As a keen cyclist, Italian enthusiast and a member of the Freewheel team I travelled out to Verona to spend a few days riding on�the route of�the Dolomites and Lake Garda tour. Having previously spent many fantastic holidays in Italy this was�my�first time cycling through this fascinating country. 20160508_115047 You can read�my full story below…. Dolomites and Lake Garda After the short flight from Manchester to Verona I hopped on the airport shuttle bus (approx. 8 euros) to catch a direct train from Verona Porta Nuovo station to Bolzano, the regions capital. The train journey itself is both relaxing and spectacular, passing through vineyards, lush valleys and mountain peaks. I felt excited to be back in Italy and was really looking forward to travelling through the region on my bike. On arrival at Bolzano it was only a 5-10 mins walk from the station to the charming 4 star Hotel Scala which offers excellent rooms with some beautiful mountain views. I spent the afternoon in Bolzano Old Town exploring on foot, with its narrow streets, colourful buildings and busy main square (Piazza Walther) with its Cathedral, restaurants and street musicians. Nearby the hotel there is the Ritten cable car where a short trip will take you to Oberbozen (to connect with the Renon train) for a stunning view of the Dolomites and countryside. Being close to the Austrian border Bolzano shares certain influences with its neighbour, such as the architecture and cuisine. I sampled a local Porcini Pasta dish with red wine before heading back to my hotel in the early evening for a welcome meeting where the bike fitting also took place. I cycled in Italy for 3 days and Day 1 for me on a warm early summer morning was alongside the River Adige from Bolzano to the charming town of Trento where I found the locals very friendly. The route itself begins only a few mins ride from the Hotel Scala through the main square and onto the cycle path network which leads all the way to Trento. The cycle-ways were a joy to ride on, very well signed and I was left almost speechless by the incredible scenery throughout the whole route, which is largely flat and very easy to navigate � perfect for cyclists of all levels. Crossing the river on footbridges both old and modern I experienced beautiful valleys, peaks, vineyards and poppy fields as well as several interesting small towns which made for a good place to stop and take lunch. All this without climbing a single hill! The university town of Trento has become a popular holiday destination in itself and it�s not hard to see why – with its castle, churches, Romanesque cathedral square, imposing renaissance palazzi, restaurants and modern cafes, all left me wanting to come back in the future. The grand hotel in Trento where I stayed was particularly special and memorable. 20160508_132217 Day 2 I cycled from Trento to Peschiera, on Lake Garda which meant more fantastic scenery along the River Adige cycle path, a succession of vineyards and orchards, with a feeling of being more in the countryside. Approximately half way through the ride is the lively little town of Rovereto which is an excellent place to stop for a spot of lunch. The town also boasts a hillside castle, an Italian history museum, churches and many other points of interest. Onwards along the old railway route, lined with olive trees, via the fishing village of Torbole, I eventually reached Riva del Garda where the panoramic view of Lake Garda is quite remarkable. This is where I enjoyed a superb descent to meet the lakeside cycle path, which eventually leads to the ferry port near �Piazza Novembre�. I would suggest spending an hour here to soak up the atmosphere. Then it was time to rest the legs, relax and admire the hillside villages as the boat zig zagged from north to south, stopping at many traditional lakeside towns along the way to Peschiera. Here there were plenty of lakeside restaurants and attractions for families and children to enjoy, including numerous theme parks. Day 3 I cycled from Peschiera to the wonderful city of Verona. Having visited Verona once before (without a bike) I couldn�t wait to arrive there, but this time in the saddle. Another easy ride, albeit with some hills at the beginning which began along small country roads, paths and vineyards, travelling through some tiny tranquil towns. Despite this day being slightly less scenic I arrived in Verona via the canal pathways on the outskirts of the city and felt slightly overwhelmed at the sight of Piazza Bra and its imposing arena. Historic Verona is one of the most famous cities in Italy for many different things, such as Roman monuments, art, architecture, shopping, pretty Piazzas and obviously Romeo and Juliet. Having been twice myself I would definitely recommend it to anyone, especially by bike! 20160510_161520 Highlights

  • Stunning scenery
  • Verona and its open air Roman Arena
  • Easy cycling on excellent cycle paths and signposted guides
  • Numerous charming towns along the daily routes
  • Good value for money, staying in some high quality hotels with an impressive varied breakfast on offer each morning.
  • The bikes and equipment were of a high quality, easy to ride and very well maintained
  • Plenty of attractions and things to do in towns along the route
  • Easy transfer connections from Verona airport

  Simon Rutherford – Freewheel Holidays

Cycling across Italy by Bike and Boat

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Kaylee Lasseter from the Manchester Evening News recently went on the Ave Maria Bike and Barge cycling holiday through Northern Italy. This was her first time on a cycling holiday and was an unforgettable experience over the week. She enjoyed the cycling holiday so much that she can safely say that the holiday changed her life! You can read her full story and tour report here.    

Touring Menorca with Andy Mossack

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Andy Mossack is a travel writer and BBC radio journalist. He presented his popular ‘Where in the world is Andy?’ radio broadcast in Menorca as part of an 8 day cycle tour around the island.

He had a great time riding around on his e-bike and found the perfect way to explore the popular holiday destination.

You can read more about his Menorca cycling experiences here on his excellent TripReporter website. (http://tripreporter.co.uk/)

‘Simmering Saddles’ in the Algarve

By Alan Hart

It is known as The Bradley Wiggins Factor. His victory in the Tour De France and the Olympics inspired a surge of sporting cyclists throughout the UK.

But it isn’t just super-fit young men and women who have climbed back in the saddle, nor even those notorious Mamils – middle-aged men in Lycra.

There’s a new breed of British cyclists who come in all ages, shapes and sizes. They are re-discovering an old-fashioned way of exploring the countryside and their healthy hobby is taking them to foreign lands.

Instead of hunching over drop handlebars with their legs furiously pushing the pedals, these born-again cyclists set a more sedate pace as they go on gentle journeys through sun-soaked landscapes.

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They include families with young children and those who are beyond the first flush of youth.

Manchester-based Freewheel Holidays offer more than 40 tours designed for the occasional cyclist in ten European countries.

One of their most popular destinations is The Algarve, on Portugal’s southern coast. Here their clients mix with multi-national hikers, trail-bikers, golfers and fishermen taking advantage of the mild Mediterranean weather as winter turns to spring.

Paul Beesley gave up his job in the IT industry and emigrated from Tadcaster, Yorkshire, so he and his associates could set up an activity holiday company in The Algarve. After giving us a test run on his hybrid bikes, we were ready to roll.

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In late February the temperature was in the 70s as we were taken by minibus to the Hotel Apolo in Vila Real De Santo Antonio, a lively town on the banks of the Guadiana river which divides Portugal and Spain.

Here, at the ANG snack bar run by the Naval Association of Guadiana, we basked in the sunshine, admired the yachts bobbing in the harbour a few feet away, and enjoyed our bargain-priced lunch of salad and huge toasted sandwiches washed down with two bottles of Sagres lager and two bumper-sized glasses of quaffable local white wine for only £13

Every morning after breakfast in our comfortable hotels, we climbed aboard our personally-adjusted hire bikes, donned the helmets provided and followed the planned routes from maps and descriptions which clipped neatly on to our handlebars.

As we travelled westwards, our main luggage was transported to the next hotel to await our arrival. A pannier on our bikes carried spare tyres, repair kits and an emergency helpline.

If the going got tough with any hill climbs, we simply got off and pushed. Sir Bradley might not have approved but we were here to enjoy ourselves.

Averaging 25 miles a day, we pedalled along cycle tracks and trails through lemon and orange groves, passing sandy beaches in the early stages and then taking a route inland through vineyards.

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Although we were free to go our own way to our nightly destinations, like most Brits we preferred to follow the route prepared by Paul.

We enjoyed many memorable meals during our stay. On our first night we dined at the Churrasqueira  Arenil , a restaurant run by two generations of the Rodriguez family and steeped in nostalgia.

Next day we stopped for lunch en route to Tavira at the Marisqueira next to the beach at the quaint fishing village of Fabrica; another highlight was the suntrap rear garden of The Lemon Tree on the edge of Almancil; and at the Retiro do Campones on the outskirts of Loule, where they specialise in steaks.

Our tour took us from Vila Real to the Residencial Mares at Tavira, the sumptuous Real Marina at Olhao, the Jardim at Loule, where we stayed two nights, the Alte Hotel with its panoramic hilltop vista above the village of Alte, and finally the Colina dos Mouros at Silves, where from our balcony we watched a stork nest-building near the Arade river.

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Halfway through our journey we were given a day off from cycling to explore the town of Loule, which boasts sandy beaches, a castle, five attractive churches – not to mention a fruit and nut museum.

The town’s highlight comes at the end of summer with Noite Branca – The Festival of White Night. Tourists and locals converge on the town dressed in white for a dazzling display of dancing, music and pageantry. Young people wander the streets dressed as royalty, demons or fantasy figures while live bands play.

On the subject of music, you might be tempted to listen to a night of fado singing. This is a melancholic rendering of sad songs, accompanied by acoustic guitar. I can only say it is a taste which I failed to acquire.

Portuguese food on the other hand was far easier to stomach. Locally-caught fish is available on most menus. You may have to wait for the cataplana (fish stew) to be prepared, so order yourself a bottle of deliciously crisp vinho verde (new white wine) while you tuck into your covers – bread, cheese, sardine paste and olives.

Arroz de Tamboril (monkfish rice) and salada polvo (octopus salad) were tasty local dishes, and if there’s still some room try the tarte mista algarvia (fig, carob and almond pie).

You can rarely go wrong with a random visit to any cafe or restaurant, where a warm welcome for the Brits is standard from our oldest allies, the Portuguese.