After nearly 3 months of sitting on trains, planes, buses, trucks and boats through Africa and Greece we felt we were in perfect physical condition for a 6 day bike trip through the countryside of Umbria, Italy. Turns out we weren't really in shape...imagine our surpise! But that didn't detract at all from our enjoyment of peaceful rides winding through vineyards and wheat fields enthusiastically splashed with blood-red poppies. We became big fans of our granny gear--the lowest of our 27 gears--to get us up to the picturesque towns that are strategically perched at the top of a really steep hill. The climb was alway worth the effort as we were rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding countryside and yummy gelato (Italian ice cream) at the top.
How is that we were happily backpacking along through Europe, then suddenly we are biking, you ask? 4 years ago Snowden did a two week bike trip through southern France and Tuscany, Italy. We thought that would be a fabulous, if energic, way to visit some of the more out-of-the way places in Italy. We contacted Great Explorations (www.great-explorations.com) which is the bike tour company we biked through Turkey with 1 1/2 years ago. In addition to offering a variety of guided tours around Europe and Asia they also offer self-guided tours. We signed up for the 6 day self-guided tour of Umbria. For the self-guided tour Great Explorations arranged all of our lodging for the week, the transportation of our gear (a key detail, as it's difficult to bike with the full packs we are carrying) each time we changed hotels, bike routes with step-by-step directions, and delivery of our rental bikes at the beginning and picking them up at the end. We gave them less than a week notice that we wanted to do this and they pulled it all together with admirable speed, especially considering Robbin McKinney, the owner and our contact, is currently leading a trip in France. All we needed to do was find some bike shorts, bike jerseys, and bike gloves and we were ready to hit the road. It was a wonderful week.
We started in Perugia which is the capital of the Umbria Region. Perugia is an anciet walled city built on the top of a hill. We missed the afternoon train from Florence to Perugia so we didn't get in until the evening. Unfortuately, we didn't get much of an opportunity to explore the town. Our practically brand-new 27-speed hybrid bikes (a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike) were there and waiting for us. They even had handle bar bags and racks on the back so we could carry our camera (can't go anywhere without that) and some snacks. We bought helmets from the bike rental guy and off we went.
Our first day of riding took us out of Perugia southeast to a town called Torgiano, another hilltop town whose claim to fame is The Giorgio Lungarotti Wine Museum. Unfortunately, everything in Italy is closed from 1pm to 3 or 4pm. We got kind of a slow start out of Perugia and didn't get to Torgiano until about 1:30, so we missed the museum. We continued on down the hill, then back up a hill to the tiny town of Bettona for lunch. Down the hill from Bettona and winding through the farms in the valley we found our way to Bevagna, our home for 3 nights.
Bevagna was another typical Italian walled town, though, thankfully situated in the valley nestled between vineyards and wheat farms. The narrow stone alleys were punctuated with bursts of red and purple flowers flowing over balconys and windowboxes. The scent of honeysuckle in bloom was everywhere. Since Bevagna is not on a train line the only tourists were ones with rental cars. We enjoyed being in a town a little off the beaten path. Dinners were in small, romantically lit restaurants. Having riden several hours during the day we felt totally justified in our complete enjoyment of a bottle of local Umbrian wine, antipasti plates, delicious pastas and tasty grilled meats, and, of course, the decadent desserts. Italy became all about the culinary experience. The pounds we trimmed off in Africa had no problem finding their way back to us in Italy.
While in Bevagna we took two day rides. The first east to Spello then continued north to Assisi, a very popular tourist stop. Our ride from Spello to Assisi took us on an out of the way road through an olive grove growing on a hillside. Our second day ride from Bevagna was our longest ride by far, 75km. We were happy that other than our climb up to the town of Spolleto it was a reasonably flat ride along the irrigation canals feeding the farms in the valley. Spolleto is south and a little east of Bevagna.
Day four of our ride took us south and little west to Todi, which was a very hot, hilly ride, and, of course very beautiful. It felt very luxious to arrive to the hotel and our bags have already been delivered to our room. Lunch of pizza and beer was our reward at the end of the ride.
Day five we continued southwest to Orvieto, a stunning walled town precariously perched on a sheer cliff. After another really hilly ride we were very happy to see the the funicular that wisked us and our bikes to the top of the hill to the town center. The duomo in Orvieto rivals the duomo in Florence, though, unfortunately the front is being renovated and was covered with scoffolding.
Our last day of riding took us south out of Orvieto to Civita de Bagnoreggio. After all the beautiful hilltop villages we passed through during our week of riding through Umbria it seems fitting to end the trip with the quintessential hilltop town. See the accompanying photo above. We parked our bikes at the bottom of the foot bridge and walked up the pedestrian path to the tiny town at the top. The only motorized vehicle up there were motorbikes which seem to have no laws to restrict them from going anywhere they want to. It was a fantastic way to end a wonderful week of riding. We couldn't have had better weather, sunny and warm, with an occassional breeze. It rained the day before we started our bike trip and poured all day the day after we finished. It seems our timing was perfect. We spent one more day to lazily enjoying Orvieto in the rain, then caught an early train to Rome to catch our mid-day flight to Bucharest, Romania.