Italy, famous for art, culture, food, cars, and footballers, is also something of an iconic country for cyclists. Easily recognisable on the European map by its boot shape, with the isles of Sicily and Sardinia just off the coast, it boasts 4,723 miles (7600 km) of shoreline. Italy is surrounded on three sides by water: the Mediterranean Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea and Ligurian Sea to the west, the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the south. It borders the Alps to the north and the Apennine Mountains run from North to South. It is also home to the only active volcano (Vesuvius) in mainland Europe – making for exceptionally varied terrain.
The Best Cycling Regions in Italy
There are 20 Italian regions – with 7 described below the most commonly visited by cyclists. Each region has its own distinct characteristics – and therefore different appeals to different cyclists.
Tuscany is the largely agricultural area of central-west Italy, producing much of the country’s grain. As such it is known for rolling hills that lead up towards the mountains that form the border to the regions to the south. Olives and their oils are produced here along with the well-known Italian wine, Chianti. The region’s capital is Florence and the other main centres are Piombino, Lucca, Pistoia, Grosseto, Pisa, and Siena.
Known as “the green heart of Italy”, Umbria is nestled in the middle of the Italian peninsula, halfway between Rome and Florence. Quieter than its Tuscan neighbour, Umbria is also a rich agricultural area, producing a local wine called Sagrantino. The regional capital is Perugia, which is often overlooked by tourists but is known for its popular jazz and chocolate festivals. Although the region is entirely inland (there is no coastline) it is also home to one of the largest lakes of Italy.
The Dolomites is one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain ranges, of which 95% is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located on the northern border of Italy it includes 18 peaks that rise above 3,000 metres and has a total area of 141,903 hectares. It is a hive of activity for cyclists, walkers, mountaineers and skiers.
Italian Lakes, Verona & Lake Garda
Lago di Garda is Italy’s largest lake and only a short distance from Verona, “the city of love” in the Veneto region of north-east Italy. In this region you’ll find the Dolomiti Bellunesi national park and five national parks in this area, including Colli Euganei, Delta del Po veneto, Dolomiti di Ampezzo, Fiume Sile, and Lessinia. Over half of the country’s landcape if plains and rolling countryside, with mountains occupying around 5% of area, and the rest hilly. The climate is mixed and changes in accordance with the landscape: continental on the plains, milder along the Adriatic coast, around the Lake Garda and in the hilly areas. The agricultural areas produce a variety of vegetables and fruits along with tobacco and hemp. Not forgetting wine, Prosecco, Valpolicella, and Soave are all produced here.
The Piedmont region has a unique feel to it, made up of expansive valleys with The Alps as an impressive backdrop. With water everywhere this is one of the three main Italian centres of rice production (it’s a little known fact that Italy is the biggest European producer of rice, contributing 1,5 millions tonnes per year!) with the main varieties originating here being Carnaroli and Arborio risotto varieties and whole grain black Riso Venere and red Riso Ermes. The best time to visit is in May, when the fields are flooded before planting and the landscape becomes a vast and fascinating wetland.
Carnaroli and Arborio rice for Italian risotto are produced. Along with tasty whole grain varieties such as the black Riso Venere -used in eg. salads – and the red Riso Ermes – that work great as a base for salmon.
The topology lends itself well to leisure cycling, and the tourist board have created a 600km route – Grand Tour UNESCO by Bike – starting and ending in Avigliana. The Grand Tour is designed with “slow tourism” in mind – suitable for e-bikes and mountain bikes, but can also be completed at a pace by someone looking for a challenge. The tour is designed to introduce the rider to the historical and artistic heritage of the area, to sample local food and wine.
The region of Puglia is the “heel” of the Italian boot in the south-east of the country on the Adriatic coast. There are two designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this region and some very unique architecture as well as sights such as the . As one of the quieter regions with fewer tourists, it’s a great place to get away from the crowds and, therefore, a haven for cyclists.
The main town is Bari which has a historic port and a stunning old quarter, known for the Basilica of St. Nicholas, which took from 1087 to the late 1200s to be built (in several stages.) The small town of Alberobello is a must-see in this region, famous for their 14th Century “Trulli” buildings – traditional limestone dwellings built using prehistoric building techniques.
Outside of these unique towns and villages the coastline stretches over 800 km and has some of the best beaches in Italy – all the better for the lack of tourists. With a more typical Mediterranean climate than the regions in the north the area is rich with olive groves, fruit orchards, and meadows bursting with wild flowers.
The largest island in the Mediterranean sea – with the added character as a volcanic island – it is a fantastic place for cyclists of all persuasions. The tracks and trails that follow the coast give opportunities for gravel and mountain biking tours and the quiet roads are perfect for road cycling. The terrain is generally rolling or hilly (and occasionally flat) takes you past salt pan lagoons, local towns and villages with fresh produce markets and wonderful food, and carob trees, citrus and olive groves – and you’re never too far from a beach!
Famous Mountain Passes of Italy
The Colle del Ghisallo is a 9.4km long climb from Bellagio in the Lombardy region. It rises by 567 metres and delivers the rider to the chapel at the top Madonna del Ghisallo and the Ghisallo Cycling Museum at the top, making it something of a pilgrimage site for cyclists.
The Stelvio Pass (Passo dello Stelvio) is the second highest mountain pass in the Alps. It has been a stage finish in the Giro d’Italia on four occasions but is often closed due to bad weather and is generally closed throughout the winter. The ascent Prato is the “classic climb” and is the longest and hardest of the three routes, featuring 48 hairpins over its 24km length and an average gradient of 8%. The other approach is less challenging but still no less of a challenge and riding both sides is no mean feat on the same day.
Road and Mountain Bike Races in Italy
The Strade Bianchi Spring Classic typically takes place on the first or second Saturday of March. Starting and ending in the Tuscan town of Siena it covers 63 km of strade bianchi, which is Italian for “white roads”. A women’s race was introduced in 2015 – Strade Bianche Donne – and both races take place on the same day.
Milan San Remo is another of the Spring Classics, this time taking place in xxx and covering 185.2 miles (298 km) between Milan and Sanremo in Northwest Italy. It is considered a “sprinter’s classic” owing to the mostly flat course. This year  the race was won by Matej Mohorič of Slovenia. A women’s race – the Primavera Rosa was introduced in 1999 but ran for only seven seasons, with the last race in 2005.
The Giro di Sicilia (“Tour of Sicily”) takes place over four days in April and is part of the UCI Europe Tour calendar. This year  the race was won by the Italian rider, Damiano Caruso.The first Giro di Sicilia was held in 1907 but it was taken off the race calendar in 1978 and reinstated in 2018.
The Giro d’Italia is one of road cycling’s iconic three-week-long Grand Tours along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. This year  it takes place between the 6th and 29th of May. Over the course of the race the riders compete to win the team classification as overall race winners with individual riders competing to win in the general points, mountains, and the junior (under 25s) classifications. The women’s race – the Giro d’Italia Donne – takes place from June 30 to July 10 [in 2022] and takes place over ten days crossing five Italian regions (Sardinia, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto) over a distance of 623 miles (1 002 km).
On the mountain biking scene most of the action takes place in the more mountainous northern regions, as you’d expect. This year the grand finale of the 2022 Mercedes Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Final will be hosted in Val di Sole in the Trentino valley and the Val di Fassa in Trentino will host the third round of the Enduro World Series. In 2021 five of the nine EWS races were held in Italy.
Bike Events Italy
Road Cycling Events
With so many pro races taking place in this region it’s no surprise that there are also a great many sportives and gran fondos open to amateur cyclists.
The Maratona dles Dolomites takes place in July and is divided into three courses of varying difficulty. The Sellaronda course starts in La Ila and finishes in Corvara with 5,840 ft (1,780 m) of climbing over 34 miles (55 km). The Middle course continues on from the end of Sellaronda course for a total distance of 10,270 ft (3,130 metres) of ascent over the 66 miles (106 km) course length. The full ride, covering 86 miles (138 km) and 4,230 metres (3,880 ft) of ascent adds the Colle Santa Lucia and The Giau Pass before coming to an end in Corvara.
To get a guaranteed place on the Maratona dles Dolomites book with one of our holiday providers and enjoy having all your logistical needs catered for so all you have to do is turn up and ride.
Chase the Sun is the Italian edition of an event that runs in the UK and Ireland, so-called because it chases the sun from east to west. The ride starts in Cesenatico on the Adriatic sea to Tirrenia on the Tirrenian sea and is 270 km long with 3300m of ascent
The Strada Bianchi gran fondo, named after the white roads that form the route, is unusual because it came before the now well-known pro race. The original gran fondo is now split into two events, with the 127km gran fondo that the route of the pros and the L’Eroica restricted to those riding bicycles made before 1987. The ride takes place in March each year starting and ending in the city of Siena in central Tuscany. Unusually this sportive – though typically ridden by road cyclists – covers mostly unpaved roads adding an extra dimension that according to some race reports takes the riders by surprise and is generally better for gravel bikes (or those with some off-road skills!)
Another Italian gran fondo is the Gran Fondo Prosecco which covers just under 100km and 1,500 metres of ascent. The event takes place later in the year – late September, early October, which coincides with the prosecco harvest – and has been described as “the highlight in the northeast Italian cycling scene”. It starts and ends in Valdobbiadene in the Loggia region.There is a similar event for gravel riders earlier in the year.
As mentioned above, the L’Eroica is actually the name of what is now a series of events for riders with bikes that were made before 1987. The ride began in 1997 in the Chianti region and has grown in popularity so that today there are 17 rides taking place worldwide of which six are in Italy. The Italian editions are Nova Eroica Prosecco Hills, Eroica Montalcino, Nova Eroica Buonconvento, Eroica Dolomiti, Nova Eroica Gran Sasso, and L’Eroica – the latter being the original ride.
If you are planning to ride the original L’Eroica you can book a fully-supported trip with one of our providers.
With so many cyclists and top cycling brands originating in Italy there are many more events to discover – with these being just a small number of the most well known.
Mountain Biking Events
The Dolomiti Superbike event that takes place in July is a difficult mountain bike race that attracts a mix of 4,500 pro and amateur riders each year as part of a four-day expo in the area of South Tyrol in South Tyrol. There are two routes: one over 119 km and an altitude of 3,822 metres and a 60 km route with an altitude of 1,688 metres. New for 2022 is a middle distance race of 85 km with 2360 metres of ascent. Described by the organisers as one of the creme de la creme of European races, it’s one for the mountain biking bucket list, with spectacular scenery and
The Appenninica Mountain Bike Stage Race is limited to just 150 participants and takes place, as the name suggests, over seven stages, starting and ending in the Emilia Romagna region. The course covers 15,000 metres of ascent over its 450 km length and is a fully-supported event in the sense that breakfast and dinner is included with various accommodation options (from an allocated space in a dormitory to a hotel) available.
Cycling Holidays in Italy
With a wide variety of different landscapes there is something for everyone in Italy.
Whilst the focus on mountain biking can easily end up on the bike parks and alpine-type centres according to TrailForks there are 21,516 mountain biking trails in Italy, meaning there are many cross-country trails to be discovered. The best way to find this is to capitalise on local knowledge, so finding a holiday through a local company who has a passion for the area. Likewise, there are many opportunities for gravel rides and tours using the many rural and forest tracks that criss-cross the countryside.
For road and leisure cyclists there is a similarly varied offering. Road cyclists seeking challenges can head to the mountains or can explore the picturesque towns and villages, soaking up the food and culture further towards the coast.
Many tour and holiday providers now offer e-bikes as a rental option, opening up all of the above options to a much wider audience.
Travel to Italy
Italy is served by a total of 77 airports. The main airports receiving International flights are located in Rome, Florence, Milan, or Venice. Smaller regional airports accept flights from the UK and mainland Europe and are serviced by all the main low-budget carriers (RyanAir, EasyJet, etc.)
The most direct route to Italy from the UK by rail is on the Eurostar from London to Paris, then the TGV from Paris to Milan, where you can connect with regional rail to reach the rest of the country; around a 10-hour journey in total (with friendly time-tabling).
An alternative to the TGV is the Thello service; a comfortable overnight 14-hr journey taking you from Paris to Venice, passing through Milan, Verona, and Padua.
For a more scenic route – if you’re making a tour out of it – the Eurostar to Marseille (6 hours) then Marseille to Genoa (7 hours) with opportunities to stop/ride your way along the mediterranean coast.
If you’re considering ways to reduce the environmental impact of your travel our guide to sustainable travel choices is a good place to start.