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Archive for November, 2007

Touring Italy by bicycle in the age of the Euro

Monday, November 26th, 2007

If you’re Canadian, British, Australian or from any English-speaking county other than the United States you can probably ignore this post.Italy bike tour Capua repairs

But if you’re from the USA, and you want to tour Italy by bicycle, you may be worried about how much (or how little) your dollars will buy when you exchange them for euros.

Good news. When it comes to bike touring, you’re in a separate category of travel. Here’s why.

Bike touring is inherently cheaper than most other kinds of travel. You spend more time in small towns where things are less expensive, and you have more options because of your mobility (think of the typical backpacker who has to rely on bus and train schedules).

I would add that bike tours tend to involve more camping, but the truth is you really might want to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Good news here, too.

You see, in the late 1990s a lot of new tour operations opened up in Italy with the intention of serving middle class Americans made rich by the dotcom bubble. The dollar was strong, flights were cheap and convenient in the pre-9/11 era, and middle class tourists swarmed to Italy. (I was a tour manager in Rome, and it was possibly the best time ever to be an American living abroad.)

Now those hotels, restaurants, pensioni and other services are struggling for new and different clientele. When you show up there, you are a rare and welcome guest. You can’t expect the prices to be lower, but you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Italians don’t treat you like a customer, but a guest. On recent bike tours in Italy I’ve been invited to dinner, taken on tours of small Italian villages, and offered lots of amenities for what was only a slightly pricey hotel room.

And this is part of the joy of bike riding on tour. You get all kinds of unexpected gifts and surprises from the locals.

Food also gives you a new level of class when you tour Italy by bicycle. You may not be able to eat in a Euro-grade restaurant on a dollar budget, but you can get fine bread and cheese from a deli, and then take it somewhere exotic with your bike.

Sit up on a wall or in the courtyard of a castle while you feast on wine, cold cuts, cheese and grilled eggplant doused in olive oil. Have a picnic in a green field dotted with wild flowers, as you lean against a crumbling aqueduct. I’ve done this, and I’ll do it again soon. No matter what the exchange rate happens to be.

If anything, this might be the best time for touring Italy by bicycle if you’re creative and adventurous. And you are, or you wouldn’t be thinking about this trip, would you?