max’s milk, we headed north to Aquileia where we’d be staying for the night. We pitched the tents early and took advantage of the time to air our sleeping bags, wash our clothes, and chat with some of the other British people on the campsite (the first time we’d have spent more than a few minutes with anyone British since we left the airport in Thessaloniki).

 alt: Max riding one of the seemingly infinite straight farm roads.
Max riding one of the seemingly infinite straight farm roads.

For the first time on the trip, we had a planned rest day. We took the bikes without any luggage up to the next town, Cervignano, and tried to get a train to Venice for the rest day. Finding that there was a train strike on we found ourselves spending the morning sitting in a café before heading back to Aquileia and having a very lazy day wandering around the village. The evening was spent keeping a close eye on the British news as it was now the night that the Brexit vote would take place.

 alt: An evening on our Aquileia campsite. This was the first chance we had to do any washing since Dubrovnik.  alt: An evening on our Aquileia campsite. This was the first chance we had to do any washing since Dubrovnik.
 alt: An evening on our Aquileia campsite. This was the first chance we had to do any washing since Dubrovnik.  alt: An evening on our Aquileia campsite. This was the first chance we had to do any washing since Dubrovnik.
An evening on our Aquileia campsite. This was the first chance we had to do any washing since Dubrovnik.

As we got our heads down for the night I noticed a pair of puncture marks on one of my feet, which was significantly bigger than the other foot. I’d been walking around on the campsite during the day in flip-flops, yet I hadn’t noticed whatever had bitten my foot. You could see the strain marks in the skin where the flip-flop straps were stopping some areas from swelling while the rest of the foot was swelling around them. I was concerned on seeing it that my foot would not fit inside my cycling shoes which were designed to be tight-fitting. Time would tell.

 alt: The streets of Dubrovnik.  alt: The streets of Dubrovnik.
 alt: The bikes on the seafront in Dubrovnik.
 alt: The streets of Dubrovnik.  alt: The streets of Dubrovnik.
Ruins of the ancient inland port of Aqualia, once a thriving roman city, and now a large village. Also picured here is the inside of the striking Aqualia cathedral. In 2nd century AD Aqualia had a population over over 100,000 and was one of the worlds largest cities.

The following morning had tears being shed by more than one person on the campsite when we found out, while packing down at 7am, that we’d lost the vote and would be leaving the EU. Overnight the swelling in my foot seemed to have stopped, but it was still significantly bigger than the other foot. It was a squeeze, but I could just about fit it in my cycling shoe, and there was no pain, so we headed off with the hope that it would start to go down over the day.

 alt: Comparison between my two feet after the right one started swelling.
Comparison between my two feet after the right one started swelling.

It was 38 degrees centigrade as we resumed our ride, heading north on the Eurovelo 8 cycle route from Italy into Austria. It wasn’t too bad when we were rolling, but as soon as we stopped the heat would hit us like a furnace and we’d both immediately be soaked in our own sweat. This route was dead straight, and we’d follow it until we hit the bottom of the Dolomites before wiggling our way through Austria into the Alps.

 alt: The star fort of Palmanova.  alt: The star fort of Palmanova.
 alt: The The star fort of Palmanova.
 alt: The star fort of Palmanova.  alt: The star fort of Palmanova.
The star fort of Palmanova.

As we headed north much of our route would prove to be easy riding for a few days as we watched the mountains growing on the horizon. We were glad to be following the [Eurovelo 8] route as it kept us on well-maintained paths that were well away from the main roads giving us a break from the heavy traffic we’d experienced throughout Croatia.

On this first day, we reached the [star fort of Palmanova] built by the Republic of Venice in 1593. We spent a short time here investigating the small town which we had crept up on completely unexpectedly, first realising we weren’t in a normal Italian town as we crossed the outer moats and approached the huge fortified walls.

 alt: Heading towards the Alps on the gravel back roads of Italy.
Heading towards the Alps on the gravel back roads of Italy.

Leaving Palmanova we were soon passing through Udine for lunch, and coming out of Udine is where we first noticed just how quickly the mountains on the horizon were starting to grow. Before long we’d cycled off the top of the completed section of the Eurovelo 8 route into areas which were incomplete, and then further into the Alps.

 alt: Exploring as we start to get tired form the heat
 alt: Exploring as we start to get tired form the heat  alt: Exploring as we start to get tired form the heat
Exploring as we start to get tired form the heat, and hit the edge of the available infrastructure.

Riding along the old roads through the Italian Alps provided some fascinating views of the modern infrastructure. The motorway network was high above us in the valleys and would leap across valley floors to the mountains on the other side, where they would become a tunnel and go straight through the mountain. Rounding the corner the same road would leap out of the mountain again, over the valley and disappear into the side of the hill opposite. This is infrastructure you’d never see in the UK.

 alt: River crossing in the Alps on an old railway bridge.
 alt: River crossing in the Alps on an old railway bridge.  alt: River crossing in the Alps on an old railway bridge.
River crossing in the Alps on an old railway bridge.

As the day grew later we started to slow down a little, looking for somewhere to cool off for a bit as well as somewhere we could camp for the night. We investigated a few tributary rivers, a mere trickle after the recent dry weather, yet you could see just how big they would become during a storm or the snow let season.

 alt: A random waterfall
A random waterfall, somewhere in the Italian Alps.

During this final night in Italy, just short of the Austrian border, we ducked off the side of the dismantled railway — now cycle path — we were following, and found some flattish ground underneath it on which it pitch our tents. The site was tucked in next to what appeared to be an abandoned house with plenty of trees around which kept us well out of sight of any passers-by. We walked back up without cooking equipment to make our dinner, and whilst eating on a bench we’d found it started raining. Within a few minutes we were sheltering in our tents as the crack-thud of the thunder and lightning overhead shook the ground around it.

 alt: The abandoned house we camped under
 alt: The abandoned house we camped under  alt: The abandoned house we camped under
 alt: Descending into the flatlands.
The abandoned house we camped under, followed by views from the last few miles in Italy.

The next morning was fairly typical once again, up early to make some breakfast before we packed up and pushed the bikes back up onto the cycle path. This path now began to steadily climb before it eventually ended just before Pontebba and we re-joined the roads briefly before the path resumed on the other side of the small town.

We stuck to this cycle path now for the remainder of the valley, which took us rapidly towards the Austrian border, where the valleys widened and the mountains grew all around us. We stuck the cycle path continuing our journey on smaller roads now we were on the Austrian side

More from the Eurovelo series

This post is part of the nine part series Eurovelo. This series is not yet complete; the published parts are:

  1. Eurovelo: A charity cycle expedition across Europe.
  2. Eurovelo: Arriving in Thessaloniki: The start of the adventure as we arrive in Thessaloniki, Greece and build the bikes before getting underway
  3. Eurovelo: Diesel and Dust: From the dust and fumes of Thessaloniki to the remote plains of northern Greece.
  4. Eurovelo: Into the Storm: Cycling from Bitola, Macedonia to Skopje, Macedonia though the mountains.
  5. Eurovelo: Kosovo: Cycling through Kosovo
  6. Eurovelo: Bad Roads and Big Diversions: Resuming the story of Eurovelo after crossing the border from Kosovo into Albania.
  7. Eurovelo: Montenegro: The story of a brief traverse across Montenegro from Albania to Croatia.
  8. Eurovelo: Croatia and Bosnia: Cycling the length of Croatia as part of a 4000km expedition.
  9. Eurovelo: Italy: A brief glimpse into the Italian countryside and culture.