Italy is a nation that loves its cycling, and cyclists everywhere love their food – especially pasta. So it’s no surprise that Italian bike tours are proving a top attraction for serious riders and food lovers.
The country that produced several of the all-time greatest cyclists (Bartali, Coppi, Pantani) also serves up the finest balsamic vinegars, tastiest hard cheeses and wines.
From the floor of the Po Valley to the classic peaks of the Dolomites, you don’t have to be a pro rider to enjoy. But you do need to embrace Italian food – not just for the carbs to help you on those climbs, but also for the pure pleasure of it!
In the 1949 Tour de France, Italian rider Fausto Coppi dominated the climb up the Izoard Pass, to then hand the stage victory to team-mate Bartali as a birthday present.
Acts such as these helped cement Italy’s place as a cycling nation, and riders the world over feel drawn to the country in search of its towering alpine climbs and the outpouring of respect often shown to cyclists who take part in Italy’s Gran Fondos (long distance rides).
And they come for the food.
Pasta’s low in fat, high in carbohydrates, easy to prepare, light to carry with you if you are touring and available in uncountable varieties. Wholegrain pasta’s also packed with fibre and protein. And it dominates what we know of the Italian diet.
But don’t think you’ve had the best of it until you visit. Mixing cycling and gastronomy, you’ll be treated not just to pasta, but also to delights such as Culatello (aged ham), Parmigiano- Reggiano (crumbly, delicious hard cheese) and balsamic vinegars that shift your tastebuds up to the top ring.
Cycling in the valleys and foothills of Italy may suit gastro tourists best; taking the low road always seems to lead you back to a restaurant and cities laced with culture. There are 47 UNHCR World Heritage Sites in Italy, and The Dolomites is one of them. And it’s here you’ll find the more testing Italian tours.
Take the Pasta Test
Put pasta power to the test with climbs such as the Passo di Stelvio (rising 6,000 ft over 21 km) or the Mortirolo (4,300 ft over 12.4 km). And if you fancy fuelling up for a real challenge, try the Sella Ronda, a circuit of four mountain passes.
But if this year Italian bike tours are off the menu, then look up the ‘La Scienza in Cucina e L’arte di Mangiare Bene’ (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well) by Pellegrino Artusi.
First published in 1891, it unifies Italian recipes from all the regions – use it as your guide when you prepare your own pasta at home and you’ll never be short of carbs for your own climbs.
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