Biking in Northern Italy

The Tuscan/Ligurian Coast and Cinque Terre: Route Description
The monuments of Pisa's Campo dei Miracoli
The monuments of Pisa's Campo dei Miracoli

PisaLa Spezia (70 miles). Pisa is more than just the famous Leaning Tower. Of course, its most famous and beautiful landmark is its Campo dei Miracoli, a huge open space at the northwestern edge of the old city crowned with a series of beautiful structures including the Camponile, or Bell Tower — or to call it by its more familiar name, "The Leaning Tower of Pisa." However, no one should overlook the magnificent adjoining Romanesque cathedral, baptistry, and renowned cemetery. The rest of the city, a vibrant college town, is just as full of hidden gems.

Once you have taken in Pisa, head north out of town along the busy Via Aurelia, skirting a large coastal natural park preserve. From Viareggio to Carrara, stick to the arrow-straight beach road, an unprotected, treeless expanse that slips between beachfront resort areas and towns in the lower Apuante Alps. If you have the time, make visits to the town centers at Pietrasanta, Massa, and Carrara. You will discover vibrant art communities taking advantage of the white ("Carraran") marble quarries visible up in the hills. North of Carrara, climb up to Montemarcello for the full view of the Gulf of La Spezia and the pleasant city that awaits you.

Cinque Terre (50 miles). Technically, Cinque Terre is the difficult-to-access stretch of coast along the Ligurian Sea just northwest of La Spezia."Cinque Terre" literally means "Five Earths," but the "earths" here are the five villages perched on the steep slopes of the mountainous coast. These five villages — Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore — lie in some of the most dramatic scenery anywhere in Italy. In tiny coves and ravines, they cling precariously to the sides of mountains that sink straight into the sea.

Cycling on Cinque Terre's only road is a dream. Regale yourself with quiet forest ramblings and astounding views out over the sea and countryside. Revel in a long, windy descent out of the mountains back down to the coast. Traffic? Not really a problem since it is sparse and moves slowly. You should too. Take time to enjoy yourself. It's vacation, right? What's the rush?

Cinque TerreGenoa (35 miles). Once you hit Sestri Levante, you are back on the"normal" coast and stuck cycling the non-highway main drag. No reason to dillydally. Your destination, Genoa, is the reason why you are here at all. And the placidity of Cinque Terre should be enough to sustain you through the roar of Italian traffic.

Genoa, once the center of its own maritime republic, is recovering from the effects of a terrible reputation and deserves the time you can give it. A city always turned toward the sea, Genoa's port, the largest in Italy, always has been and still is a life and a living for locals. In fact, one of Genoa's celebrated native sons is none other than Christopher Columbus.


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