Seven of the best places for cycling in Italy

From the rugged coasts of Puglia to the mind-boggling switchbacks of the north, these are the best places to go cycling in Italy

The top of Stelvio Pass in Italy: not a bad spot for a cycling holiday (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Cycling in Italy is becoming as essential to the aspirations of two-wheeled purists as traditional explorations of France. From the rugged coasts of Puglia to the mind-boggling switchbacks of the north, there is plenty to suit all tastes.

>>> Best cycling holidays 

1. Sardinia

Best for… Autumn training

Challenge level: Medium

italy cycling holidays

Orosei, Sardinia (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Cycling in Italy is not all about the mainland, and winter training camps are not all about Majorca. Sardinia’s quiet coastal roads in the south east sample the island’s white sand beaches, while a trip on the Giro d’Italia’s SS125 road ensures a stomp on the pedals through the mountainous heart of Barbagia.

The imposing Monte Albo climb is one for the bucket list. Self-guided coast to coast itineraries are possible for those who enjoy the feeling of a journey - punctuated by archaeological sites, vineyards and top-notch Mediterranean cuisine.

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2. Tuscany

Best for… Indulging

Challenge level: Medium

cycling in italy

Tuscany, home of L'Eroica (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Tuscany is the posterboy of cycling in Italy. Among the lush, green, rolling lands and picturesque hilltop towns are miles upon miles of riding, taking in some of the nation’s most beautiful countryside, fuelled by Italy’s best cuisine.

The Giro is known to swarm through Tuscany, past the vineyards of Chianti, north past Pistoia and south past Grosseto - so don’t take the region, perhaps better known for its gastronomy, lightly. After all, the region’s famous white roads host the classic L’Eroica ride, a route of which you can trace at any time of year.

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3. The Stelvio Pass

Best for… One big challenge

Challenge level: Hard

cycling in italy

Stelvio pass in summer (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Seen from a distance it looks like the Alps have cracked and some tremendous geological splinter is imminent. But no, that’s just the 48 hairpins turns of the eastern approach of the Stelvio Pass, the second highest paved road in the Alps and one of the most bewitching in Europe.

Tackling the famed side from Prato will tie you in knots over 24.3km, climbing 1,808m, at an average 7.4 per cent, with your eye constantly on the summit. The western ride from Bormio is no stroll, either. At just under 22km you’ll climb 1,560m at 7.1 per cent, with a 14 per cent kicker at the summit. When it comes to cycling in Italy, file the Stelvio Pass in ‘iconic’.

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4. The Dolomites

Best for… Serious climbers

Challenge level: Hard

cycling in italy

Cycling in the Dolomites (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

For achingly beautiful scenery - not to mention the aching thighs - any roads that pass within spying distance of the jagged, spinal Dolomites range are worth a trip.

The list of passes that cyclists travel to northern Italy to conquer is as long as your arm: the Passo Sella, the third climb of the famous day race Maratona dles Dolomites; the lesser-known but equally awe-inspiring Passo delle Erbe; and the Passa Fedaia, with sections of 15 per cent near (but not near enough) its summit, are just the start.

Indeed, sign up for July’s Maratona dles Dolomites to join 9,000 riders in tackling the region’s greatest climbs.

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5. Puglia

Best for… Explorers

Challenge level: Easy

Going off-road in Puglia (Alamy)

Going off-road in Puglia (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Fancy cycling in Italy without breaking too much of a sweat? Not all of its climbs are X-rated, and the increasingly popular southern heel is testament to that. Spend a week exploring the white-washed villages, rugged coastline and turquoise waters of Puglia, not to mention savouring its cathedrals and castle and sampling its seafood and wines.

The famous Unesco-listed rock-hewn city of Matera can be included on a route, as can the 13th century Castel del Monte. It’s possible to clock up decent distance between stops - creating a healthy total by the end of a trip - and though the landscape is undulating, you’ll find hills worth a climb if you go looking.

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6. The Carnic Alps

Best for… Masochists

Challenge level: Hard

cycling in Italy

Monte Grappa (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

In the Carnic Alps, which border Austria, is a climb regarded as one of the country’s most demanding and regularly features in the Giro d’Italia. There are three routes up to Monte Zoncolan, west from Ovaro and east from either Sutrio and Priola, with the former the least forgiving.

From Ovaro in the Gorto valley awaits 10 kilometres of 11.9 per cent, with a maximum gradient of 22 per cent, and featuring switchbacks, forested steeps and disorientating tunnels.

The final six kilometres average 15 per cent. Monte Grappa, a 23.8km slog up to 1,745m and home to a number of First World War battles, is also in the region for the masochists.

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7. The Italian Lakes

Best for… Sightseeing

Challenge level: Medium

Muro di Sormano (Alamy)

Muro di Sormano (Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Easily accessible from Milan, the Italian Lakes boast some of the prettiest scenery in Europe. So what better way to explore the region than by bike? Take your time and tick off the picture postcards shots in the region but leave time for some healthy climbs - does the Muro di Sormano ring any bells?

The Wall of Sormano near Lake Como is less than two kilometres but the average gradient is 17 per cent and the steepest tickles 25 per cent. In the area be sure to visit the tiny chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo, belonging to the adopted patron saint of cycling. Link the towns and villages of Lake Garda, including Sirmione, which boasts its own castle, for a more relaxing day out.

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- Words by Hugh Morris