With over 52 cycling holidays (and counting) brought to you by our passionate Skedaddle Italia team, Italy is a world-class destination where we are always excited for folk to explore on two wheels! Always eager to share our local knowledge, we caught up with Naomi, who heads up our team out in Italy. Here’s just some of the things she loves about her homeland and the reason why she’s so eager for you to join us and explore at the speed of the bike…
1. Coffee is sacred
Coffee and cycling really are a match made in heaven and so you’ll be pleased to hear that coffee culture in Italy is strong, just like our espresso! Wherever you are in Italy, you’ll always find a bar around the corner. Did you notice how we said bar? The first thing you need to know is that what most people call a cafe, we Italians call a bar, so don’t let it confuse you. However, this is only the beginning… Coffee culture is extremely sophisticated here and sacred, so we will try our best to explain to you the basics you need to know.
Now for some practical advice. Here there is a protocol for how to order coffee and most of the time you will have to pay first and then take the receipt to the bartender. Next, and probably the most important thing, is what you order! Espresso is a ‘default’ coffee in Italy and can be consumed at any hour of the day. Italians drink their espresso quickly and without sitting down, it is called espresso for a reason after all. That’s why it is always served at a drinkable temperature and best enjoyed right there at the bar, the second it was served to you.
Very often on tour, our Italian guides have to remind Skedaddlers that if we stop for ‘an Italian coffee’ it means it is a very quick stop, not a sit down, just as the Italians do.
Another very important thing to remember is to not order any drinks that contain milk in the afternoon or later. As Italians say – milk is for breakfast – and we recommend sticking to this rule when at the bar in Italy. Also, don’t try to order a latte in Italy, because you will get exactly what you asked for – just milk. Instead, ask for caffe latte. There’s so much more we could tell you about coffee in Italy, but these basics should help you to blend in at any Italian bar, so you won’t miss out on this truly cultural experience.
2. Fare la bella figura: an Italian way of life
Fare la bella figura translates as ‘make a good impression’ and is an essential philosophy that rules the lives of Italians. It is all about making the best possible impression at all times and Italians know how to do so better than anyone else. Italians put a lot of thought into how they look and what they are wearing, that’s why Italian fashion is second to none. Fare la bella figura, though, goes well beyond image and material things! It’s a way of living that embodies dignity, hospitality, generosity and good manners. For those who live it, looking good, feeling good and doing good to others go hand in hand with the essence of what it means to be Italian – a personal quest for beauty in all forms.
Beauty is admired in Italy, whether expressed through art and architecture, warm hospitality and good manners, or more simply by the perfect looking outfit. The Italian wish to look good prevails not only in public, but also at home. Italians believe that you don’t just represent yourself, you represent your family and your country, so it’s important to not reflect poorly on your loved ones with your bad behaviour (known here as Fare la brutta figura, the ugly figure).
Travelling throughout Italy you will experience many examples of Fare la bella figura, from looked after towns to the incredible hospitality of locals. And these rules apply to cycling too! Here you will find everyone wearing carefully colour-coordinated kits with a lot of attention to detail, sparkly clean bikes and friendly and welcoming fellow cyclists, of course.
3. Pizza! Pizza!
Pizza is one of the most popular foods in the world, no doubt about it! And we Italians are the inventors of this widely-loved delight. Pizza has been a staple of Italian culture and heritage since the 16th century and we all can say with confidence that it will never ‘go out of style’. Many travellers who come to Italy, are very likely to go on a mission to try that authentic Italian pizza. But the truth is, your ‘authentic’ pizza will look a little bit different from region to region, from crust to toppings, so let’s not stress about it. Instead, here’s the most important thing you need to know about pizza when in Italy…
Italians value simplicity and quality in their food. The freshness and quality of the ingredients used to make the finished product are considered very special and pizza is no exception. To stay true to this rule the food here is very regional and seasonal and you will immediately get a taste of it by just looking at the topping options available. In the North you will see a lot of speck ham and goats’ cheese because they come from the mountains; in Sardinia you will get sheep cheese and wild boar sausages; while on the coast you will enjoy a delicious variety of seafood. Not to mention unexpected seasonal options like asparagus, mushrooms and truffles. So, don’t be afraid to move away from your classic Margherita and instead be a little adventurous with your toppings – we guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
With all these incredibly varied and fresh ingredients, there’s no way pizza is considered unhealthy food here – so dig in! There’s nothing quite like grabbing a delicious slice after a day in the saddle and it’s an amazing way to explore the regional food too.
4. An incredible sense of the past
In Italy, you’ll often be riding beside something historical and magnificent, from ancient amphitheatres to Renaissance towns that look like they should be in a Shakespeare play. And with more UNESCO sites here than any other country (over 50 to be exact), the rich history is ever present and cannot fail to impress. Here people are proud of their heritage and take great care of preserving it, and they do it not only for visitors to enjoy. but most importantly so they can pass it onto the next generation. That’s why, for example, you aren’t allowed to cycle through historic centres and piazzas (town squares), out of respect for history and those around you – some places are made to be enjoyed on two feet!
Italy is where centuries of history meet and exist in beautiful harmony. There’s so much here that it is easy to start taking it for granted. From Roman-style, to Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and all the way to Art Nouveau – all of this can transport you to a different century if you let it. On tour, you can be cycling past amazing historical places like Roman aqueducts or stop for a picnic in an ancient amphitheatre and not give it much thought. So, when in Italy we encourage you to slow down and absorb an incredible sense of history and art.
You definitely won’t miss out on historical gems when visiting, no matter what route you choose, just don’t forget to stop and really appreciate it, at least for a minute or two.
5. La Dolce Vita
This expression is synonymous with the Italian lifestyle! Meaning ‘the sweet life’, it encourages us to live one moment at a time, to savour and cherish it with gratitude. Italians are all about enjoying the good things and really indulging in the things you love, that’s our ultimate secret to a happier life.
But La Dolce Vita is not just about living life at a relaxed pace, it is most importantly about the balance in everything from work to social life and family. Here people structure their day around the things they value most. That’s why a lot of Italians will always make sure they are home for lunch to spend time with their loved ones or making their way home in time after their Sunday cycling ride – there’s always a balance. After all, Italians live for love and beauty and believe that the best way to truly enjoy all of the good things in life is to share it with the ones that are close to you.
6. Gelato, per favore!
You haven’t been to Italy until you’ve had a scoop (or five!) of authentic Italian gelato. Indulging in gelato is considered to be one of the most authentic Italian experiences and a great way to cool down on a day out in the saddle.
First of all, ‘gelato’ is not just the Italian word for ‘ice cream’ it is not really the same thing! But that’s good news, because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, so it is considered a healthier alternative. Gelato is also served at a slightly higher temperature, allowing you to enjoy even more of your chosen flavour.
But be careful! Just because you’re eating gelato in Italy doesn’t mean it’s a real thing. The real Italian gelato will always be handmade and only features natural and local ingredients. So, when in a gelataria (a shop that sells gelato), always be on the lookout for signs for “artiginale” or “produzione nostra”, which indicates the gelato is made on-site. Our Italian guides are pros on this front though, so we’ll always make sure to take you to the very best gelatarias that all the locals love.
You can’t fool an Italian when it comes to food!
7. The home of cycling heroes
Italians are very proud of the fact they have produced some of the biggest names in cycling history, that have shaped the road cycling sport as we know it. Italy is one of professional cycling’s strongholds to this day, and just like in everything else in life, Italians demand not just victory, but also style from their heroes. From Gino Bartali and Marco Pantani, two of the greatest climbers of all time, to the Campionissimo (the champion of champions) Fausto Coppi – these are just some of the biggest names all serious cyclists know and love.
With this incredible legacy, it’s no wonder there’s so much interest in riding along the routes taken by some of Italy’s greatest heroes, whether it’s where they have raced, were born or trained. From the hills of Piemonte where Coppi used to train, to Emilia Romagna where Pantani was born – riding these amazing roads will definitely make you feel like a part of history.
The country’s most important professional race, Giro d’Italia, takes place every year and showcases some of the most challenging and thrilling riding in the world of professional cycling. Many get inspired to come and test their legs here and follow these routes to glory and the good news is many of our road cycling holidays in Italy include the iconic race stages and will make you feel like the star of your very own grand tour.
Feeling inspired? Take a look at our full range of cycling trips in Italy to find out 52 ways to explore this iconic cycling destination on two wheels.