Long-distance Italian cycle route is smooth & not blocked with barriers, finds co-founder of Sustrans

In September, John Grimshaw and David Gray spent a week cycling on part of the Ciclopista de Sol cycle route – the “Sun cycle path” – in Italy. Grimshaw is the co-founder and former CEO of Sustrans; Gray is the co-creator of the C2C cycle route across the Pennines in northern England, established in 1994. Both are involved with the soon-to-be-launched Scottish C2C. Below, Grimshaw describes the pair’s latest trip.

This is a brief record of some of the highlights of our week’s cycling in NE Italy where we enjoyed some excellent cycle routes with details which are of a higher standard than commonly found in the UK on its national routes. We were following parts of Ciclopista de Sol (Euroroute 7 from Munich to Venice) along the Adige River to Trento, the Sugana valley to Bassano del Grappa, the award winning Buke route of the year 2015 Alpe-Adria route down from Tarvisio to Gemona and the railway path from the Slovenian border, past Draga to Trieste.

The routes were recommend by cycle guide Albano Marcarini, and our excellent bicycles were provided by holiday company Girolibero who arranged for them to be waiting for us at Peschiera and collected from Treviso. We used six local trains all of which carried cycles without difficulty including the Micotra train from Udine to Villach which carries up to 125 cycles and ran twice daily. Another highlight was the Trieste/Opicina tram which has carried cycles for over 100 years.

Although we only cycled selected sections the length and continuity of these routes is impressive. They run for much greater distances than do our equivalent national routes in the UK. For example, on the Adige route to Trento we followed 60kms of continuous cycle track adjacent to roads, through vineyards and orchards, along canal banks and on river banks with short sections through small villages. On the Alpe-Adria route we followed the railway path from Tarvisio To Resiutta for 40kms with only a short break through Pontebba.

These distances (and we only followed parts of much longer routes) meant that whole days out, and whole holidays could be arranged on these routes.

In all our travelling we did not come across one single barrier obstructing the route – a common problem in the UK. There were a few slow-down chicanes on older routes, and we found some padded bollards to stop motor vehicles, but this was all. And continuity at junctions and crossings was often very good.

In urban areas the routes were not so clear. Whilst in the historic town centres traffic was slow or the roads largely given over to pedestrians where cycling seemed to be tolerated or encouraged, finding ones way out through the suburbs was not always easy. So for example the Alpe – Adria route bypasses the significant town of Gemona rather than a link being shown. (In May 2015 a new route has been opened from Venzone to Gemona but as yet the way not continued beyond.)

The quality of surfacing was machine-laid and smooth throughout. This by comparison with the UK where hand-laid surfaces are often found, with a consequent bumpy ride.

We had expected to find some exciting bridges, viaducts and tunnels along these routes, and we were not disappointed, particularly on the railway path from Tarvisio where we counted 30 tunnels, numerous bridges and some truly spectacular viaducts.

On the Adige route approaching Trento we came across 3 new bridges of a very high quality, two of them attached to road bridges but of sufficient character and flair to make us feel that we were indeed special as cyclists.

“Kompass” 1;50 000 maps covered all our area and are available from Stanfords in the UK. Although they mark cycling routes, these were not always accurate (See 102 Lago di Garda where the Adige route is shown following the road up the valley, rather than the actual route) and the main routes are not highlighted. Bikeline produce detailed route guides (E.g. Alpe Adria Radwweg) although their publications are almost all in German only. Girolibero produce detailed mapping and route guides for their recommended routes.

So it is possible for an English visitor to assemble route information in advance but it is not so easy for many people to find mapping in Italy itself.

Signing was mainly by way of small stickers repeated at frequent intervals. Whilst these were satisfactory on the long traffic-free sections, they were rather too small on the intricate road sections and once one was missed you are lost. I think that larger stickers, more similar to UK national route signs would be useful.

The routes were well used, especially bearing in mind that we were cycling on a weekday in September during term-time. On all the paths there was a good number of tourists (bringing cash into the local economy) as well as local people enjoying these beautiful cycling routes.

The routes are a great credit to the local government for their vision in delivering a project which must have taken many years of continuous work. They are an inspiration to us to do more, and make our cycling routes to a better standard – we need greater ambition in the UK.

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