The Italian Job

Slovenia, Italy + France | Ljubljana - Schio - Peschiera del Garda - Bruno - Verduno - St Ours | 14th to 23rd April 2016 | 22,424km

Day 486 99km ridden | 5h04 riding time

Left Ljubljana after a huge storm, as is customary when we’ve just cleaned the bikes, both of which are tired but should see us home! Travelling lighter after ditching winter gear in the Slovenian sunshine, a bit too enthusiastically we would later find out. Aware we’ve done Slovenia a bit of a photographical injustice, but you’ll have to believe us when we say we had a final fantastic day riding through the wooded hills to the south west of the capital, arriving into the Italian town of Gorica that evening. 

Day 487 132km 5h55

Easily averaging over 20kph for first time in ages, joining together the rough list of towns we have scribbled down, there's a warren of back roads now so no point planning a turn by turn route. Looking for bread at 1.05pm we're reminded that Italian shops are closed from 1-3pm and hunger paddies were had. Headed towards the only high ground in sight to pitch the tent by a secluded bench and within range of an open wifi network, euro wild camping standards! 

Day 488 102km 5h01

Saturday club cyclists. Ciao! Forza! Pinarello’s, Campagnolo, immaculate club kits and tanned legs, especially for April. Stopped mid afternoon in the cobbled piazza of an unassuming quintessentially Italian town. Wisteria hangs everywhere and smells like holiday. Bellissimo! Gelato, for free? Because the owner is a cyclist? Mama mia! Pass under some big pink banners indicating we’re on the 2016 Giro d’Italia route. Stealth camped by a river with the now expected picnic table. Buona Notte.

Day 489 127km 7h10

Two hours of grinding up the passo Plan delle Fugazze before descending into another classic herebedragons mega destination viewed in the drizzle. Caught up in the all Italian, Lake Garda, James Bond, lake side gallery road atmosphere we pelted along the bit where the opening scene to Quantum of Solace was filmed. An Aston Martin ended up in the lake at some point apparently. Must NOT splurge two days budget on pizza/gelato/tickets to gardaland.

Day 490 Nulla

Spend a day chilling with Warmshowers host Andrea who hosts cyclist in his little part of Italy because he was on the receiving end of similar hospitality when he toured in the US (in an Italian national team skin-suit) a few years ago - the brilliance of the warmshowers concept. Treated to aperitivo with spritz that evening - though Luke really needs a straight jacket to 'apero' reasonably. Achingly simple dinner with an obscenely large block of parmesan.

Day 491 130km 5h28

Waited out enormous morning thunderstorm before hitting the Italian flat lands. Warned it was an industrial area but we could take you to worse ones in the UK! Camped off the side of euroroute style bike path. Shifting now to make a rendezvous with our french friend Hugo in the south of France.

Day 492 110km 4h45

The food culture is phenomenal but where are the breakfasts in Italy? A tiny brioche and an espresso seems the norm before starting aperitvo sometime in the early afternoon! Don’t even get Flo started on why Europe doesn’t do salt and vinegar crisps. When searching for a pre camp water top up we began talking, or signing, with Marco. After deciding that there was no water to be found in his village and nowhere to wild camp in Italy, he insisted that we should pitch our tent in his garden. As he heaved open the huge wooden gates we'd been standing outside, it turned out that his 'garden' was that of the village castello, which he was caretaker of. Nice backdrop for the tent!

Day 493 70km 3h30

Pedalled into the rolling hills not far from the Mediterranean coast. A landscape of vast vineyards, typical hill top villages and the odd but distinctive smell of industrially roasted hazelnuts meant we had found Alba. The town is the home of Nutella with which Luke has a turbulent relationship. Set on world domination the marketing gurus at Ferrero needed to explain that they had a nut spread, that came from Italy. Nut-ella. Genius. In need of a shower we called Fulvio on the advice of the MS world tour french boys we'd ridden with in Australia. Having hosted them over a year ago Fulvio took us in too for a exceptional evening of adventure stories and culinary education. He introduced to the slow food movement, which was established in this region in 1986 in successful opposition to the invasion of McDonalds. 

Day 494 85km 4h45

Heading towards Cuneo with the intention of getting to the base of colle della Maddalena, our way into France, and putting right the fact that we'd been in Italy a week and hadn't eaten any pizza. We had wondered whether you could get bad pizza in Italy and as we ended up sat at some plastic tables outside 'Euro Pizza', we feared the worst. We needn’t have worried. Final Italian wild camp surrounded by wild garlic and chestnut trees.

Day 495 69km 4h44

At 1996m the Colle della Maddalena is one of the only options for crossing the Alps in spring - not the most interesting but kept open all year round. Aspirations to cross the gigantic colle dell'Agnello had been checked as it remains closed until late May. Happily it's possible to follow a crumbling old military road that parallels the main one for most of the ascent. A final Italian flourish as a beaming shop keeper in the last village gave us a bag of biscuits. STOP being so nice Italy. Ode to Fausto Coppi on the way up.

Winter hangs on up in the Haute Alps. Greying snow and a biting wind fought with us as we inched towards the FRANCIA sign, sending marmottes scampering. It is said that due to it's lesser height, this was the probable crossing point for Hannibal and his elephant army. Goats cling to the sheer cliff sides in which concrete fortifications remain embedded. France, our 27th and penultimate country. Sweep downwards passing a sign to a tiny village called St Ours, perched high above us, glad we're not headed there. Stop to call Joel, another friend of the MS world tour boys.

Us - Bonjour, vous habitez ou exactement?

Joel - Un petit village qui s'appelle St Ours.

Us - Merde.