‘Come and see where I work, it’s unbelievable’, said my mate Glen.
‘Yeah, yeah, I will’, I said, being polite and knowing I had a hundred and one things to do and other places to go.
Four years later I am kicking myself for prevaricating for so long because Glen had invited me to a place perfect for cyclists. Occasionally, just occasionally, we come across something which is spot-on. It’s rare, but I’ve now discovered one of those very things.
Glen works as a bike tour guide in beautiful Emilia Romagna. Pantani country. He’s from nearby Cesenatico. Glen and his team take people out each day on rides of varying duration and difficulty. All are immensely rewarding, be it 120 -150 kms fast and hard or a gentle 40km panoramic ‘cappuchino ride’. Each day you can choose the ride that suits you or choose not to ride at all.
I don’t think I’ve felt so comfortable so quickly on a cycling trip. We were collected at Rimini airport by the hotel’s free minibus and, just 10 minutes later, arrived at the hotel in time for dinner. We met: Penny Edwards, veteran triathlete from Norfolk and participant in the Hawaiian Ironman; Rob and Sarah from Harrogate, there to combine cycling with planning their wedding at the hotel next year; Liz and Debs training for their Etape du Ales in aid of Leukaemia research, an ever so slight and more refreshing variation on the Dales version (contact details below); Christine Hamilton (not THAT one!), first British woman home in her age cat in the World Duathlon Championship a few days earlier in Rimini; Gary, in his working life a director of Carphone Warehouse, another Ironman – so clearly not all talk talk; Kasia, a Polish accountant based in London; a fair number of triathletes from Crystal Palace and a whole host of other cyclists.
After dinner we checked out the rides on offer for the following day, got some advice from the guides, made our choices and retired looking forward to the morning and our first ride. We chose different options. I decided ‘long and easy’ and my partner chose ‘short and easy’. During the week we tried all the options between us, including just doing our own thing. The hotel gives you a list of about twenty routes with clear maps if you fancy exploring alone.
Many of the guests were on their fourth or fifth visit and it was blindingly obvious why. I couldn’t help making the comparison with a trip to Majorca, probably the most popular pre-season destination for British cyclists. It is great, of course, but everyone agreed that no hotels there even get close to what this one offers.
There are three purpose built bike storage areas, a full time mechanic and, if you don’t want to bring your own bike, you can hire one of a number of full carbon De Rosa machines. Rides start after breakfast at a very agreeable 9.30. Energy drinks and snacks to shove in your pockets are provided. The incredibly professional guides know the area like the back of their hands and take you through breathtaking countryside, into and past gorgeous hilltop towns and villages. Tired and hungry riders are greeted upon their return by a quality buffet of hot and cold dishes. There’s a plethora of relaxation options on offer before an absolutely first class dinner with tremendous local wine included. There’s even a free laundry service for your kit. Chuck it in before five and get it back in the morning. How good is that?
All the staff are involved at some level with cycling, except for one. Sascha, the bar manager, is a four times world champion in the unusual field of cocktail shaking. Not quite the aerobic activity most of us are familiar with, but I’m willing to accept it in place of any cycling credentials. He must like us: it would be an impossible place to work if you didn’t like cyclists!
There are a number of excursions on offer post cycling. We had the opportunity to go to a truffle festival in a nearby town, but chose to go to an agriturismo farm to sample wine, cheese and olive oil like we’d never tasted. Those who did go truffling raved about that too.
We enjoyed fabulous weather this October, but if you were unlucky enough to experience a cool spell, the guides say it feels great after a ride to use the sauna and steam room facilities in the very well equipped Wellness Centre in the basement of the hotel. All sorts of massages and treatments are available down there. Relaxing by the pool, strolling along the beach and having a paddle were our preferred post ride therapies.
The rides are wonderful, be they incredibly gentle, scenic jaunts from café to deli and then on to a gelateria, or eyeballs out training rides. The rides take in some pretty special places including the principality of San Marino which offers incredible views to reward you after the climb up to it and Urbino, San Leo and Tavullia – home of Valentino Rossi. One of the more difficult local climbs, Cippo, which starts in Carpegna has an interesting monument to Pantani half way up the ascent. I happened to notice that some particularly picturesque towns and villages we went through all began with M: Montefiore Conca, Mondaino, Montegridolfo, Montescudo, Montecolumbo, Morciano di Romagna and Montegrimando. Mmmm! On one day each week all rides are cleverly coordinated to stop at the hotel owner’s country house where she lays on a massive barbeque.
As a cycling fan it’s a real buzz to talk to the staff about the pros with connections to the hotel. The list is a bit impressive and includes Maurizio Fondriest, Claudio Chiappucci, Pavel Tonkov, Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni, Cristian Moreni, Dario Frigo, Andrea Peron and many others. The hotel is used by teams, especially for the Coppi-Bartali in March, and the teams you could have rubbed shoulders with in recent years include Aqua e Sapone, Vini Calderola and Saunier Duval. We returned from a ride one day and ex-Gerolsteiner rider, Fred Morini was in the lobby chatting with a few guests. He was there to meet up with a young prodigy who’s under his wing. Like many of the ex-pros, this guy likes to put something back and it’s great to see.
The hotel owner, Marina, loves the sport and the concept of a cycling hotel has become a passion. She’s also a friend of Mr De Rosa, hence the availability of the fantastic hire bikes. Marina and her expert staff have so many connections; they’re even able to organise entries for the Nove Colli gran fondo if guests fancy having a go at it.
Glen works at the Hotel Belvedere in Riccione. Thanks Glen and, like I say, I’m giving myself a hard time for not paying heed to you four years ago.
Hotel Belvedere: www.belvederericcione.com