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Riding out of Rome on an old Raleigh 10-speed, you're going to feel like a gladiator that just walked out into the ring. It's a battle getting out.

In fact, you are in a ring, the Grande Raccordo Annulare, the highway that circles the outskirts of Rome. Several main roads cut across this ring and merge in the center of the city, dividing all the area into wedges like a giant pizza.

I almost became road pizza. There are places where the Appian Way has no shoulder and there's a sheer stone wall on each side. So you literally can't get out of the way of a moving vehicle.

Eventually you'll reach the Porta San Sebastiano, the port of St. Sebastian in the Aurelian Wall. If you happen to be there between 9 and 2, look for a door with a buzzer on the right. If you push the button they'll let you into a museum dedicated to Roman engineering. But the best part is you can climb up to the battlements on top of the wall and walk along it for a good kilometer or so. Watch out for Sabines, Samnites, and Barbarians!

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A bit further on you'll be at the Catacombs, and you can cut through the catacombs of St. Calixto to get out of the traffic for a while. This takes longer, but you'll be looking at gardens instead of stone walls, and you'll have clean air and some shade.

bike tour Italy colosseum RomeOn my trip I got past the catacombs and headed into the via Appia park, where the original road bumps along for almost 10 miles, past fields of wildflowers and crumbling Roman ruins. This park is the history buff's dream!

If you go there you'll see the tomb of Cecilia Metella that looks like a castle, the stone skeleton of an early Church, aqueducts and endless monuments to people who died centuries ago. You can stop at the "Domine Quo Vadis" church and see footprints in the marble--thought by true believers to be the footprints of either Christ or St. Peter. You'll see the ruins of old houses and villas and you might even get a wheel caught in the ruts left by hundreds of thousands of carts and wagons.

When the Appian way hit a dead end (actually the route was still in a straight line but it was closed off by walls and fences), I took a few side streets that I knew would lead to SS7, the modern highway equivalent of via Appia.

There was a strong stench of sulphur coming from a fountain at the intersection. The water was pierced with tiny bubbles and tasted tart. An old man told me these natural minerals are good for the health. I'm still alive.

I had lunch in a small park with a picket fence. A sign on the fence informed me that this was "A place clean and civil."
The afternoon was a whirlwind of vineyards and fields of crops and a huge viaduct at Ariccia.

Just outside Genzano, another long section of the original roadbed was exposed, and I followed this past still more crumbling marble pillars.

When Seneca traveled the Appian Way, he often camped, saying, "The mattress lies upon the ground, and I upon the mattress."

I ended my first day the same way, pitching my tent in an empty field.


Dottore Pascuale Grello was incredulous when I showed up at his office unannounced one morning and told him what I wanted to do.

"Impossibile!" he insisted, pronouncing the word with long vowels: eem-poh-SEEEEEE-bee-lay!Matera via Appia Italy tour

Nobody knows how many millions of nobles, senators, philosophers, soldiers, merchants, prisoners, slaves, poets and bandits have followed the route of the Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi or vice versa. They've been doing it for 1,300 years, on foot, in litters, by wagon, buggy, horse, pony, mule, and more recently in cars, motorcycles and trucks.

Surely one enthusiastic biker could make the journey.

Dr. Grello is, as far as I can tell, the chief archeologist for the Parco Reggionnale dell'Appia Antica on the outskirts of Rome. If you try to sneak out of Rome behind the Coloseum, through the ancient walls at the Port of St. Sebastian, you're at the start of the Appian Way, and you'll soon see these park headquarters on your right.

Even if you're not planning to ride the via Appia by bicycle, if you're in Rome this park is well worth stomping around a bit. They close the road to motor vehicles on Sunday, and you can usually find someone offering bikes for rent near the Colosseum.

I went to the park headquarters and asked in uncertain Italian if I could talk to the leader. A young woman barely set down her lipstick-stained cigarette as she directed me to Dr. Grello.

When I explained that I wanted to bike the entire length of the Appian Way, and he finished assuring me that it could not be done, he asked why I would ever want to do such a thing.

This is the hardest question to answer, even in English. I did my best to explain my fascination with the Mediterranean, ancient history, and the desperate need we have (I think) in the USA, to rediscover some common roots. Archeologists will never finish scraping the ancient world out of the soil and gluing it back together, but there's always still an energy you can feel when you're alone in these ancient places.

I want to see marble columns rising out of misty fields in the dawn, and remember what the Romans forgot when they became too powerful as a civilization and too weak as individuals, the power the barbarians came to understand when the Romans had forgotten and the Greeks were just a memory.

When you travel by bicycle you don't just "see" things behind the glass of a museum display or a windshield. You feel the air and the moisture and the contours of the land. You're exposed to the people and the energy of the place. You drink in the nectar of the world, and anything is possible.

Halfway through my rant, Dr. Grello understood. You could see it in his face. And here's a secret to communicating with Italians. Even if you don't know the right words, if you speak with passion and move your hands around in big circles most Italians can read your mind and they'll usually produce whatever you want on the spot.

My new archeologist savior was already pulling out topo maps, old photos and drawings, and giving me a stream of directions and names and numbers in rapid Italian. He told me that a lot of the Appian Way was on private property, covered over by new roads, even freeways. He mentioned floods and swamps and mountains. Also many places where people simply don't know where the via Appia ran.

I frantically scribbled as much as I could understand in my notebook. I wasn't looking for perfection, just adventure and fun and new learning and experience. If I couldn't retrace all of the Appian Way, I would still see most of it, do the best I could.

Dr. Grello assured me once again that I was attempting something impossible. The he shook his head, shook my hand, and solemnly wished me good luck.

"In Appia is my salvation," I wrote in a journal entry shortly before I rode diagonally across the southern half of Italy, from Rome to Brindisi, following the historic route of the via Appia as accurately as possible.

Why do we make these trips, anyway? You've got your own personal reasons when you travel by bicycle. The more obvious benefits, like saving money, saving gas, cutting pollution and possibly improving your health are just icing on the cake. That's not why you really do it.

Maybe you've been through something like this. I was in a confusing period in my life, where everything I wanted or thought I needed was either too easy or completely out of reach.

In times like that you need something to take you outside the box you've built around your life. You need challenge and adventure, the possibility of romance, a little bit of danger and a lot of fun. Touring southern Italy by bicycle, riding down the Appian way, gave me all of that and more. That's why we do these things. That's probably why you're reading this.

Either you've done this route or something similar, or you have a craving for it. I'll tell you the whole story on this blog, in little installments. You can follow along, get good route notes, and hear the tale, warts and all. "In Appia is my salvation," I wrote, and I was right.

"I've got a nasty secret on how you can blow 75% right off of your international flight." Click Here!

Rome tour night forum Italy

I've been getting a lot of emails (as well as a few comments added to old posts) from people wanting tips and advice on biking in southern Italy. Some of you are riding (or even hiking!) the Via Appia, and it's a shame that it's so hard to get a group of people together when our schedules, wills, and finances are all in alignment.

We're basically all doing prettymuch the same ride, just not at the same time. So... ...continue reading "Now you can ride with me in Italy, even if you don’t ride with me"


OK, this has bummed me out as much as it has a lot of you. After looking at the euro vs. dollar exchange rates, seeing how much touring Italy by bicycle is going to cost right now, and considering some interesting and exciting business prospects I have right now despite the general economic doom and gloom, I've decided to postpone this trip for at least a year.

If you still want to go, drop me a line and I can give you a lot of advice from personal experience touring southern Italy and Rome, especially. And there's more.

via Appia gravinaq fountain

If you're not from the United States, this is a great time to visit our country. Everything will be unusually cheap, and the people will be really nice to you. I'll be blatant. We need your tourist euros and other currency.

I shouldn't have to say this, but if you're in the USA and facing financial hardships, your bike can be a fun and healthy way to stay out of the mess. It's much cheaper to buy, power, and maintain a bike than a car, and it's a great way to cut corners, especially if it doubles as your workout.

Speaking of workouts, I'm going to be posting a lot more in the future about the benefits of bike exercise, and also a total body workout to keep your arms, shoulders, and core up to par with your legs and cardio, which are probably already rock solid if you're biking even moderately.

I also have a surprise this coming summer that should be a huge benefit to travelers anywhere in the world, whether or not you travel by bicycle. So keep in touch.

As I post this, oil is $100 a barrel. Gasoline is still half what it costs in Italy, probably because of some irrational taxation/subsidy patterns on both sides of the globe. We're living in interesting times, and that can seem like a curse but often be a blessing.

I'm just months away from my 40th birthday, and I had planned to bicycle around the Mediterranean sea as a present to myself. Now it looks like I'll have to put it off for a few years but it's not over yet. If I keep in shape I could probably still do it when I'm 50, and I don't give up.

Don't you give up either. Your bicycle can be cure for so many problems that plague the world today--global warming, pollution, peak oil, economic excess, poverty, even a lot of health problems and crisis.

I long for easier, happier days, such as, for example, the way things were ten years ago. But we cannot choose the times we live in. As Gandalf said, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Enjoy these big hills that can only lead to easier times in the future. Ride swift and free, and remember it's all about the journey. In fact, you don't even know the final destination.


I made a small discovery this week. And it ties in with my plans to bike the Appian Way in southern Italy. I'll tell you more about it in a minute, but first you need some background.Italy bike tour wine shop Matera

With all the air pollution, even in rural Italy, you need your antioxidants. An Italian study compared the antioxidant effects of eating fish, garlic, vegetables, red wine, and dark chocolate.

The good news: the wine and chocolate tied for first place.

Other things being equal, the researchers made the conclusion that if you drink a glass of red wine with dinner you might be lowering your cholesterol even more than the guy eating five helpings of broccoli.

By the way, when I told an Italian about the health benefits of drinking a glass a day of red wine, he disagreed. He said a glass a day of red wine was definitely bad for you because "you need to have two or three glasses."

Secrets of the Aglianico in southern Italy

The real adventure began when I reached Benevento on my first bike tour in southern Italy. This was roughly the halfway point of the via Appia. It was also the first place off the map--from this point on I didn't really know where I was going except in a very general way. It was the beginning of serendipity, lots of unexpected adventures, wrong turns and bad weather, as well as friends in the most unlikely places.

"I've got a nasty secret on how you can blow 75% right off of your international flight." Click Here!

Benevento is also the origin of a little-known wine called Beneventano, made from the aglianico grape.

This strong-flavored beverage (the experts would call it "full-bodied," I think) might be neutralizing ozone in my lungs on every bike ride. What I know for sure is that it has a lot of sentimental value because it reminds me of that first bike tour.

So imagine my excitement, back here in Los Angeles, when I found 3 bottles of Beneventano at a local store.

I served some to a friend who is an expert on food and wine. He said it was good quality, of complex flavor, and added a lot of other jargon about the "nose" and the "finish" with words like "legs" and "bouquet" thrown in for good measure.

"Where did you get this?" he asked me. I was too embarrassed to tell him, but I'll tell you.

It came from Trader Joe's. They still carry it every now and then, but the quality seems to vary. The last few batches were only slightly better than the citrus degreaser I use on my chain. But the bottle I opened last week was decent.

Southern Italy's "most impressive grape"

This week I looked up the lore of the aglianico grape in The Wine Bible. There's not much to say about it, but it was introduced by the Greeks and is among "the south's most impressive grape varieties." The Italians grow it in the volcanic soil left over from the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, and its flavor carries the long and complex history of the Mediterranean.

The reason I'm bringing all of this up is that if you join me on the bike tour of southern Italy, you'll get to taste some great wines that are unknown outside the regions of Campania, Basilicata, and Puglia.

Southern Italy lacks the well-known and large-scale wine industry of the north. Most wine is produced and sold to the locals, and people outside the region rarely get to try it.

This is another good reason for a bike tour. You can find out more about it here.

By the way, I don't know the source for the food/wine antioxidant study. I saw it on a cooking program on TV at the airport while I was waiting for a flight to Italy in 2005. Bike every day, be safe, and eat your chocolate and your vegetables.

WARNING: This information is not to be construed as nutritional advice. Whatever beneficial compounds may go with it, alcohol is still a poison. Drink responsibly. Don't drink and bike, because you will probably suffer serious injury or death, and you will most certainly look like an idiot. Save that bottle for the hot tub or the campfire, where you can share it with your friends.


A lot of people have been asking what it's going to cost to trek across the via Appia from Rome to Brindisi next spring.

I posted this on a separate page that I thought would just be for touring Italy by bicycle, but I'm still learning WordPress and the FAQs page is hard to find, even for me.

So I'll be putting up answers to the questions I get every couple of days. If you have another question, just leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Anyway, the money thing. The good news is southern Italy is cheaper than the north.Italy bike tour Capua repairs

When a mechanic in Capua charged me 5 euros to replace a bunch of broken spokes on my last trip (check out the picture!) I misunderstood and thought he said twenty-five. As I handed him a few bills, he shook his head and said, "No, non siamo a Roma." (We're not in Rome.)

Everywhere I went, I was surprised at the low cost (compared to Rome and Florence) of most things. But if you ...continue reading "The southern Italy bike tour: How much will it cost?"


Via Appia is a hidden bicycle touring treasure. It's easy enough for beginner cyclists to handle, and exotic enough to prove a high adventure for advanced cyclists.

We'll be going there next spring, and you can go to the Touring Italy by Bicycle category to find out more.Italy bike tour Trajan Arch Benevento

Many sections of the original ancient Roman Appian Way, or via Appia in Italian, are still intact. The first 10 miles or so are an archeological park that starts at the very gates of ancient Rome, near the Colosseum.

After that, long sections sit unnoticed amid green fields and wildflowers. Sometimes a modern road slips by just a few yards away, but most motorists are going to fast to look closely at the flowers. That is why we ride.

In some places, the Via Appia was built so well that modern engineers have paved over it. Major highways follow the course of Via Appia, giving you easy access to fallen pillars, old ruins, charming hill towns and castles. Driving lets you cover more ground, but you miss a lot of detail and you're isolated from a lot of the sites and sounds, not to mention the people. That is why we ride.

This is an important, often neglected, piece of Western history. Via Appia was the main artery from Rome to Brindisi, the port that gave the Romans access to the Southern and Eastern edges of the Empire.

Augustus followed this route when he pursued Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the indigenous tribes of the Italian peninsula made their last stands against the Romans along this corridor. Murderers and bandits did their most evil deeds on this highway. Poets and philosophers found inspiration and adventure here. Soldiers and gladiators marched to victory and doom on the Via Appia.

The ancient Romans followed the Via Appia on foot, or at best with the help of mules or horses. I want to experience this as they did. Important leaders built their monuments and tombs here. The rich lined the Via Appia with their villas. This place deserves to be remembered, honored, or at least understood. It is the key to so many other things. That is why we're following the Via Appia on a bike.

If you want to come along, leave a comment or send an email to jacob "at"

If you want more information, look at the other posts in the category "touring Italy by bicycle" or ask your question as a comment. You can also find out more on this page.

Bike across Italy next year, if you dare to.

A lot of the people I've been talking to are into the idea. My High School reunion last week put me over the edge.

via Appia RomeI'll be putting up a lot of information on the Bike tour of southern Italy FAQs page, including the long answers to all of your questions.

In the meantime, here are the short answers to most of the things people are asking me:

How much will this bike tour cost?

Less than you think. 😉

How long will the journey last?

Between 7 and 10 days each way (but you don't have to ride your bike both ways), with some optional site seeing days at each end.

Where are we going?

[tag-tec]Southern Italy[/tag-tec], far off the beaten path for most tourists.

When is this epic bicycle voyage going to take place?

May, 2008

If you want to know more about the trip, check out the Bike tour of Southern Italy FAQs (click here).

I shopped the idea around at my High School reunion this past weekend, and was surprised at how many people were into the idea of [tag-tec]touring Italy by bicycle[/tag-tec]. (Thanks to all of you who trust me to guide you through a foreign land, when the last time you saw me I couldn't even get a license to drive my date to the prom.)

I've done this route before, as well as several other [tag-tec]bike trips[/tag-tec] all over [tag-tec]Italy[/tag-tec], and I speak Italian fluently, so there shouldn't be any serious logistical/navigational problems. My goal is to organize and write about these tours for a living within a few years, so I'm doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone is comfortable and happy.

That said, this is Italy, so you can expect a few mishaps and surprises, just enough to make a good story when you get back home.

There are more details posted on the FAQs page, or you can leave a comment if you have any questions.


In this picture I'm with the beautiful Cristina Ottaviani in front of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. (Sorry guys, she's taken. And not by me).

This was at the end of a 2-week ride tracing via Appia, the Appian Way, ancient Rome's highway that crossed half the length of Italy from Rome to Brindisi.

I can't even tell you how much fun it was, the amazing food I ate, all the times I followed muddy trails through the forest to find old Roman ruins, the wonderful people I met, the food, the wildflowers sparkling on the meadows, lots of great food, all the things I learned about people and history and human nature, and all the amazing food, especially gelato.

Nothing beats Italy cycling tours. And did I mention the food?

Anyway, I'm not saying all this to make you jealous, but hopefully to inspire you to be part of a much bigger adventure.

One of my dreams was to bicycle around the entire Mediterranean on a bicycle before I turn 40. I've still got a couple years, but now I'm probably going to postpone the trip to take advantage of some new business opportunities, and wait for (hopefully) the current wave of violence in the Levant to blow over.

But in the meantime, I'm bicycling across Italy again in the spring of 2008. If you've ever thought about taking a bicycling tour of southern Italy, this is going to be a blast! I'll be posting more information as the date gets closer, or you can leave a comment and I'll email you if you just can't wait to hear more.

As far as the Mediterranean bike tour, we've got a few more years to plan, organize, get in shape, and above all dream.

I say "we" because if you're actually reading this blog you may have some interest in coming along. Either for the whole ride or any part of it that fits your dreams and your calendar. Leave a comment if you want to ride.

Any takers?