Biking in Italy and the Italian Language

Apr 22, 2013

Susan on bike


andare in bicicletta

 by Susan Van Allen

Spring (la Primavera) is prime time for biking (andare in bicicletta) in Italy–mild temperatures (le temperature miti) and flowers (fiori) bursting into bloom are inspiration to get outside, immerse yourself in the heaping helping of beauty Mother Nature (Madre Natura) has bestowed on the Bel Paese, and get an endorphin rush while blending in with the great passion Italians have for biking.

Here are five of my favorite biking places:

1: Borghese Gardens, Rome: Enjoy this elegant city oasis as the Romans do: Go to Bici Pincio (Viale di Villa Medici) to rent bikes (noleggiare bici) and then glide along sun dappled paths shaded by umbrella pines (pini), inhaling the smell of orange blossoms, amidst 65-acres of manicured green, highlighted with statuary, fountains, a pond, and Bioparco (zoo). 

2. Lucca, Tuscany: Going to Lucca and not biking around the town’s medieval wall is like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower. The three-mile loop along the structure that once protected Lucca now makes for a sublime ride (easy and great for families), with stunning views of the historic center (centro storico) below and, in the distance, fields of wildflowers (distese di fiori di campo).

3. Sant’ Erasmo, Venice: This island (isola), nicknamed The Secret Garden of Venice (il giardino segreto di Venezia), lies between the well-known islands of Murano and Burano, about a 40-minute vaporetto ride (#14) from Venice. Delicious vegetables that you see at the Rialto market are grown here, such as artichokes that put forth gorgeous purple flowers in June. Rent bikes at Lato Azzurro B&B, pedal the 3.5 mile island loop, and join the locals for a refreshing swim at the quiet beach.

4. Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna: The historic center of this chic town, adorned with a mix of Renaissance and medieval architecture, is a “no car” zone (chiusa al traffico); 90 percent of the residents own bikes. Rent one at the train station and join in with senior citizens, mamme with their bambini in bike seats, and students, pedaling through the enchanting maze of cobblestoned lanes (viottoli), amidst the awe-inspiring D’Este castle and Romanesque-meets-Baroque duomo.

5. Puglia: Italy’s flattest region is my favorite (la mia preferita) for countryside biking. A springtime trip there with Backroads  sweeps me past groves (frutteti) of cherry trees heavy with deep red clusters of fruit, fields of crimson poppies (papaveri) and golden zucchini flowers, gentle rolling vineyards, beaches (spiagge) with views of the sparkling Adriatic, and the most gasp-inspiring: endless fields of olive trees (olivi) –the oldest in Italy, with humongous trunks the size of Volkswagens. Add to all that the sight of trulli, traditional conical shaped homes from medieval times, which bring a fairytale touch to your biking adventure.

I thank my friend Susan van Allen for this delightful post, which brings to mind an Italian saying: “Hai voluto la bicicletta? Adesso pedala!” (Didn’t you want the bycicle? Now keep pedaling!) It refers to someone who obtained some long-desired object or outcome and then confronts unexpected consequences–good, bad, overwhelming, or challenging . The best advice: Pedal!

Words and Expressions

bicicletta a due posti — tandem bike

biciclettina -– child’s bike

ciclista –- cyclist

maglia rosa –- the pink jersey awarded to the winner of Giro d’Italia

pedalare -– to pedal

Susan van Allen is the author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go and Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures and Advice.

Letters from Itlay cover
Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

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