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Why ride a bike on the Appian Way?

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" BicycleFreedom.com

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.

11 thoughts on “Why ride a bike on the Appian Way?

  1. ed

    Hi jacob,
    Im planning to walk the whole Via Appia, Brindisi to Rome, probably next year and I came across your website and thought maybe you could give me some advice and info regarding the journey. Im speak fluent Italian as Im half Italian with family in Rome and go there every year and know how to handle myself in Italy but I dont know the actual route, particularly from Brindisi, or whats left and where to begin. I also have many books on via appia but they dont specify the route. As some one who has done it I

  2. Ed

    Hi jacob,
    Im planning to walk the whole Via Appia, Brindisi to Rome, probably next year and I came across your website and thought maybe you could give me some advice and info regarding the journey. I speak fluent Italian as Im half Italian with family in Rome and go there every year and know how to handle myself in Italy but I dont know the actual route, particularly from Brindisi, or whats left of it and where to begin. I also have many books on via appia but they dont specify the route. As some one who has done it I thought you might give me some info on where to begin.
    Thanks. Hope to hear from you soon.
    Ed

  3. Jacob

    That's an awesome plan, Ed! I wish I had the time to do it. The first thing you should know is that there will be long stretches of boring highway, especially around Brindisi and Capua. On a bike you can get through these places in an hour or two, but it will take a long time walking.

    If I were you I would buy some local maps once I got there, and just walk the back roads in these places. Since you speak Italian, you'll have no problem asking directions, and the people of southern Italy are incredibly kind and generous to travelers. You might even consider taking a train from Brindisi to Taranto, and start your walk from there.

    There are many places where nobody really knows exactly where the via Appia went, so these alternate routes aren't really "cheating." Whenever you're in doubt about where to go, follow SS7 or the equivalent, and you'll be close. If you aim for Taranto, Gravina, Venoso, etc. you'll hit all the main places that via Appia went, so you'll be close to the true route.

    As you get closer to Rome the route becomes more definite (email me and I'll give you more specifics), but when you get to Terracina you might consider another detour through the Circe National park. If you do stay on the real via Appia (which leads in almost a straight line to the park just outside Rome), you'll see an irrigation canal on your left. From time to time there will be footbridges so you can cross over, and there's a good bike/hike trail along the other side.

    After you pass Ariccia you can follow the signs to Rome, and keep an eye out for small street signs pointing to "Via Appia" This is a section where you can walk on the actual basalt stones for a few miles. Then you have to zig zag through a bit of suburbia, squeeze through a gate blocked by concrete barriers, and you'll be in the actual park where all the ancient stuff is preserved. You're probably familiar with this part, where you pass the catacombs and eventually make your way through the gate of San Sebastianm to the center of Rome, near the Colosseum. (You probably know this area already!)

    Good luck, and email me if you have any questions.

  4. Simon

    Hi Jacob, just discovered your nice web blogs on the via appia trip. Living in the Castelli Romani, I biked many times the appia antica from fratoccie to rome (the nice part), but this Sunday (25-May) I want to go South with a couple of friends on the appia as far as we get..for one week with deviation along the coast until san felice circeo etc. From Capua onwards, I am however not sure how to avoid big roads - well, let's see how it goes. Any suggestions how to bike from capua to benevento? We want to reach at least melfi in 6 days.
    Are you still planning your trip? we might see us on the way.
    Good luck

  5. Jacob

    Castelli Romani! Quanto mi manchi!

    The roads from Benevento are big, difficult, with a lot of traffic for much of the way. But you can take a nice detour, mostly following the Fiume Volturno. Start with SS 264 and look for smaller roads that take you to Biancano, Limatola, and Cantinella. (If you want a beautiful ride through the mountains, go to Castelmorrone instead of Biancano.)

    From Cantinella you can continue to S. Agata de'Goti, Bucciano, and Montesarchio, then follow SS7 into Benevento. Or if you have the time, go north to Solopaca, Vitulano, and on to Benevento.

    Of course, the historic route of the true Via Appia probably went straight through S.Maria Capua Vetere, Caserta, and Maddaloni. But the alternative routes have fewer cars and more scenery.

    When you get close to Benevento, there is a lot of traffic, noise, and pollution. But inside, Benevento is a beautiful city.

    I recommend the Touring Club Italia map of Benevento and Basilicata. I think it costs 7 euro. It has very good details.

  6. Simon

    Thanks a lot, Jacob, we will go for the route along the volturno - that's an excellent idea! couldn't locate Cantinella on my touring club italiano map, but S.Agata de'Goti sounds interesting enough for attracting us for a stop over! I wanted to see the Claudine Forks (forche Claudine), but will keep this for another time.
    Have a very nice book to recommend for anybody who wants to walk: Between two seas, a walk down the appian way by charles lister - however traffic was very different in 1960!
    ciao da Marino

  7. Simon

    Hi Jacob, it's me again after one year - In may 2008 I followed your advice and we biked from Roma along the appia, then from Velletri we took the deviation to the sea and biked along saturnia, s. felice circeo etc. until we got back on the appia in terracina. we followed then the nicest parts - also the original part between fondi and itri...and we took your advice and stayed along the volturno from Capua, visited the wonderful s agata de'goti...then benevento and ercolano. In one week we probably we spent more time eating, drinking and talking to the people along the road, so we didn't get much further (little deviation also to taurasi for the wine!). End may 2009 we will do the rest from ercolano to brindisi...until 06-Jun.
    ciao, Simon

  8. Jacob

    Hey Simon (and anybody else who reads this),
    Next year (May 2010) we're doing a big group tour of the entire Roma-Brindisi route. It's a fundraiser for the Adventure Cycling Association, but most of the funds we raise will help pay for the tour! We're also looking at a way to get carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gases from the flight over. I'll be posting more info on the blog pretty soon, and meanwhile you can shoot me an email if you're interested in coming along.

  9. Simon

    Hi Jacob - sure I am interested. Let me know exact dates - I am living in Marino (2 km off the Appia), so no problem to join you at least for some parts if time allows. Our May tour from Benevento to Brindisi comes closer - so we are all excited to start going...

  10. Charles Lister

    Good luck to anyone going down the old Appian Way, I wish I could do it with you (again). I'M sure it has all changed since 1960. Venosa and Melfi are lovely places and I can also recommend Gravina with its beautiful gorge and bridge. Have fun.

  11. Jacob

    Thanks Charles! Gravina was one of the highlights of the last trip. You may like to hear that in 1970 a pair of journalists published information about some of the archeological sites that were in danger of disappearing through floods, vandalism, and general entropy. Today most of these areas are protected parks. As you said, it has all changed--but maybe it will finally be able to stay the same. Any messages you'd like to pass on to the ruins?

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