Before I go on, I must tell you something. Five years ago, we cycled the continent of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. Before that we were on our bikes almost daily and when we went mountain biking, nobody could keep up to us. Boy have things changed.
See our Finding Balance post for thoughts on where we are today.
It was after being in Italy for two weeks that we went cycling in the beautiful Maranello Hills; the rolling green foothills of the Apennines in Emilia Romagna. We had been eating lots of pasta and Parmigiano-Reggiano along with lots of Lambrusco, a delicious Italian sparkling red wine. Sure we had been going for a jog each morning to try to feel less glutinous, but it wasn't quite enough to get us ready for the day that lay ahead.
We met our guide Riccardo in Vignola after a 60 minute train ride from Bologna. He was fit as a fiddle and it only reminded us how our soft life as travel bloggers have transformed our hard bodies into puffy cushions, but that's okay, we were up for the challenge.
Riccardo drove us to Maranello where we picked up our mountain bikes at his shop for the day ahead. Maranello is home to the Ferrari museum and it's a shame that more people don't stay for awhile to see the beauty of the region. Most pop into town, see the museum and head on to the next tourist stop on the list. But you know what? This is a rare gem of Italy that calls for a stay of at least a couple of days.
It is in this town that fruit vendors will saunter over to say hello and offer a fresh peach to enjoy while you rest from the long climb up hill on your bicycle. It's in this town that people ask you where you are from and smile and wave as you pass. It's a part of Italy that looks forward to visitors and is proud to show of the beauty of their community. And we can understand why they are proud, this country is beautiful!
Our first climb outside of Maranello was through a beautiful vineyard. Vineyards are everywhere in Emilia Romagna, it's natural for families to have their own fine wine on hand. My lungs burned as we climbed off road up the steep hill, but when we got to the top, Riccardo pointed out the view and made the slog worth it. He told us that the hills may be short in the Maranello area, but they are certainly steep which makes it all that more painful. There's something about the longer hills that allow the cyclist to get into a rhythm, the repetitive short bursts can be exhausting. And exhausted we were.
But enjoyable it was!
We went up and down and up and down until we reached sanctuary at the Spessano Castle.
Dave and I had never been so happy to see a castle in our lives. When Mario, the caretaker of the building offered a private tour, we heartily accepted. I had never seen Dave ask so many questions! For one reason, we didn't want to have to get back on the bikes to face those hills too soon, but truthfully, it was because the castle was so fascinating.
This castle is worth stopping for and should not be rushed. We've been to a lot of castles, but this one was quite special. It's one of those places that foreign tourists never visit but they should. We had a tour of the rooms and halls and went up secret stairs. We were enthralled with the Sala delle Vedute, a meeting space displaying a panoramic painting of local castles and villages from the Medieval times. We were surrounded by the view of what it was like in these foothills centuries ago. The Spezzano Castle dates back to the 1200's and much of the furniture, art and design is as old as the building itself.
A truly fascinating stop are the prisons in the tower. You could almost feel the angst that those poor souls felt as they were locked up in their tiny cells. Etchings are still visible. Carvings in the walls depict everything from religious drawings to simple lines drawing the amount of days or years that have passed. I can't imagine the complete hopelessness one would feel being thrown into these dungeons.
As we walked higher up the tower, we were invited to sample some of Mario's balsamic Vinegar. If you don't know about traditional balsamic vinegar in Emilia Romagna, read our post explaining all about it. It is truly an art form. True balsamic is aged a minimum of seven years in the finest barrels and it must be tasted and tested by a balsamic master who decides if it is worthy of being bottled. Some of the finest balsamic is aged up to 40 years!
Mario let us taste the balsamic in the barrels and then was kind enough to send us on our way with is very own home made balsamic. Mario is an award winning balsamic master so we are looking forward to tasting it soon. If you find yourself in the Modena/Maranello region of Italy, make sure to visit this castle, and to look up Acetaia del Riccio for balsamic, and say hello to Mario for us!
Back to Biking
We eventually had to get back on our bikes though and the afternoon was much more pleasant as we rode through the rolling hills looking over vineyards and olive groves. It was heavenly. We ate a picnic lunch at one of the coolest phenomenons we've seen recently. The mud volcanoes of The Salse of Nirano have attracted geologists from all over the world.
While their history is fascinating, it is the park built around it that attracts locals to jog and cycle through its trails and boardwalk built around the sight. We were amazed with the amount of people out enjoying the beautiful day in this park. The people of Emilia Romagna certainly know how to live a fine life.
Cycling Italian Style
After cycling, our day ended with aperitivo with our guide from Green Think Adventures Riccardo. Aperitivo is one of our favourite parts of the culture of this part of Italy, when you order drinks at an aperitivo time, you are given food to go with it for free! In this region the food is fine and we sipped our sparkling white wine known as Prosecco, we ate parmigiano-Reggiano drizzled with traditional balsamic. Mmm, I can taste it now.
For more information on cycling Maranello, visit Trekking Italy
For hotels in Montesa visit Hotel Belvedere
Trains from Bologna to Vignola are one hour and cost about 6 Euro booking can be made at Trenitalia.com
For travel to Emilia Romagna, visit Emilia Romagna tourism
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