It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amazing number of travel opportunities available to explore Italy. Some people enjoy the ease of being part of an organized tour led by an enthusiastic leader. Others want to have the freedom to set their own itinerary and pace. A Barge and Bike tour of Italy gives the freedom to explore on your own within scheduled destinations. Don’t forget, burning calories while riding bikes allows you to enjoy guilt-free Italian gelato!
Biking and Barging Along the Po River
As frequent, independent travelers, my husband and I understand the hours it takes to scour guidebooks and the internet to plan a trip overseas. That’s why I declared, “Our next European trip will be on a tour where I don’t have to do so much planning!”
Then I started worrying that we’d get frustrated following a tour leader from place to place. Luckily, our barge and bike tour of Italy with Girolibero Cycling Holidays proved to be the perfect combination of freedom and tour guidance. This eight-day cycling trip from UNESCO-designated Mantua to Venice in the Veneto region gave us an easy-going, culturally rich experience that included free time and exercise.
Our Floating Hotel on the Ave Maria
When we first heard “Italy bike and barge tour”, we thought we’d be shoveling coal on a rusty, dusty clunker of a barge. Not on this tour! The Ave Maria barge was totally modernized in 2011 with many characteristics of a small cruise ship that would sail through the Mediterranean. The barge is environmentally friendly by running on either diesel or electricity. All cabins have windows and air conditioning. Our bed and bathroom had everything we needed to enjoy our floating hotel where we didn’t need to pack and unpack. We looked forward to the creative snacks waiting for us on the top sundeck each day at the end of our ride, as well as the authentic Italian meals served in the barge restaurant.
Hop on Your Bike and Go!
Each morning, the hard-working crew set up our quality road bikes on the shore. My only job consisted of looking for the bright green ribbon attached to my handlebar to distinguish my bike from the 29 others. Even though the route ran alongside the Po River and other flat areas, Allan and I opted for e-bikes. We certainly weren’t riding over the Alps, but why struggle going up occasional rolling hills when the e-bike helped us glide effortlessly to the top? Think of it as an angel pushing your back!
Most days our route covered about 45km. Sound daunting? Even if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, the distance is manageable. On a typical day, we’d ride 10km, then stop in a quaint town to look at their historic church and a museum. After another 10km or so, it was time for a coffee break at a tiny café filled with the town’s elderly patriarchs. After another 10km, we visited a local cheese factory and sampled their famous Grana Padano. (Where I learned that evidently, I was eating cheese incorrectly all my life. They taught us to take a hunk of cheese and top it with honey.) With this leisurely schedule, the mileage never played a factor.
More Than Spaghetti and Pizza
A highlight of each evening happened right before dinner. After a long day of biking, our group was ready to eat! Sitting at a linen covered table with fine china and sparkling wine glasses, the young chef would give us a run-down on the evening’s menu, featuring regional cuisine. In his cute Italian accent, he’d announce, “Our appetizer is a carrot soup with feta and paprika, followed by Risotto, fresh asparagus drizzled with olive oil from local olive groves accompanied with freshly caught fish. Dessert is panna cotta with basil and lemon crème.”
Then the assistant chef, (with an equally cute Italian accent) would explain which wine pairs best with that meal, suggesting for example, a Barolo or Dolcetto. One evening the barge stopped in front of a large outdoor barbeque and the chef grilled the entire meal. His La Grigliata menu included three types of meat, four assorted vegetables and even grilled polenta. Only thing not grilled was his homemade tiramisu! After breakfast the crew set out warm rolls, lunch meats, cheese, fruit and cookies. We loved packing our own lunch. Those sandwiches tasted amazing as we sat in the Italian countryside, surrounded by century old barns and historic buildings.
Will an Organized Tour Cramp my Style?
Girolibero’s Barge and Bike tour gives you the option of riding alone or with the group. Several people took the highly detailed route map and headed out at their own pace. For this trip, we decided to stay with the group and not worry about which path to take. The majority of the route took us on designated bike paths, past natural and cultural highlights. Who would think we’d bike past a lagoon surrounded by flamingos?
I loved not having to worry about speeding cars driving next to me and pedaling with a group has definite advantages. Our trusty tour operator led the way so we never had to worry about getting lost. When someone got a flat tire, once again the tour leader came to the rescue for a quick tire change. On several occasions, we’d meet up with a local tour guide who gave us behind the scenes tours of museums, factories and some quirky back streets in Venice.
Often our tour leader would give us an overview of the city and then say, “Go explore Ferrara on your own for two hours. Just be back on the barge by 5:00 p.m. before it takes off!” Some people went shopping, others checked out a museum and we sampled cannolis! Whether you decide on traveling independently or with a barge and bike group, check out these tips for traveling in Italy.
Barge and Bike has Something for Everyone
Taking a barge and bike tour of Italy allows for people to have flexibility in what they do. Don’t feel like pedaling? Simply stay on the barge, sit on the sundeck and enjoy that book you brought along as the barge cruises leisurely down the river. Want to have a more challenging cycling tour? Ask the knowledgeable tour leaders how you can take a longer route. Have special dietary requests? Just let the chef know in advance. Several additional bicycle tours are available for families through Girolibero. Those Italy bike tours take place primarily on bike paths and include additional family activities. Family tours on road bikes offer leisurely routes past vineyards and olive groves. Here are some additional tips on European travel with kids.
Girolibero offers a myriad of active, outdoor oriented tours beyond a barge and bike tour. Check out their is more your style. If you want a greater biking challenge, sign up for routes in Austria, Switzerland or cycling tours to Pisa, Lake Garda, Verona and Florence. Maybe a Tuscany bicycle tour from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Those hill towns will get your calf muscles working!
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For my husband and I, this barge and bike tour of Italy was a memorable experience that gave us the opportunity to explore northern Italy and the Po Valley, Chioggia, and Venice without hours of advance planning. We simply rode our bikes past medieval cities, enjoyed renaissance art and slept in comfy beds after eating delicious meals. Now that’s a vacation!