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All roads lead to Rome - even on a bicycle
How do you find your way to the eternal city sitting on your bike? In this article, Claudia reports on her 1,100-kilometer bike trip on her randonneur from Munich to Rome. On her way through four countries, the landscape changed increasingly from the alpine mountains to the seven hills of Rome, the metropolis of millions. What remained the same, however, was the joy of cycling and the feeling of freedom in the saddle – and now and then an ice cream along the way.
Cycle to Rome - Why?
“All roads lead to Rome” – this proverb is probably known to everyone. Since I was in Rome for the first time in 2005 (then still by plane), I am fascinated by this city. Although we have countless historically significant and beautiful cities in Europe, Rome stands out among them with its large number of sights.
So why shouldn’t it be possible to go to Rome by bike? Without much thought, the destination for the two-week summer vacation was set. Together with my boyfriend, I cycled from Munich over the Alps and through Tuscany to Rome in mid-July.
Route planning - Which way to Rome by bike?
If you look at the map, there are of course – as in ancient times – many ways to reach Rome from Germany. So you should ask yourself at the beginning how much time you have and what you would like to see. For us, it quickly became clear that we would not be able to cover the entire distance from our home in Hamburg in two weeks by bicycle. Therefore, we set Munich as the starting point. From the Bavarian capital, we planned our bicycle route via the Austrian Inn Valley, the Brenner Pass, South Tyrol, Lake Garda, Verona, Bologna, the Tuscan cities of Florence and Siena, and on to the vibrant metropolis of Rome. With a length of just over 1,000 kilometers, this route should be easy to ride in two weeks.
Set-Up - How to bike to Rome?
The simple answer: The best way is the one you feel most comfortable with. I have been riding road bikes and smaller bikepacking tours for about two years. I have never tried padded pants and road bike jerseys. Apparently, my butt fits on my saddle like a lid on its pot, and in casual fitness clothes I just feel most comfortable. Sitting on the saddle and cycling through the passing nature triggers a feeling of freedom, no matter what your bike looks like or what outfit you are wearing.
For this kind of bikepacking tour, I bought a so-called "Randonneur" (French for "walker"). It is a steel trekking bike from the Erfurt brand Intec. Equipped with Ortlieb rear panniers and an Ortlieb handlebar bag, my little Randonneur got me and my luggage safely to Rome. Due to the warm temperatures in July, the luggage turned out light and small, so front panniers were not necessary for this bike trip. We also carried a small tent to be able to stay overnight flexibly in different places in addition to simple B&Bs.
The highlights - Which places are particularly memorable?
On a bike tour of over 1000 kilometers, many landscapes are passed by. Claudia describes her highlights along the route from Munich to Rome impressively and sprinkled with many details.
The Brenner - bicycle route off the highway
In two stages of a day, we reached the Inn Valley before the Brenner Pass from Munich via the Isar Cycle Path and the Austrian Achensee. With an altitude of only 1,374 m.a.s.l., the Brenner Pass is one of the lowest passable Alpine passes. This is especially noticeable during the summer months due to the heavy traffic on the well-known vacation highway. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that it is nevertheless possible to cross this Alpine pass by bike quite undisturbed. The reason for this is the side road between Hall and Matrei, which is called the “Old Roman Road” and is tarred nowadays. This leads in a constant up and down on the eastern side of the Brenner Valley through small villages, while the highway traffic roars along in the distance on the western side of the valley. After a last somewhat steeper stretch on the old federal road, we finally reached the Brenner Pass and were suddenly surrounded by Italian outlet stores, parked cars, and restaurants.
There are certainly more beautiful passes to stay. Therefore, we quickly put on our windbreaker jackets and whizzed down the Italian side of the Brenner. On a very well-paved bike path along a former railroad line, we had great views down into the valley and were in Sterzing, Italy, faster than we would have liked. A great reward after the many meters of altitude on the Austrian side and still completely off the busy highway led again! Thus, I can recommend the Brenner crossing by bike to anyone who is looking for a fast north-south connection to Italy.
South Tyrol - fruit and wine in abundance
On a bike path that continues to be well paved and with a stop in Bressanone, we finally reached Bolzano and with it the area of the “South Tyrolean Wine Route”. Besides wine, apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plums, and much more are grown here. One feels a little like in the land of milk and honey at the sight of so much fruit. Almost a quarter of South Tyrolean apples end up in German supermarkets and fruit stores, we were told. On the highly recommended “Überetsch” cycle path, we cycled along a gently ascending old railroad line from Bolzano to the tranquil wine town of Kaltern. As a child, I spent several summers here and would never have dreamed of once cycling in between vines. A perfect place to linger, taste wine, eat ice cream and swim in the nearby lake.
Tuscany - yellow "gladiator country"
Via Lake Garda, tranquil Verona, the hot Po Valley (don’t forget the bug spray!), the vibrant student city of Bologna, and the Apennine mountain range, we finally reached Florence, the capital of Tuscany. The beautiful old town of Florence invites you to stroll among statues and monuments, among which the monumental Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – the city’s landmark – particularly stands out.
After a detour via the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint, we cycled further into Tuscany in the morning when temperatures were already very high. The astonished “Ragazzi!” exclamation of an elderly Italian lady and the occasional “Bravo!” from a Fiat whizzing by was, given the sweaty Tuscan hills, understandable even to us after initial confusion. We seemed to be the only bikepackers far and wide. Only here and there an Italian senior overtook us on his Bianchi racing bike. The landscape around us looked like in a picture book. Isolated villages built of stone houses amid lightly wooded hills. This is where you would truly be able to switch off if you didn’t have a destination in mind and two feet firmly on the pedals…
After a night in the charming old town of Siena, we finally entered the long-awaited “Gladiator Land”. South of Siena, the hilly green landscape turned into yellow cornfields as far as the eyes could see. Winding cypress avenues led to splendid Tuscan houses, crickets chirped and another cyclist raved to us about the legendary “L’Eroica” bicycle race through this picturesque landscape. With its many small tarred roads, the Tuscan landscape is a dream for cyclists. However, one should not underestimate the numerous meters of altitude, which can add up quite a bit at the end of a day. A final climb to the small town of Montepulciano has been rewarded with arguably the best Bacio ice cream of this trip and a beautiful sunset over the Tuscan hills.
The next day, in the southern foothills of Tuscany, we repeatedly crossed the Via Francigena, one of the pilgrimage routes leading to Rome, on a little-used ridge road above the cornfields. So it could not be far to the eternal city!
Rome - the eternal city
Via Lago di Bolsena and the pilgrimage town of Viterbo, we finally reached the foothills of the Roman metropolitan region. Because of the few existing bike paths into other Italian cities, we had already wondered how the entrance to the Italian capital would be. We were pleasantly surprised. In Prima Porta, we met the Tiber and thus a well-developed bike path directly along the river into the heart of Rome. Full of anticipation, we cycled side by side to the bridge under the Castel Sant’Angelo, carried our bikes up the stairs, and stood right next to one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome. Spot landing! We pedaled one last time to cover the short distance to Vatican City.
After about 1,100 kilometers, 13 days, and 4 countries (including the Vatican) our way ended directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. All roads lead to Rome – even on a bicycle!
The different countries - "Fahrrad", "Radl", "Bicicletta"
Fortunately, you can ride a bike anywhere and at any time. However, the condition of the roads varies greatly. While in Bavaria the Isar cycle path leads tranquility towards the mountains and the Brenner descent to Italy is a real blast, from Verona onwards you’d better not even count the potholes. Between the Italian cities and villages, there are rarely bike paths and when they do exist, they are unfortunately often not well passable. So swerving onto the road is often unavoidable. I was surprised at how few cyclists you generally see on Italian roads. This may be due to the summer heat, but the infrastructure probably also contributes its share. Wider coats with a good profile are therefore an advantage on Italian roads. I ride 37 millimeter Schwalbe Marathon Mondial coats on my randonneur and have done very well with them.
A real bright spot, however, is the EuroVelo 7, the so-called “Sun Route” or “Ciclovia del Sole” as it is called in Italy. One day it will be possible to cycle uninterrupted from the Norwegian North Cape to Malta. Around Bologna, we were able to enjoy a developed part of it. Hopefully, such community projects will continue to be promoted in the future, as they could certainly encourage even more people in Europe to cycle.
Admittedly, there are certainly advantages to cycling from Munich to Rome in spring or fall, rather than in high summer. Especially in Tuscany and Lazio around Rome, the thermometer climbed up to 38°C in mid-July, turning any pause into a bit of a sweat break. A sun shield on your helmet, plenty of sunscreen, light-colored clothing, and a cool head bath at one of the fountains along the way every now and then are highly recommended.
Ultimately, as is so often the case, there is no right or wrong here. Everyone should find the right time for such a bike trip. The changing summer weather (strong thunderstorms in the Alps, sultriness in South Tyrol, and heat with loud cricket concert in Tuscany) made me realize again why I love cycling so much: Because you can feel nature right around you.
The route from Munich to Rome is suitable for all who like to cycle through changing landscapes (Alps, hills, orchards, rivers, lakes and many more), enjoy nature, like historical places (Rome, Florence, Siena, Bologna and many more) and love Italian cuisine (pizza & ice cream!). There are countless places where you could easily stay 1 or 2 days longer if you have enough time. From Rome, various bus companies (e.g. Flixbus), which also take bicycles, drive back to Munich overnight. When I borrowed a used road bike for my first tour around Hamburg from a colleague just over 2 years ago, I would never have dared to dream that I would once cycle over 1,000 kilometers to Rome. However, it does not have to be the same way to Rome! But it's just always nice to set goals that you would like to achieve. Cycling is finally suitable for each:n. The feeling of freedom in the nose, the wind in your hair, nature around you, cool ice cream as a reward. There are so many reasons to start cycling! Where does your path lead?
Author: Claudia Jungmann
Proofreading: Sandra Schuberth
Edit / Layout: Sandra Schuberth