Best Biking Routes in Italy
Italy is a fantastic country to explore by bike. There are charming hilltop villages where you can stop for lunch, ancient ruins to admire, golden beaches to relax on, and vineyards to potter between. And cycling in Italy can be as challenging or leisurely as you like. From the Po Valley to the Tuscan hills, the plains of Puglia to alpine passes, the country offers all kinds of landscapes to pedal across.
However long you plan to spend in the saddle, there's a well-developed network of routes to follow, and plenty of places to hire your two wheels — whether you're after a mountain bike, a road bike, or an e-bike to help you up the steep bits. Here are some of the best cycle routes in Italy.
Via Francigena bike route
The Via Francigena is an ancient pilgrimage route that originally ran from Canterbury to Puglia, from where pilgrims would embark by boat to the Holy Land. Today, the 1000-kilometre section from the Swiss border to the Vatican is Italy's longest signposted cycle route (hikers can also use it). There are 23 legs of varying difficulty (all of them would be suitable for a moderately fit cyclist), and the route runs mostly on quiet secondary roads, as well as some firm dirt tracks.
The Via Francigena begins in the Alps, more than 2000 metres above sea level at Great St Bernard Pass, and crosses a fantastic array of landscapes. It descends through the mountains, and passes vineyards, castles, rice fields, Roman ruins, monasteries, and churches. It runs alongside rivers, follows stretches of coastline, and crosses the hills and valleys of Tuscany and Lazio, passing through the beautiful city of Siena on the way. The final stretch into Rome includes a section along the Tiber River.
Lecce to Matera
The heel of Italy is full of historic sites, stretches of wild, undeveloped coastline, and interesting towns. Taking a route from Lecce in Puglia to Matera in Basilicata allows you to see many faces of this corner of the country, and you could spend a week or so covering the 400 kilometres, or pick a couple of sections. Make time to see Lecce and its lovely Baroque Old Town before heading down the coast to the city of Otranto, and continuing on to Santa Maria di Leuca, which is at the southern tip of Puglia and is home to an important lighthouse.
You can then head north along quiet roads, past the beaches of Baia Verde to the coastal town of Gallipoli, before heading inland from Porto Cesareo. Passing through the olive groves of the plains, you'll discover whitewashed towns like Ostuni and Locorotondo, as well as Alberobello, famous for its conical houses known as Trulli (some have been converted into accommodation). You can then head west via Castellana Grotte and Gioia del Colle into the neighbouring region of Basilicata to finish your trip in Matera. The city is famous for its stunning cave dwellings, which are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Riviera dei Fiori, Liguria
The Riviera dei Fiori cycle path runs for 24 kilometres along the Mediterranean coast between San Lorenzo al Mare and Ospedaletti. It follows the route of the old Genoa-Ventimiglia railway, so it's a fairly flat, leisurely ride that includes the occasional stretch of tunnel. There are two wide carriageways, one for each direction, plus a separate pedestrian section, and there are many benches along the way where you can sit and take in the coastal panoramas.
The route passes through pretty villages like San Lorenzo al Mare, Santo Stefano al Mare, and Riva Ligure. There's also Sanremo, with its marina, bustling shopping streets, and plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat, a coffee, or a gelato. Along the way you’ll see colourful fishermen's houses and attractive villas (look out for the former home of Alfred Nobel at Sanremo). You can also leave the track to explore the many inland villages nearby, or stop off on a beach. Thanks to the climate of the Italian Riviera, this is a great route at any time of year, plus there are plenty of bike rental shops nearby.
Ciclabile delle Dolomiti
Another former railway line converted into a cycling and walking trail is the 62-kilometre Ciclabile delle Dolomiti, in the Dolomites of northern Italy. Running between Toblach (Dobbiaco) in South Tyrol and Calalzo di Cadore in Veneto, via Cortina d'Ampezzo, it's almost entirely traffic-free and easy to follow, and provides you with stunning views without the need for steep climbs up mountain passes. Mountain bikes are best on this route as although some of the surface is tarmac, other parts are covered with fine stones.
The Ciclabile delle Dolomiti skirts two natural parks: the Tre Cime and the Fanes-Sennes-Braies. It runs along valleys beneath towering mountains, through meadows and forests, past lakes and streams, and along railway tunnels and bridges. You'll pass some of the old stations of the former Ferrovia delle Dolomiti line, as well as cemeteries where soldiers killed on the nearby World War I front line are buried, and the customs post of Italy’s pre -1918 border with the Austro-Hungarian empire. You’ll also get tantalising glimpses of the Tre Cime and surrounding rocky peaks.
South coast of Sicily
Roman ruins, Baroque cities, beautiful beaches, salt flats, caves, and vineyards, not to mention plenty of sunshine, make the southern coast of Sicily perfect territory to explore by bike. The EU project SIBIT (Sustainable Interregional Bike Tourism) has developed a 600-kilometre route linking Sicily's five southern provinces: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Ragusa, Syracuse, and Trapani. It features easy-to-follow brown signs that give directions and distances, while there are some add-on routes off the main trail that allow further exploration. Along the way, you'll find plenty of accommodation that caters to travellers on two wheels.
The route passes sites including the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento, the Greek theatre at Syracuse, the acropolis of Selinunte, and the ancient Phoenician city of Mozia. It also takes you to Ragusa; destroyed by a 17th-century earthquake, the city was completely rebuilt in the Baroque style of the time. This area is now the Old Town, known as Ragusa Ibla, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Garda by Bike
The shores of Lake Garda draw visitors from around the world thanks to stunning scenery of high mountains, plus pretty lakeside villages such as Sirmione and Riva del Garda. It's now easier to get around thanks to a new cycle route, Garda by Bike, which is set to fully open in 2021, and will fully circle Italy's largest lake. Stretching for 140 kilometres, the route will consist of existing paths and new sections, and because there are no steep parts, it's ideal for all ages and abilities.
Probably the most impressive part of the route is the 2-kilometre section around Capo Reamol in Limone sul Garda, which opened in 2018. It clings to rugged cliffs, hanging 50 metres above the water, and was built using ingenious engineering methods involving harnesses and cables, plus wire netting to prevent rock falls. The track is 2.5 meters wide, so there's plenty of room for cyclists and walkers.
Cycling in Sardinia allows you to experience some truly spectacular landscapes, including wild, rugged stretches of coastline where the quiet roads are not particularly challenging. You could ride on the 250-kilometre stretch along the north coast from Olbia to Alghero, where the granite coastline is punctuated by small coves. Around 350 kilometres separate Cagliari and Olbia along the east coast, and this route allows you to take in magnificent views of the Gennargentu mountains along the way, while the beaches tend to be bigger than those on the north coast.
Meanwhile, it's around 400 kilometres along the west coast from Alghero to Pula, and this part of the island not only has beautiful scenery, but also historic sites such as Tharros. Originally a Phoenician city dating from the 8th century BC, it later became a Roman settlement, and you can see the remains of an aqueduct, bath house, temples, and columns.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.