I'm planning a month long cycle tour of Italy leaving at the end of April and returning towards the end of May. My plan is to fly into Milan, cycle to the Ligurian coast just east of Genoa, then head south through Cinque Terre and across Tuscany to Pitigliano in southern Tuscany. I'd like to spend time in Pisa, Lucca, Florence and Siena on my way to Pitigliano. From there I will head back north to Assisi, where I will catch a train or trains to Bolzano (I've looked at the trenitalia website and am aware of the situation regarding bikes on trains in Italy). My route through the Alps will depend on which passes are open. If the Stelvio and Gavia passes are open (unlikely, I know) I'd like to ride them. I expect to be back in Milan to fly home after about 1 month.
I intend to do this on a fairly tight budget, camping and staying in hostels and the odd B&B/pensione.
Any suggestions from the old Italy hands on this forum about what to see or not see? Any advice of any kind is welcome.
Do a search. Koffee just gave me some good tips for my trip in September. About the only advice that I will not be taking is the one about staying in Milan the first and last night. I will be staying near the airport. She is correct in saying that there are cheaper hotels in Milan itself but I figure for the cost and hassle of transport to Milan, it is probably better staying near the airport. Plus my flight out is pretty early. It would be nice to be only a few minutes from the airport. There is a hostel near the airport that may be a bit cheaper.
I am in the process of contacting these hotels to see if they are willing to store bicycle boxes. They have yet to respond but I have a friend that will be in Milan the next couple of days and she will contact them on my behalf. I'd be happy to share this information with you once I get it.
Other than pre booking the first and last night, I plan on taking Koffee's advice and relax and just find a room for the night when needed.
From what I have learned, don't spend too much time at the Tower of Pisa. The tower area can be a circus when things get busy. You are better to stay nearby and see the tower area, first thing in the morning.
Here is a great site for general information on travel Italy. There is even a language section if you need to brush up on your Italian. The people on the forum are very helpful.
Koffee posted a number of very valuable links too.
Assisi is beautiful. Plan to climb and climb and climb and climb... that city is on top of a hill that's on top of a hill... and don't do it tired. But it is beautiful wheh you get there. There's a very decent campground and hotel-esque/pensione place. But if you're feeling grimy and tired, do the room... you get your own room, it's as quiet as a church, and it's quaint and comfy, and not much more expensive than the campground.
Campgrounds sometimes were more expensive. Try to find hostels if you can.
Along the coast in Tuscany, there are plenty of campgrounds. The deeper you go into Tuscany along the coast, the cheaper the hostels. Go to the welcome center when you get to Milan and get the booklet with the listings and maps of all the hostels.
Do not try to ride your bike through the five towns of Cinque Terre. That path is so narrow sometimes you're just walking at the edge of a very narrow walkway with huge drops. Stay at the hostel in one of the towns... either the first town or the fourth town (can't remember the fourth, but it's more south along the coast). That hostel is great and tended to be less crowded than the town closer to La Spezia.
Carry exact change. Italians HATE to make change.
Your first and last day in Milan- if you want to relax and get yourself orientated to the city, just stay at a hotel by the train. Catch a bus directly from the airport straight to the Milan city center- it takes like 5 min from the time you get through customs to get outside and walk to the bus offices, get a ticket, and board. The buses go directly to the train station (milano centrale). From there, go upstairs, leave your bags with left luggage (about 3 euro) and start walking. There's a decent hotel I used to stay at... I think it's called the Columbian Hotel. It's about a block from the train, very nice, very quiet, very clean, elevator, and comfortable, as well as decent breakfast (included in the 50 euro per night fee). And the guy speaks fluent english there too, and they have cable, so you can watch BBC International and the European news to catch up on what's going on in Europe and watch some European MTV too, which is nice. They have plenty of decent, cheap restaurants close to the hotels too. And it is convenient, and it allows you to stay in Milan and see this beautiful city, which can be very expensive.
Learn a little Italian- counting, please, thank you, where is, how much, how many... those phrases will get you a long way. Otherwise, Italians talk with their hands, so you pretty much can communicate with them very well.
So true about Pisa. It's too expensive to go in, so you just walk around the palace and the towers. Then you leave.
I have not been to Lucca except in passing, but the other towns... beautiful. Treasure the small towns especially, though Florence is beautiful. In Florence, you must go to Michelango's Piazza. At the top of the hill over looking the city, you get great views at night. There is a small outdoor bar/restaurant at the halfway point of climbing the hill- the first night I went up there, they had a very nice jazz band. It was not too trendy, but very cozy and quiet. I enjoyed wine and listened to the music. The second night I went up there, they had an Italian outdoor movie going on. Still very nice, though I didn't know the language well enough to appreciate it.
Get a cell phone that works in Italy and use it to call ahead to hostels to book your room. You won't regret it at all.
You could always ride north from Milan straight into Lugano, Switzerland. It is a beautiful ride, though they have some very VERY dark tunnels that most Italians would think you're crazy to attempt, but make sure you are lit like a christmas tree for that part of your trip. I did that ride with tons of gear and didn't have problems. But I did take the ferry back from Bergamo to Como, then spent the night in Como, then rode from Como to Milan. Beautiful!
Don't worry about booking in advance generally. Just know where you're going, make a plan to get there, then call ahead to a couple of places the day of. You'll be fine.
Get the Touring Club Italiano maps. They are mostly for recreational slow vehicles, but that includes us too! It shows elevations, which highways are the slow ones that will accept bikes, which roads are scenic roads, etc. Just make sure to get the newest ones out there- the roads seem to change every couple of years, and you could be caught on an autostrada. Contact http://www.thesavvytraveller.com/ for the Touring Club maps.
Forget about time- the only thing on time in Italy (mostly) are the trains... and you can trust Eurostar to be EXACTLY on time... the other trains are mostly on time, though they go on strike. But you'll find life soooooo sloooooooow... and you may get irritated at first if you're in a hurry for anything- but get used to the smoke breaks and every other break in general. I only rushed for the trains, and that's about it.
Some hostels tell you that you have to be out by 9am, or they say you can't be around between 9am and 5pm. That's ok most of the time, but if it's raining or bad weather, or if you just wan to rest and chill after a long/gruelling trip and sleep in... it just won't happen. ie: Verona is beautiful and spectacular, and the hostel is da bomb, but after a long trip dragging all my crap from Milan, I wanted to sleep in, and I was awakened by roomies telling me I had to be out in 15 min for the day. Uuuugh, that was no good, and neither was arriving at 1pm after a long, hot trip dragging all my gear and sitting on the steps waiting for the office to open so I can check in. Some hostels are like that, and others are not.
I can't think of anything else... just have tons of fun and relax.
Please bring me back coffee when you go. Their coffee is excellent.
I'm not sure if this link will post but it sounds like a good idea and not to expensive
didn't know where esle to post it, I don't carry a cell, just another thing to worry about collecting in the AM or checking pockets daywise to make sure I have it. I have got along this long with out one but modernists seem to require the blasted things
Michelin Maps is what I used, they showed me all the roads I needed and all the campgrounds, most of the time I stealth camped, do not light fires as most of the forest is pine and the forest floor covered with pine needles, perfect bedding but also perfect tinder, with a little wind you can have a major fire. If you hear a heavy footstep followed by lighter footsteps, donít panic, as itís probably a pinecone falling from some height. The maps 3 of them cover Italy. Map no 562,563 & 564 these are 1/4000 000 Scale. In Pisa there is a campsite very close to the Tower, actually other than that there is little to see in Pisa. Venice is a must see, there is a campground near Venice off the S14. If you camp there you automatically get free Bus tickets to visit Venice, 25 min ride, as its pointless taking the bike as there are too many bridges with steps to deal with. In Rural area, open fields, I often asked the Police where I could camp up and they always pointed me to a Farmer who they knew was ok about people camping on his fields. This also ensured they were aware of my presence and so did not bother me when or if I got reported. Be careful not to drink tap water, ask the locals, In every village, Town there is always a square with a fountain from a spring. This is safe to drink. I use to arrive here in the Mornings have a brief wash, shave clean my pots & pans and by the time I left I would always have 6-10 old Gentlemen waving me goodbye. I am half Italian so speaking the Lingo bridged allot of gaps. If you are using a Trangia stove Alcol is available in all supermarkets and is very cheap. Riding there you are totally safe, people are very Bike conscious. Florence is also worth a visit and there is a campground on the way to the famous statue of David. Again the Michelin maps will show you all the campsite and small hotels.
Oh yes everything shuts at 12.30 till 3pm in the afternoon. Make sure you buy your Lunch in the morning.
If you go in a coffee/Bar to stand or take away and eat is always cheaper thatn to sit at the Table, also if you get a waiter service at the table its still more expensive.
Take care good luck I know you will totaly enjoy Italy
I've been following the Italy related threads on this forum, this post was one last attempt to gather whatever information I could.
I just acquired a stack of new TCI maps, they look really good. They took a month to get here from Italy after I ordered them online, so I guess that's my introduction to the pace of life in Italy!
I've been trying to study Italian using a computer program called the Rosetta Stone, we'll find out how well it worked when I get there. I also intend to carry a phrase book and use it.
My plan for Cinque Terre was to cycle through the National Park on the little windy roads that bypass the towns, stay in a campsite at one end or the other of Cinque Terre, and take a day to walk through the towns.
My plan for Pisa was to stay in Lucca, take a train into Pisa to see the sights, then come back to Lucca. Looking at the TCI map it looks like cycling into Pisa would entail cycling through a fair bit of urban sprawl, which I don't want to do.
I agree with Spinnaker,I will be booking accommodation in advance in Milan and Florence, otherwise I will probably wing it as Koffee suggested. I will probably use phone cards instead of a prepaid cell phone, unless cell phones are just ridiculously cheap.
I've heard mixed reviews about wild camping in Italy, I'll just see how things are when I get there. Trangias are hard to get in the US, so I'm getting an MSR Superfly, which runs on different types of gas canisters. It will apparently accept both the Camping Gaz cartridges and the threaded Coleman/MSR thingies.
Many thanks to all 3 of you for the information, it will all be used in my plans! If anyone else has anything to add, please post it.
I really really do _not_ think you need to book in Milan if you plan to stay near the train station- I've stayed at that same hotel in May and June in the high season, and there is always plenty of room. Hotels are a dime a dozen by the train station, and they just don't get booked- probably because people are under the impression they're too hard to book/too far and few between/too expensive. They are really not that bad.
There is a beautiful, quiet peaceful hostel I recommend that's about a couple of hours by bike from Pisa. I stayed at the campground, and it was about 12 bucks. I stayed at the hostel the day before, and it was 7 bucks. I almost turned back! But it did make me hightail it back to my hostel for an additional 5 days. I could not budge from that hostel. It was on the beach along the ocean. I _loved_ that hostel, and the woman who ran it was so laid back and cool... she gave me a room with two other ladies overlooking the ocean with a balcony. I just had to spend every evening with the ladies with some wine laying out on the balcony and listened to the waves lapping on the sand. The restaurants nearby weren't very expensive either- we'd roll over there for dinner and spend about 4 bucks. Then during the day, I took a few excursions by bike and travelled around.
I can't remember the name of the hostel, but I'll look it up for you.
If you can, I would recommend going to the Italian Consulate in your city. They run very extensive, good classes out of their Italidea classes. People who stick with the courses are fluent when they finish (takes about 2 years). But you can at least get conversational in the first session alone.
There it is in the Yellow Pages! Wow! Construction then Consulates. We have an Italian Consulate at Duquesne University. It says Honorary of Italy. I wonder what that means? Guess I will have to call tomorrow.