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Climbing Bike Tour through EU

Original Post
Colin Brochard · · San Francisco · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 155


My GF and I are planning a bike tour in Europe next spring. The loose plan is to start in Rome in May and end in Zurich in July and stop at a bunch of sport crags along the way.

Has anybody done this kind of thing before? Any recommendations in terms of great crags, scenic biking and good camping areas?

Thanks in advance, and look forward to sharing a great trip report eventually ;)

mark felber · · Wheat Ridge, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 28

Are you going to carry climbing gear on your bikes along with camping gear? That could end up being a fair bit of weight.

The Garfagnana (northwest corner of Tuscany) is a really pretty part of Italy, very rugged and scenic. I've cycled there but I haven't climbed there.

Colin Brochard · · San Francisco · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 155

Hi Mark, Thanks for the beta, will look into Garfagnana. Yea, we are going to carry just sport gear (light rope, atc, draws and climbing shoes). Weight is definitely a concern!

mark felber · · Wheat Ridge, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 28

How early in May are you starting? I would expect Italy to be swarming with tourists, mostly from the German speaking countries, by late May/early June. Wild camping (i.e., just pitching your tent at the side of the road isn't always an option, and campgrounds and other accommodations will start to fill up.

Colin Brochard · · San Francisco · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 155

Hey, Yea we will probably start biking mid-May. Was hoping we wouldn't have to book any accommodations in advance, but might be a good idea. France seems more bike touring friendly, but we really want to experience some Italy as well. Finale Ligure looks like awesome climbing, apparently there's some camping there too.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,813
Colin Brochard wrote:France seems more bike touring friendly
Yes by a long shot.
Italy is a pretty and interesting country for holding a big-time organized stage road race -- but not for recreational cycle touring (especially not down south toward Rome).
Except for a few bicycle-centric towns, most of the (non-car-driving) Italians are more into riding motorcycles and scooters.

If you want a "taste of Italy" how about start in the NorthEast say around Trento (nice paved bike trails north from there in the Adige river valley), and if you want to pedal up over some great hills, do some route through the Dolomites (where the car + truck drivers are very accustomed to lots and lots of bicycles sharing the roads).

Colin Brochard wrote:Finale Ligure looks like awesome climbing, apparently there's some camping there too.
Also lots of serious hills on the roads: both to get to Finale, bicycling from anywhere south in Italy, and to get to anywhere north from Finale on a bicycle. Don't expect anything like wide shoulders to give you space alongside the trucks passing you while you're grinding away up those hills.

If you instead take the idea of "tasting" NorthEast Italy, could start a bit farther south around Arco / Riva del Garda) -- arguably better limestone sport climbing than Finale Ligure - (also Arco has big walls), especially if check the newest guidebooks (and websites) for the newer less-polished crags.
. . (not far from Arco, the province of Veneto is less famous with outsiders, but surely better + friendlier road bicycling (and more gelato shops) than the region of Tuscany/Toscana).

Colin Brochard · · San Francisco · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 155

great beta Ken, Thanks!

Long Ranger · · Boulder, Colorado · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 75

I've toured extensively in France - you'll have no problems with roads or camping, so long as you keep on the smaller roads (this is easy to do) - many small French villages have camping right in or near town. Some of them are quite nice, some are simply adequate. They use the Michelin star system, and > stars sometimes correlate to a higher price, but ultimately it's more amenities (mini golf course! swimming pool! Karaoke! Frites-Omellete Bar!). Ask for the price, as it varies. Camping like this is hilarious. It's against French principle to turn someone around, so long as you frame it as something they can help you with - French people are VERY helpful people, as long as you do not demand their help as if it's your god-given privilege.

Did a ton of camping savauge with 0 problems as well, sometimes in really awful places (it was late, watchagonnado?).

It's different outside of France. The cycling infrastructure is incredible in Switzerland; in Spain I felt as if I was wrongly on the freeway the entire time.

I couldn't imagine dealing with Italian drivers.

I would not shy away from connecting less bike friendly/boring stretches with a quick train ride. It would be quite affordable. The chances that the crag has a train station in or near the center of town is great. I've been SOL in the middle of nowhere, and limped to a tiny town to find if there was a train to where I wanted to go - there was! (helps if you want to get Paris, all roads in France will get you there!)

mark felber · · Wheat Ridge, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 28

I toured southern Tuscany in 2006 and the Garfagnan in 2012. Ken is right; there are plenty of hills and not much cycling infrastructure to speak of. There are plenty of quiet, scenic roads, though, and Italian drivers aren't as crazy as they used to be. Get good maps (Touring Club Italiano and National Geographic Adventure maps are both excellent), use Google Earth/Google Maps, choose your roads carefully, and like LongRanger said, trains are a good option for dealing with areas that aren't too bike friendly.

Some of the agrotourismos (working farms that offer lodging) offer campsites, but generally camping is hard to do in southern Tuscany. There are lots of campgrounds along the coast, but they do get crowded in the summer. Like LongRanger said, the list of amenities can be impressive. Camp 4 it ain't.

Do you have friends you can ship your climbing gear to, so you're not hauling it on the bike? Would a baggage forwarding service be affordable or practical? Could you just bring your shoes, harnesses, lockers and belay devices, and hire guides? Maybe just bring your shoes and let the guide supply the rest? I'm thinking about all those hills, and bicycles loaded with climbing gear.

Colin Brochard · · San Francisco · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 155

Awesome, yea, we have time on our side so I think we are OK with the extra weight for climbing gear, at least while we are in the Tuscany to Verdon / Ceuse leg of the trip. I have a friend in Zurich, which will be the ultimate destination. As you point out, might be a good idea to ditch the climbing gear for the alps portion of the tour!

Keep the beta's comin, really appreciate it ya'll!

Benk919 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 20

Grab the lightest gear possible and go for it! Bike touring is all about choosing your own adventure. I definitely recommend against going anywhere that you have to book camping (or anything else) in advance. No worse feeling on a tour than having to put in long days, not because you want to, but because you have to keep schedule.
Sounds like an awesome trip. Looking forward to hearing how it goes.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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