Writing this from an Italian couchsurfing host’s house, and I am amazed at how much I have to catch up on. The blog has been very neglected! I found this post half written from August, and it is now October, so I will do my best to tidy it up and get onto more recent material.
Before this trip, I had been to the French Alps, and seen the Swiss Alps, heard of the Austrian Alps… but never really considered visiting the Italian Alps. Well, I have to say, cycling in these Alps have been some of my favourite times. A recurrent theme of this blog seems to be that the people we have met have made the trip, and this is no different for the Italian Alps.
The first Italians we met in Italy
Picture the scene, I am exhausted and shedding the first (of many subsequent) tears of the trip cycling up (what turned out to be) a 25% gradient mountain pass on a back road in the Italian Alps. I am sweating, I smell, I am hungry, I have not had a warm bed for over a week. I am however, very much looking forward to camping on top of this tranquil remote mountain at a picnic site we have located on our map. Finally, after a typically tough day cycling in the mountains, we reach the top. However, the elated jubilance oozing from my being is short lived. Still wiping away the last of my exhaustion tears, we can hear voices and music echoing ominously around the mountain in the distance. There is a party happening in the picnic area.
Downhearted, we were worried that we would have nowhere to sleep and we considered pulling our bikes into the hedges off the side of the track. Not being thrilled by this prospect, we decided to roll down to the picnic area and scope it out, hoping that maybe the group looked like they would move on soon. Approaching the picnic area, our visions of rowdy teenagers were quickly swept aside as we arrived instead at a gathering of locals similar in age to ourselves. The event turned out to be a spectacular birthday party! The friendly group were really surprised to see us, explaining that no tourists ever really came to Monti. They immediately offered us beer and wine and then poured us huge glasses of both before we could explain how dehydrated we were. They were very apologetic about the noise they were making, and told us to stay for dinner at least. A huge pan of chilli was cooking on the open fire. How could we refuse?!
We passed a lovely evening learning about Italian culture, swapping stories about England, drinking more wine and beer than I have for a long time, eating chilli and then Minestrone soup, being beaten at Italian-rules-beer-pong, laughing, singing, listening to anti-facist Italian music and then passing out in our bivvy bags. We awoke with terrible, nightmareish, soul crushing hangovers! Worse still, we had planned in our drunken state to spend a rest day recovering in peace on the top of the mountain, but were unlucky enough to be stirred by some forestry workers who, with the help of google translate, explained that they needed to cut down the tree right next to us. Of all the trees. Of all the picnic areas.
After packing up very slowly and clutching our heads, we cycled (fortunately) downhill to the next picnic area (1km away) and this one was even better than the last! We had shelter for the day, fresh water from a fountain and beautiful views. We very slowly recovered. Half way through the day we were joined by a group of 30 Italian men playing their version of boules. They spoke no English but were very friendly and came over to us to offer us pears, admire our bikes and offer us yet more wine. Too polite to refuse, and unable to explain our hangovers, we drank the hair of the dog!
The next day, we continued our cycling in the burning heat. When we cycled up a sharp 200m climb, we arrived in a sheltered water fountain area to find three men sat atop of resting horses, and a man stood by his car. Unable to communicate, we were given a beer procured them from the boot of the car. It seems in Italy that in the case of having no shared language, alcohol is a useful tool to communicate good feelings.
We’ve had so many other small moments of kindness from friendly Italians, including countless waves, cheers, thumbs up, bravos and attempts at conversation. These moments really kept me going on the mountains. Just when I think I can’t go any further, a cheer from a car, or a bravo from a local, can really fuel my spirit better than anything else.
Other highlights of Italian mountains.
Other highlights of our time cycling in the mountains of Italy included sleeping under a bridge and having a much needed bath in the lovely river, picking delicious sweet brambles from the roadside, enjoying delicious local meats and cheeses, seeing all the fresh fruit growing in endless orchards and vineyards, and admiring the picturesque Italian villages, churches and water fountains. We loved cycled through backstreets, smelling fresh Pizza and washing our clothes by hand in communal laundry areas. We have both been surprised by the diverse beauty in this area, from incredible pine forests and woodlands, to snow capped mountains, rivers and gorges.
One of the amazing things about Italy is their mountain water fountains; they are everywhere! Locals drive to water fountains and take litres of water home in huge containers rather than drinking their tap water. There are even machines in villages where you can buy mountain water, either still or ‘frizz ante’. I asked a local man about the availability of this water. He replied “What civilised society doesn’t have fresh water?!”. I grinned, thinking about our chlorinated water back home, being recirculated endlessly through sewerage systems.
I have really enjoyed cycling in Italy, and highly recommend visiting this part of the world! I don’t think many people from the UK have the Northern mountains of Italy on their radar, and I almost don’t want to give it away, but they should!