Biking in Northern Italy

Po River Basin Cities of Emilia Romagna

South of Lombardy's lakes lies a lowland plain — Italy's widest and most fertile — centered on Italy's great Po River. The longest river in Italy, the Po rises on Italy's western frontier and flows east for 405 miles before emptying into the Adriatic Sea.

It should come as little surprise that this arable and geographically manageable region has a long history. Civilizations have often been built up around watercourses, and the early Italians were just as acute as others. Fortunately for contemporary travelers, much has preserved of the charm of some important and historical cities lying either on or within an easy pedal's reach of the Po. Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, and Ravenna are the larger population centers littered with medieval and Renaissance architecture and wrapped up in a complex, centuries-old web of art and politics.

The biking opportunities in the plains around the Po are endless, as are the numbers of cyclists — local and foreign, professional and amateur — whose paths you will cross. In a cycling tours guidebook produced by the regional tourist agency, Marco Pantani, the Italian winner of both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in 1998, is quoted as saying,"Emilia Romagna can truly claim to be a paradise for cyclists, and many of my sporting colleagues willingly declare that it offers the best 'mixed' routes in the whole of Europe." While you will have to formulate your own opinion about such superlatives, there is no doubt that the cycling is excellent.

Rather than offering a sample weeklong look at a point-to-point itinerary, here is a quick look at some of the pedaling pleasures around two of the more enticing towns — Bologna and Ferrara — in the lush eastern reaches of the basin.


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