So, you want to go road cycling in Italy? Maybe you have been before and want another taste of Italian cycling trips or tours, or perhaps this will be your first Italian cycling adventure.
In this article we share our pick of the best places for cycling in Italy - from cycling northern Italy and the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites and Alps, to the rolling hills of Tuscany, the Adriatic Coast of the Emilia Romagna and the wild reaches of southern Italy and Sicily.
You'll also find our introduction to picking cycling routes and cycling events in Italy. We hope it helps you plan your next cycling holiday in Italy!
What’s so special about cycling in Italy?
Italy is one of Europe’s most famous cycling destinations. Together with France and Spain, it is one of the big three homes of European cycling, steeped in cycling history, romanticism, myths, legends and its fair share of heroes and villains.
The country lends itself to cycling trips and tours thanks to its incredible and varying geography; from the soaring spires of the Dolomites, down through the mountainous shores of the Italian Lakes, the rolling hills of Tuscany and the Adriatic Coast and finally to the sharp coastlines of the deep south and the volcanic island of Sicily.
Road cycling Italy can provide the experience and adventure that you crave. At one extreme you can try your hand at cycling world famous high mountain passes of the Dolomites and Bormio area or participating in one of many incredibly well run granfondo events. At the other extreme, you’ll find gentle cycle tours that follow the rolling hills of the vineyards and agriturismo and family friendly roads around coastal areas.
Top this off with the fact you’re in a country rich in so much history, art, culture, cuisine and a population desperate to share their love for anything Italian - and you have a match made in cycling heaven.
Where to find the best cycling in Italy
Due to its geography and areas of note, Italy can be broken down into distinct areas that have their own distinct characteristics, features, draws and experiences.
Starting with northern Italy’s cycling destinations and working our way down the country, we will break down those areas of special interest to give you the best Italian cycling holiday destinations.
This map of Italy is a useful starting point for locating each region we talk about, namely the Dolomites of Trentino, the Stelvio region of Lombardia, the Italian Lakes of Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Toscana, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia.
So, without further ado, here are our pick of the best places to cycle in Italy.
1. Cycling the Dolomites/Alta Badia (Trentino)
UNESCO mountain scenery + roads made famous by the Giro d'Italia and Maratona dles Dolomites.
The Dolomites are very special on nearly every level; the cycling, the scenery, the hospitality, the aprés bike, the people... it is a place that ticks boxes from serious road cycling holiday to family cycling trips and can easily be classed as one of the best cycling trips in Europe.
The area is littered with incredible Passo, all on good roads and all very easily connected into loops that can suit most legs, from 50-60km to whatever you can handle. The only drawback is that there is very little flat valley road once in the heart of the Alta Badia. However most villages have shops and cafes and at the top of nearly every pass is a Rifugio that will be a café, so there are lots of options for refuelling, recovering and enjoying the incredible scenery.
Where to stay
Corvara is a great base in the heart of the Dolomites, with every road out of town being a famous cycling climb. The Maratona starts and finishes here and the Giro nearly always pays a visit. The hospitality is second to none and there is something for everybody to enjoy, so it’s a great location even if not everybody in the family is a cyclist.
Dolomites cycling routes
The cycling here is second to none, the list of Passo on your doorstep and within a 100km radius is out of this world; Pordoi, Campolongo, Sella, Gardena, Valparola, Falzarego, Giau, San Pellegrino, Alpe d’siusi, Pinei… the list is endless really, especially if you have a car and can head over towards Cortina d’Ampezzo for some more action.
This is also the home of perhaps the most famous granfondo in Italy, the Maratona dles Dolomites. It has a brutal long course of 138km and 4,200m climbing over seven passes. It attracts over 7,000 riders these days and is the Italian version of the French classic, the Marmotte Cyclosportive. Sign up quickly if that interests you as spaces go fast, but equally, use the course to have an incredible day out by yourself or with your group. You can also easily break it down into two days as it’s almost a figure of eight around Corvara.
Getting there and away
Access into high mountains is rarely quick and that’s certainly the case here. Be prepared for a long day when travelling.
The closest airports are Innsbruck and Venice. Of these two, Venice has many more connecting flights, especially in summer. From here, a car is still the best option as the closest train station to Corvara is Brunico or Brixen, from where you would need to catch a coach.
Venice to Corvara is roughly 180km, Innsbruck is around 140km and a border crossing.
Our in-depth guide to cycling the Dolomites. It includes links to guides to cycling the climbs mentioned above, including Passo Pordoi, Campolongo, Sella, Gardena, Valparola, Falzarego and Giau.
2. Cycling the Bormio/Stelvio region (Lombardy)
Riding the spectacular Stelvio (+ other famous Giro climbs) while staying in beautiful Bormio .
If you long for the mountains, this area has become synonymous and mythical within the cycling community thanks to the majestic Stelvio. The area surrounding Bormio harbours some of the biggest cycling climbs in Italy and can easily be one of the best cycling trips in Europe for col collectors out there.
Where to stay
Bormio is nestled in the Italian Alps, close to the Swiss border in the Lombardy region of Italy. Whilst it is mostly known for the Stelvio, there are many of the best cycling climbs in Italy right on the doorstep.
Bormio itself is a perfect base for your Italian cycling trip; there are plenty of places to stay, suiting pretty much all requirements and budgets and the town itself remains busy during the summer months due to its popularity with all forms of alpinism.
The cycling here is very much up, down or a transition valley road, and it is not for the faint hearted as climbs can come in at 20km and if they are shorter then they are usually steeper. However you will always be in company, as the entire region is somewhat of a mecca for cycling.
Bormio cycling routes
Famous climbs. This is what you have come for and you will not be disappointed!
The big one is of course the Stelvio, which takes you up to the heady height of 2,758m; this is literally straight out of Bormio and straight up for 22km. The Bormio side is the less famous side but by no means any less of a climb. The famous side with the 46 hairpins is from Prato and it’s definitely worth doing the double, it is so iconic.
Another iconic climb is the Mortirolo, far and away the hardest climb in the Stelvio region. Climb it from Mazzo to fully enjoy the 12km at 11% average! It is a narrow unrelenting road made famous by the Giro.
The Gavia is also just outside Bormio and can easily be made into a loop with the Mortirolo if you really want a tough day.
Foscagno is a lesser known but stunning climb out of Bormio, taking you up over 2,200m yet again (here it is, in reverse).
There a couple of smaller climbs out of Bormio that are great to acclimatise yourself before tackling the monsters; one is Cancano which has many hairpins and takes you towards Livigno, you will be rewarded with spectacular views and quieter roads, the other is Bormio 2000, which as the name suggests, takes you to 2000m, the climb is a bit rough, but very quiet in summer and the view at the top is worth the 10km effort.
Getting there and away
Getting to Bormio does require a bit of time and having a car is by far the easiest and quickest way, but other options are available.
Milan Bergamo or Malpensa are the closest airports and Verona is also a good option, but this is a smaller airport so serviced by less flight options. From either of these, you can get a train into Bormio, it can take roughly 6-8hrs due to the required changes, so it is no small undertaking. The drive from the Milan or Verona will take around 3hrs - the distance is huge but there is a lot of time spent on mountain roads rather than motorways.
Our in-depth guide to cycling Bormio. It includes links to guides to cycling the climbs mentioned above, including the Stelvio, Mortirolo, Gavia and Cancano.
3. Cycling Lake Como and the Italian Lakes (Lombardy)
A family holiday with lakes, cycling, mountain activities - and the must-see Madonna del Ghisallo.
This part of Italy has some fantastic cycling opportunities, stretching from Lake Orta in the west to the incredibly famous Garda in the east. The eight lakes hold some incredible and remote cycle roads.
Whether you want to test yourself on some iconic climbs that feature in the Giro or Il Lombardia or enjoy lakeside pedalling from village to village, the Italian Lakes can provide.
Where to stay
The heart of the Italian Lakes is considered to be Lake Como. The town of Bellagio makes a particularly stunning base for your Italian cycling holiday to this area, the town couldn’t be more Italian if it tried. With the lake in front and mountains all around, the scenery is just perfection - plus you’ve got great climbs from the door (see above).
Another good thing about Lake Como as a base is its proximity to the other lakes, allowing you to easily explore.
Como cycling routes
There are two incredibly famous climbs that are accessible from Lake Como, but they could not be more different in their style and interest.
Firstly we have the Madonna del Ghisallo, which has featured in so many Giro and is written into Italian cycling history. The climb is named after the chapel at the top in honour of the patron saint of cycling and it is now somewhat of a pilgrimage for cyclists. The chapel is more a museum of cycling jerseys than a religious building. Next door to the chapel, there’s a cycling museum that showcases historical artifacts. You’ll find things like antique bikes and the first pink La Gazzetta dello Sport leaders jerseys.
Secondly, and very different, is the Muro di Sormano. Like the name suggests, the Muro is literally a wall to cycle over; 2km at an average of 17% and topping out at over 25%. It’s a brute that features in the Lombardia bike race.
The total length around the lake is 160km and it is relatively flat the whole way. Once you turn off the main roads and head inland the climbs have a lot of shade and there are so many little hilltop villages that you can’t really fail to have a lovely tour about in distances and times that suit you.
The surrounding area to Como has a bit of everything to suit everybody and would really make a great location for that family cycling holiday to Italy.
One word of warning though - avoid August as much as you can because the whole of Italy flocks here for their holiday and the main roads become hell. Another thing to consider when booking accommodation is to check the map properly as to what that 3km into town is like. You can be off the beaten track very quickly (or on a mad hill) and neither are much fun at the start or end of a ride!
Getting there and away
The Lakes are easily accessible from one of Milan’s two airports (roughly an hour to two by car), so it is perfect for that weekend cycling trip and equally for a week or two Italian cycling tour. As with a lot of Italy, a car makes it so much easier as a lot of the roads in this area are not connected to public transport and there are a lot of roads to explore here!
4. Cycling Emilia Romagna/Riccione/Adriatic coast
Famous food, warm Adriatic seas, varied riding + Nove Colli Granfondo.
The Emilia Romagna region has become very well known within Italian cycling thanks to the boom of hotels that opened their doors to cyclists in the 90s to boost their season and (like all Italians love doing), to show off their slice of Italy. For this to work, the area has to be fantastic for cycling holidays - and this region has the lot, it really does.
Where to stay
The heart of this area and the place to go for cyclists, is Riccione. Here you’ll find a glut of super experienced bike hotels waiting to show you everything they have to offer; you can literally turn up with your cycling kit at the airport and everything else is arranged for you.
Leading the way has always been the Hotel Belvedere and Hotel Dory, both on the Riccione seafront and both with customer service to die for; top quality bike hire, guided rides for all levels, laundry service, pasta on pasta to fuel with and in house spas and masseuses/masseurs. You can basically go and live like a pro for the week!
Emilia Romagna/Riccione cycling routes
The geography and the roads need to be right for this kind of bike hotel model to succeed, but with everything from pan flat coastal rides to hilly rides and historic towns and cities, you can find anything up to 160km rides with 2,800m climbing. These are some of the best biking roads in Italy so you really can have what you want here.
Famous climbs and towns you’ll have seen in the Giro are on your doorstep (San Marino, Carpegna, Monte Nero), as well as the birthplace of Pantani (Cesenatico), and the true home of Valentino Rossi. You can sample a little of everything on good quiet roads, away from main roads and enjoy really getting away from it all as you head into the centre of Italy.
If guided tours aren’t for you, it is very easy to find your own way round and being so popular, the area is full of cyclists and the locals are always only too pleased to help and show off their home.
The food is also a big draw to this area - Parma (parma ham), Reggio (parmigiano parmesan cheese) and Modena (Aceto di Balsamico - balsamic vinegar) are all in Emilia-Romagna!
Every year there is a huge Granfondo here called the Nove Colli (the 9 hills). This might be even bigger than the Maratona, with around 8,000 riders taking on the arduous course. If you like a challenge the cycling hotels in Riccione do packages to include this, taking all the organisation out of your hands. Perfect!
Getting there and away
You can fly to Rimini’s airport, which is just 5 kilometres away from Riccione. The region is also served by Ancona and Bologna airports.
5. Cycling in Tuscany
Sampling the Chianti and Montepulciano wines, riding cypress tree lined roads + the Strade Bianche.
Most Tuscans seem to consider Tuscany the true Italy - and that is not far from the truth, despite it being a huge cliché! Even by Italian standards, cycling is hugely ingrained in Tuscany’s local culture. Famous cyclists such as Paolo Bettini, Alberto Bettoil, Andrea Tafi and Gino Bartali all came from Tuscany and, of course, the region is now hugely famous for its race, the Strade Bianche.
Where to stay
The Strade Bianche has been a big part of bringing cycling in Tuscany back into popular consciousness. The race is based around the city of Siena and is always a stunning spectacle.
However in our mind, the true home of Tuscan cycling would have to be Lucca, where countless pros made their homes in the 90s and 00s, part in thanks to the choice of routes and the ease of making big days. The climbs around here have been training grounds for names like Thomas Dekker, Tyler Hamilton, and Mario Cipollini.
Lucca is also a stunning town to stay in too, surrounded by ancient stone walls and distinctly less touristy than places like Florence and Siena.
Tuscany cycling routes
Despite having some famous cities (Florence, Siena, Pisa etc), Tuscany is a very rural region and the rolling hills of olive plantations and vineyards, mixed in with the terracotta roofed houses, is pretty much picture postcard perfection.
Tuscany bike tours have a mix of everything because it is very easy to get away from it all and get into the remote countryside, whilst also being close to some of the most culturally rich cities in Europe (Florence, Siena, Pisa). The region also boasts a great coastline.
There are quiet roads that can take you cycling through Tuscany to the coast - for example seaside rides as far as the Cinque Terre along the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas - or you can head inland to rolling hills and hilltop towns and villages of the Appenines. There really is something to enjoy for every type of cyclist.
This is also an area rich in gastronomic delights, so for those you really love to experience an area and immerse themselves, there is no shortage of ‘agriturismo’ to visit and sample the wonderful produce of the stunning Tuscan countryside. Pasta isn’t that common in traditional Tuscan cooking - think more of world famous olive oil, local dishes like pappa al pomodoro (tomato soup made with hunks of stale bread), cured hams and beautiful Chianti and Montepulciano wines.
There may not be famous climbs to speak of, but the pros don’t live where the cycling is not good and it really is a special place for the authentic Italian experience.
Getting there and away
Lucca is remarkably close to Pisa airport and you can easily grab a train (around 40 minutes) and train links to other cities such as Florence and Siena are pretty quick.
6. Cycling southern Italy: coastal riding on the Amalfi and Puglia coastlines
Cracking coastal scenery: challenging on the Amalfi Coast, relaxing on the Puglia Coast.
You're right, this is really two picks in one. However, what these two regions have in common is beautiful coastal scenery.
Amalfi coast (Campania)
The most well known area in the south of Italy would have to be the Amalfi Coast. This is the choice for the mountain goats who are never happier than when there are no flat roads in sight at all.
The area is famed for the winding cliff top roads, olive plantations and the most incredible lemons you will ever see. The coastal road around Sorrento (the Nastro Azzurro), is regarded as the most scenic coastal road in Italy and this is not a stretch of the imagination, it really is. On the other side of the peninsula, Positano is perhaps equally as spectacular. The road weaves and twists in and out of rocky coves below steep vine-clad terraces. Far below, deep caves punctuate the cliffs.
Two words of warning though: the roads are steep (don’t come under-geared or as a mountain novice) and extremely busy at Easter and in summer (we’d really avoid riding here then as not only is it crazy hot but the roads heave with traffic).
On the east coast there’s Puglia, which offers a totally different coastal experience. The area is more diverse and inhabited than the west coast, so cycling trips here are more varied with some coastal rides (Lecce, Gallipoli), and an ability to go inland into some rolling hills (don’t miss the cave town of Matera).
The riding is easier in this area (compared with the Amalfi) - it’s the place to cruise and relax. Enjoy yourself at the seaside in Bari, Polignano ar Mare or Monopoli, take in the unique trulli houses and make time for visits to picturesque towns like Ostuni and Alberobello.
Again, spring and autumn is best here, but a lot of accommodation is only open during the true peak months. Bear in mind that the drivers are not always the best in this region and the main roads between the towns are not great if you aren’t experienced with traffic.
Getting there and away
The Amalfi Coast is just to the south of Naples, so Naples airport makes most sense when flying in to this part of the world. By car, it's about 1 hour to Sorrento and 1.5 hours to Positano.
As for Puglia, Bari airport is located at Palese, around five miles to the west of the city. The airport's official name is Aeroporto di Bari Karol Wojtyla.
7. Cycling in Sicily
Giro d'Italia history, Mount Etna and a favourable climate.
While Sicily's road surfaces are not known for their greatness, this minor hardship is outweighed by the island's spectacular landscapes, beaches, history and food. And of course there's the draw of the challenge of riding up Mount Etna! These ensure the island is a very worthy final pick on our list of Italy's best cycling destinations.
Cycling routes in Sicily and southern Italy
Sicily is an up and coming area thanks to visits from the Giro and a few notable cyclists coming from there in recent years (Vincenzo Nibali amongst others). The climb to/around Mount Etna has become a lot more well known and it certainly offers something different to alpine mountains. Thanks to the climate this far south, the 30 kilometre long climbs to the summit are accessible for most of the year too.
Mount Etna is on the eastern side of Sicilty. You can fly to Palermo or Catania (which is closer to Etna). We’d suggest flying into Catania and staying on the outskirts of town to get a good feel of Sicily without being too much out in the sticks. The Etna National Park is to the north and you can also get some rolling coastal roads to the south and Syracuse. Alternatively, Taormina is a pretty town and a tourist favourite that makes a good base.
Getting there and away
The main airports for ease and number of flights would be Bari on the east coast and Naples on the west. Both have rail links down to the coastal towns.
Tips for Cycling routes in Italy
Cycling in Italy is a national sport and nearly every Italian will have a cyclist in the family.
Expect to get hooted by car horns - 99% of the time it is a polite notice from the driver so you know they are there, or some form of encouragement if you are on a climb…..they are passionate so will also shout encouragement at you!
Main coastal roads and main roads between towns are busy, so always try to avoid these if you can.
August and Easter is madness in Italy - but in our experience, late spring and early autumn are magical.
As well as fixed base cycling, it’s worth considering using Italy’s network of long distance cycle routes. In particular, there are a lot of cycle only paths through the Veneto and they can take you all the way into the Dolomites. These are great for making up distance when cycle touring in Italy, to avoid the main roads. Eurovelo 5, 7 and 8 run through Italy and are well marked, 5 and 7 run south-north or north-south and 8 kind of runs east-west across the top.
Take a look at our tips for cycling in Italy, for more on what to expect before you visit.
Cycling holidays and bike tours in Italy
Many satellite tour operators offer trips in Italy, whether centre based or place to place tours and they will take a lot of the hassle out of the organisation (especially getting into the mountains from the airports).
Alternatively, if you do a quick google search, you’ll find that most towns in Italy will have a cycling club. These guys will know the real gems, the quiet roads, the hidden secrets and little-known best cycling routes in Italy.
Italy also has a franchise that cycling-friendly hotels can be part of. It’s called Italy Bike Hotels and they can take part if they meet certain criteria (laundry, safe bike room, guides, mechanic etc). These are dotted all over Italy and they are always very accommodating for cyclists, so do check out their map of hotels as they will be used to the idiosyncrasies of cyclists!
Cycling events in Italy
The biggest pro cycling event in Italy is of course the Giro d’Italia, followed swiftly by the Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Il Lombardia.
For amateurs, there are chances to take part in granfondos linked to these pro races - but there are a lot of other sportives and granfondos too. Here are some of the biggest, together with the time of year they’re usually held:
March: Strade Bianche (184km)
May: Giro d’Italia (various distances)
June: Stelvio Santini (various distances), Milan San Remo (300km)
July: Maratona dles Dolomites (138km)
October: Il Lombardia (245km)
November: L’Eroica (209km)
Tell us your experiences!
We hope this article has provided a useful overview of cycling in Italy - but let us know your experiences and favourite regions in the comments below!
If you want more information on cycling in the Stelvio region and the Dolomites, don’t miss our in-depth content on these regions. Our Stelvio cycling guides can all be found here and our Dolomites cycling guides here.
Alternatively, head to our main destinations page for guides to all the best cycling destinations in Europe and beyond.