Biking in Northern Italy

The Tuscan/Ligurian Coast and Cinque Terre

The Italian coast is mighty long. And the desire to mix surf and sun into the biking equation is very, very strong. Unfortunately, much of Italy's coast is horribly overdeveloped or just endless stretches of beach matted with bronzed bodies and stinking of sweat and palm-oil lotions. So, where can you go to get a good taste of Mediterranean pleasures without maxing out on the horrors of beach culture? Try the Tuscan/Ligurian coast, in particular Cinque Terre of northwestern Italy.

The Ligurian Sea's Gulf of Genoa is probably best known for the two parts of Italian coast that stretch from La Spezia to the French border. The western flank — the Riviera di Ponente — is a long run of seaside resort towns and protected coves. This is not the part that interests us, although, if you have the time, it is a very pleasant cycling soak of nonurban, sun-drenched Italian lifestyle.

It is the eastern flank — the Riviera di Levante — that draws real attention. The eastern Ligurian coast begins as a dramatic plunging chain of hills cradling a series of small cities — the Cinque Terre — in a wash of coastal terraced vineyards. While it gives way to classic coastal sprawl and spills into Genoa, a city with an allure far, far better than its reputation, the full stretch, as well as Pisa and a piece of the Tuscan coast, is the making of an awesome weeklong holiday.

At the start, along a sometimes-depressing series of commercial and overcrowded beaches, the riding is easy. Very easy. Especially if the wind is behind you. But once you have pushed beyond La Spezia, welcome to tough but magical riding. A single, narrow, serpentine road clings to the contours of dramatic steep hillsides. Every road curve springs a new vista on you and a chance to plunge down to sea level for a visit to one of the cove-bound towns. (Unless you are planning on spending the night there, you will probably not make the visit since the thought of the return climb is more than most would willingly entertain.) When you drop out of paradise, you are not far from Genoa, sea town of century-old notoriety.


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