Skip to content

Bike routes and black olives

The modern road, SS7, zig-zags through switchbacks as it winds up into the mountains. Each time around, I notice the route coincides with the remains of an older, grass-covered road bed. This is the true Appian Way.

This is an excerpt from my new book, Tutto Nascosto: A Bike Ride Down the Appian Way. If you would like to download the entire e-book, leave a comment below and I'll make sure you get a copy. Your email will not be published, and I will never share it with anyone.

The archeologist in Rome told me my bike trip would be impossibile. Francesco assured me non e’ difficile. Leaving Terracina, I hope the journey will be easy but not too easy. It’s been a good bike tour so far, but I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen.

The ride out of Terracina starts to climb into the hills, and pretty soon I’m winding my way upward through a glittering jewel box of flowers, oak trees and olive groves. When I meet a farmer selling black olives on the roadside, I buy a whole bag and greedily devour them on rest stops.

The modern road, SS7, zig-zags through switchbacks as it winds up into the mountains. Each time around, I notice the route coincides with the remains of an older, grass-covered road bed. This is the true Appian Way.

The old road is undaunted by the mountain. It plods straight up the grade, unstoppable like the armies that used to use it. Riding up the modern road is challenging enough, but not daunting, and I’m thinking seriously about braving the weeds and stones of via Appia antica on my bike.

Traces of the Appian Way between Terracina and Itri
Park-preserved traces of via Appia

As if on cue, I wheel up to the entrance of an archeological park. Inside, I follow the usual basalt paving stones of the Appian Way, along with the remains of buildings from ancient Rome, the middle ages, and the Renaissance.

As in many places in Italy, the architecture here is a hodgepodge of different periods and styles. Each building is built up over an earlier one, and everybody borrows foundations, walls, and pillars from other buildings.

I got used to seeing this phenomenon everywhere when I lived in Rome. Much of the marble from the Colosseum, for example, was taken by the Barbarini family to build St. Peter’s square in the Vatican. Similarly, if you go into some of the older churches in Rome you’ll notice that the pillars don’t always match. This is because they were pilfered from different ancient Roman buildings.

As I ponder this, munching on salty black olives, I think how much our civilization, and even we as individuals, are collections of endless stories, ideals, influences and philosophies borrowed from different times and places.

As Bruce Lee was fond of saying, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.”

Perhaps my own bicycle quest is my unique addition to the long history of this majestic road and the beautiful lands it passes through. Think about your own journeys as you read this. What will you add to the world that is uniquely your own?

This is an excerpt from my new book, Tutto Nascosto: A Bike Ride Down the Appian Way.

16 thoughts on “Bike routes and black olives

  1. Phylomena

    I was in terracina last year. Like to stay in a villa and ride bicycle around the beach, hills, etc.

  2. Anna

    I've really enjoyed reading your blog, it's very informative and actually I'm considering trying the Rome to Brindisi bike ride myself, maybe in April/May this year. I'd probably take 3 weeks (19 days) off work but aim to complete the ride in 12-14 days. I've found a bike shop online based in Rome who hire out touring bikes and panniers and other equipment ( as i want to avoid the hassle of taking my bike on a plane) but I just wonder whether I can get a train back from Brindisi at the end of the ride. What do you think? If you have any advice on my these plans i'd really appreciate it, Thanks!

  3. Adelheid

    I will be starting my bicycle trip from Rome to Brindisi come June 3. I would love to read your whole book!

    Is it by the way allowed to ride your bike on the SS7? I know people even walk along it, so probably yes.

  4. You're going to have a great time! It is allowed to ride your bike on most of the SS7. The road changes a lot, and I don't like to ride the whole way. Out in the countryside, SS7 is very peaceful and scenic. Close to the cities, you will find a lot of traffic, industrial sites, and garbage. I recommend getting a map from Touring Club Italia. Then you can pick an alternate route.

  5. Hi Anna,

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you. You can take a train back from Brindisi but there are two obstacles. If you take one of the main trains straight to Rome you'll have to put your bike in a box (you can get one at a bike shop in Brindisi). Or you can take local trains that allow you to bring your bike right on the train. The second option is a lot of fun if you have the time. You'll probably have to spend at least one night somewhere along the route, but this can lead to new and interesting discoveries. (I spent an extra night in Gravina on the way back, and the hotel owner's cousin gave me a detailed tour of the town). If you decide to do this, be aware of strikes ("sciopero.") The day after the foresaid night in Gravina, I had to ride for another day because the trains weren't running. But in return for this inconvenience, I got to see more wildflowers, castles along the Adriatic coastline, the nightlife of Caserta (better than you'd think) and a tour of Benevento my third (and final) day on the route back to Rome.

    Good luck!

  6. maro

    You are a lucky man and I hope I will be able to take a part of your ride on a way you did. Eagarly waiting a copy of the book.

  7. Annie

    Hi there,

    My husband and I are taking a one-month bike tour honeymoon. We start in Rome and fly out of Athens. Would love to get a copy of your book! We leave in just 2 weeks!


  8. You're going to have a great time!
    I put the book on hold (too many crazy things going on in my life right now) but if you poke around at the comments on this blog you'll hopefully get some good ideas on where to go/what to see. If you're following SS7/via Appia, then a few places not to miss include Minturno, Benevento, Venosa, Gravina, Matera and of course the park just outside of Rome. There are also lots of small towns in the Apennines. Good luck!

  9. Adelheid

    Back from the Via Appia, for quite a while already 😉

    Great ride, SS7 indeed not always the best choice (avoid on the way to Terracina and also to Brindisi), otherwise quite the adventure.

    Would love to ride again!

  10. Adelheidd

    Oh, and while I did the ride using paper maps and magnetic compass, I would advise everyone to go for the GPS. I am working on a GPS route for the Via Appia, although I may never use it myself.

  11. adelheid

    Oh, and although I used paper maps and a magnetic compass, I would advise everyone to go for GPS. I am working on a GPS route for the Via Appia, even though I may never use it myself (here's hoping I will ... )

  12. Jacob

    Welcom back, Adelheid. When you rode to Terracina, did you use the side road that runs along SS7 for a good part of the way? Let me know how your GPS map works out!

  13. Adelheid

    To Terracina we went via Cisterna di Latina to Latina and we followed the SS7 for the last 12 km only. Those last 12 km were still quite a fright.
    I have a Google map based on the ancient Via Appia stops (GPS based) now. Would want to test those myself before releasing them to the public...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.