Long-distance cycling through France & Italy

In the summer of 2015 me and Kristians took our mountainbikes for a ride of approximately 1000km in around three weeks – destination Milan, Italy. We started our trip quite randomly in La Puy, France, where we travelled to by trains through Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland.

On our very first night we camped, in fact, illegally close to a road on some field (trying to be all camouflaged in our green tent) due to the fact that no campsites were accepting guests that late in the evening. All other nights of this trip were spent in various campsites along the way and occasionally also in cheaper hotels.

From La Puy we headed on towards Avignon and thereafter the Verdun National Park and Gorge. The trail we chose turned out to be an old E Camino route, which we were already familiar with from before. The first couple of hundred kilometers were mostly spent on asphalt but there were also cool gravel paths on old train tracks or through vinyards. Sidenote: after recently finding out that Verdun is also a world reknown climbing crag we definitely want to go back there.

Even though the days were hot and mostly uphill in the beginning of the trip, we enjoyed cycling a lot – the drivers’ attitudes towards cyclists were very good. In the beginning of the trip we also had to endure massive rain and thunder every night. There was one night after which our neighbouring campers came to ask us in the morning whether we were ok – they then showed us a photo taken the previous night where our tent was surrounded by an ankle-deep puddle of water. Somehow our 20€ tent from Decathlon hadn’t leaked one bit.

We of course found out again that we had packed too much gear and ended up sending some back by post (not cheap!). Besides that Kristians was again struck by bad cycling luck on two occasions:

1. On a massive downhill en route to Verdun he lost both his brakes. He proceeded by trying to brake by pressing his foot against the rear mudflap but that did not work for too long. We ended up walking a fair share of that awesome downhill (what a waste!) simply because it was too dangerous to ride it without brakes due to all the switchbacks. We then cycled to the closest bikeshop and got that sorted out.

2. The other misfortune occurred much later on – while crossing a regular speedbump in another rural town in France, Kristians heard a noise and suddenly felt a lot of friction. What had happened was that the screws holding the rear pannier had both popped out because of the bump (even though the pannier had been attached by actual bike mechanics?!). Because the stuff on the pannier had been scraping against the asphalt one of the waterproof pannier packs was no longer waterproof and the rubber band holding the tent pole system together had snapped. So for the rest of the trip setting up the tent was pretty interesting. But all’s well that ends well – we noticed a repairman of some sort up the road and managed to borrow some screws and a wrench from him.

When we cycled through Verdun we took it very easy, stopping a lot for photos and breaks. We also met another long-distance cyclist – he was from Germany.

After Verdun we cycled down to Saint-Maxime and took a ferry to Saint Tropez – just to see where the fancy people go for holidays. After a cup of coffee we walked around a bit on the cobbled streets, rounded by Gucci and Armani stores. All this materialism tired us and so we took the ferry back and proceeded to cycle towards Cannes and Nice.

Cycling along the French Riviera coast and along the Mediterranean was an insane experience. The views of the baby blue water were inviting us to swim; the fresh fruit sold in small shops and roadside made us stop every time.

Despite the bigger cities we always ended up setting up camp in smaller towns – we’re just not city people. One evening, when cycling towards one of these campsites, we met a fellow touring cyclist (we only saw maybe 5 during the whole trip) from the UK. Common goals and interests are good grounds for forming friendships and so we ended up cycling with Lawrence all the way through Monaco and up to Genoa.

It took us a couple of days to get from Nice to Monaco – we also got an afternoon rainshower one day. We walked around Monaco for a bit but weren’t impressed as was to be expected – it’s just not our style. Nevertheless it’s good to see as many different places of the world as possible.

Our group of three then continued towards Genoa, where our roads would split. Right upon entering the town Lawrence got a flat tire. No wonder – the sinkhole-filled roads of that town are more suitable for a mountainbike rather than a touring bike with slim tires, which he had. It took us forever in the traffic mess of that town to reach the city center, upon which we said our goodbyes and split.

Kristians and I spent a couple of days in Genoa before tackling the sub-Alps on our way to Milan. As an old (and current, too) port town Genoa was not as nice as we had heard – a bit dirty and the old town area was rather small. Nevertheless, we enjoyed good food, some live jazz and our evening walks on the narrow cobbled stone streets.

After this well-earned rest we proceeded to head north. The first few days were quite demanding in the uphill sense but by this time our calves had adjusted. Luckily the hills were also mostly covered by forest so we got to stay in the shade for much of the way.

After crossing the hills we reached the massive flat plateau that Milan sits on. This allowed us to make good speed (there was an evening where we did 30kmh for many hours in a row due to no winds) and we reached Milan in a couple of days. Funnily enough upon entering Milan our bike computer showed 1009km – only a 9km error compared to our estimation.

We then spent a couple of R&R days in various parks and managed to gather two bicycle boxes from some bike stores and sent all our gear home via Mailboxes Inc.

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All in all we were very happy with this journey – except for some thunderstorms and bicycle mishaps we didn’t have any accidents or injuries and we returned back to real life thoroughly well-rested.