The #RoadsFromRome – Crossing The Continent. Connecting Capitals. Creating Memories.

What is life if not a daring adventure? A chance to discover new roads, new places, new challenges, and to meet with friends old and new.

From the hills and vineyards of Tuscany, through the mountains and lakes of the Dolomites and Austrian Alps; then onwards to the deep forests of The Black Forest, The Ardennes, and out onto the flatlands of The Netherlands. The #RoadsFromRome crossed The Continent, in a diverse and beautiful journey of discovery.

It began in the midst of a thunderstorm, in the arrivals hall in Rome airport. I built the bike surrounded by families returning home from adventures of their own. Mine was just about to begin.

After a night in a monastery in the centre of Rome, I set out the next morning in earnest; eager to begin the great ride northwards. Before long I was into the hills of Tuscany, with the sun beating down, and temperatures in the high thirties. The Via Francigena weaved its way northwards, along quiet back roads and empty sections of famous Strade Bianche. Day 1 finished camped high in the Toscana hills, with spaghetti Bolognese for supper.

The second day began with Sienna; the ancient city of cobbled streets and church towers, perched high on the hillside. I stopped for coffee in the piazza before continuing the northwards push in the rising heat. By late afternoon it was sauna-like as I approached the Mediterranean coast, and took on the beautiful but brutal single-track climb of Prato di Calci. I was thankful to finish the day in the cool of the hills just north of Lucca, having washed the salt from my limbs and jersey at a village fountain.

Route planning is a strange thing: you do it sat behind a desk, maps sprawled on the floor; looking for the quietest and most interesting roads you can find. You have no idea how you will feel on the day you need to ride it, but the romantic in you will often choose the 'road less travelled', and more often than not the "little wiggly one through the mountains". The morning of my third day in the saddle was a case in point…

Heading deeper into the hills north of Lucca, I soon reached the climb of San Pellegrino. There are two routes up this climb: the newer road is 10 kilometres longer, and far more gradual; the older road is a single-track 'wiggler' that averages 10 percent for over 13 kilometres. It was beautiful, but my average speed for two hours was below seven kilometres per hour. Ouch. Fortunately the descent the other side also went on for hours, and by nightfall I was close to the city of Mantau, in the flatlands of Lombardy. A JetBoil supper camped on the edge of a sweetcorn field.

The fourth full day in Italy signalled a dramatic change in scenery, and one I had been excited for since leaving Rome. Mountains…

Starting on the bike paths of Lombardy, I headed up the west side of Lake Garda, and then into the mountains proper. The day was a constant rise from the flatlands, but the main climb of the day came in the late afternoon – the Madonna di Campiglio. It was a magnificent climb in the setting sun, and a moment of pure elation as I felt myself entering my favourite mountain range in Europe – the Dolomites. I set up camp on the other side of the pass, behind a deserted forestry lodge; the cool mountain air and peaceful nature were a welcome contrast to the heat and bustle of the northern plains.

By Day 5 I was in need of a good shower, rest, and some proper food. Fortunately those all came in abundance over the following 24 hours. The day started with a deserted climb into the Val d'Ultimo, and then a long and swooping descent to Lana, before heading onwards to Merano. The South Tyrolean town is one of my favourite places in the world, and not least because it is home to the beautiful Hotel Terme; here I enjoyed an afternoon in their exquisite Sky Spa, followed by a five-course meal, and then a ten-hour sleep.

I had intended to spend another whole day in the town of Merano, but the family I had hoped to visit there were away, and with the weather in the Austrian Alps set to deteriorate later in the week I made the call to take off sooner than planned.

My sixth day in the saddle was a highlight – as close to perfection as I could imagine. It started from the comfort of Hotel Terme, where I enjoyed a tremendous breakfast before loading up my bags and hitting the road. I headed northeast up the long winding valley towards the foot of Timmelsjoch (a.k.a. Passo Rombo).

Timmelsjoch was magical: tough, but spectacular. The hairpins laced on the mountainside, and the sun beating down through an azure blue sky. The rest and relaxation of my one night hotel stopover had added fresh vigour to my body and mind, and the slopes of the 2509 metre mountain felt easier than many of the preceding smaller climbs of the week before. At the summit I crossed into Austria, a new country for me on a bike tour.

Austrian Tirol began with a three-hour descent – you can't complain about that. Then, after sampling one of their fine coffees, I started my second major mountain of the day – Hahntennjoch. This climb was a stark but stunning contrast to the ascent of Timmelsjoch; the tiny single-track road heads up through vast scree slopes, and was populated by just five other vehicles for the entire hour it took to climb. I reached the summit in the early evening, and descended down to find a beautiful wild camp set just above a road tunnel, overlooking the mountain peaks.

I had intended to allow my early departure from Merano to give me an extra day to get through the mountains, and onwards to my sister's house in the Black Forest. With the weather set to deteriorate though, I decided to push on and reach a warm bed. Day seven was consequently the longest of the trip so far.

I descended out of Austria, through pastures and down mile upon mile of hairpins. The two climbs of Hochtannberg Pass and Bödele Losenpass provided enough of a challenge for the fatigued legs. Then I was onto Lake Konstanz, and up the north shoreline on a fast and flat bike path. By 6pm I had reached the northern tip of the Lake, but still had 60 kilometres left to ride to reach Villingen; a petrol station coffee and a packet of Lidl's finest doughnuts provided fuel for the ride – I was into Germany now, after all. By the time I rolled up to my sister's front door I had ridden through the forecast thunderstorms for two hours; it was pitch black, 9pm, and I had 245 kilometres on the dial; that warm shower, hug, and cooked dinner never felt so special.

My fast progress had afforded me two complete rest days with my sister and her newly born nephew. We talked, walked, drank coffee, and ate well. By the time Day 8 of the #RoadsFromRome dawned, my legs had recovered enough to face the journey northwards to The Netherlands.

Through the Black Forest – that's not flat. Over the River Rhine, and then into the national parks of West Germany – those are not flat, either.

My route through Germany was certainly the 'Road Less Travelled', and sometimes I cursed my decision to route myself over the tiny roads and bike paths; but on equal count I relished the deserted stretches of tarmac, stunning views of river valleys, and long twisting descents.

After two long days in the hills, I passed the Nürburgring Race Track, and that signalled the start of a very long descent all the way to Holland. I finished Day 9 with my final wild camp of the trip, and then on the morning of Day 10 crossed the border.

My introduction to riding in The Netherlands began with a coffee and stroopwafel celebration – a good start by any measure. Then it was over bridges, down bike paths, and along dykes; looking out over the fields full of agriculture and grazing cattle.

I finished Day 10 with my cousins in Veenendaal, and enjoyed a fantastic Dutch meal with them, accompanied by laughs and smiles, as we caught up on many great memories.

The following day I had another perfect rest day: featuring walks in the forest, a ride with my cousins for coffee and cake, and a superb sushi dinner. I have so much in common with my Dutch family; it is always so special to get to spend time with them, especially after some long and sometimes lonely days up through Germany.

The eleventh day of the #RoadsFromRome began with a relaxed breakfast, coffee, and apfel cake with my cousins. You can never have too much coffee and cake. All too soon though, it was time to get the pedals turning again; target – Hoek Van Holland, and the overnight ferry back to the UK.

I had thought the 140 kilometres through the northern Netherlands might have been dull, but it turned out to be a beautiful day on the bike. It was flat – that was predictable; but it was scenic and special. Past windmills, through forests, and between the giant greenhouses of the vast growing region; it was a completely new scene to ride through once again; so different from any of the preceding three countries that the tour had taken in so far.

On reaching the coast, I rode out to the end of the pier at Hoek Van Holland – I had come to the end of this Continental road – The North Sea. I sat on the sea wall and took in what this landmark meant ¬– over 2000 kilometres from the Mediterranean; through vineyards, past lakes, over mountains, across forests, and along dykes. What a journey. So many memories: times of challenge, struggle, elation, and love.

I boarded the Stena Lines ferry, made myself at home in a luxury cabin, and headed to dinner to celebrate.

In the morning I woke at 04:30, for the final day of the ride. A big breakfast at the ship's buffet, and then I was out onto the roads of Essex – 270 kilometres to cover to reach Portsmouth. It was always going to be a huge final day.

From the sleepy villages of Essex, my route took my straight through the centre of London: from the East London districts of Rotherham and Brentwood, along the South Bank, and then out into Richmond Park and Surrey. The contrasting cultures as always create interesting viewing from the saddle of a bicycle.

Out into the Surrey 'Molehills', and my legs began to wane. I usually joke that these small single-track roads are barely registered climbs; but on this day, I felt every one. By the time I reached the familiar hills of Hampshire, in the setting sunlight, I was crawling. Eating Dutch energy supplies at a rate of knots, I managed to keep enough stamina to summit the top of Portsdown Hill, and look out over the Isle of Wight in the distance… Home.

As I descended down that final hill, and along the recognisable roads of Portsmouth to the ferry home, the memories of the preceding two weeks came flooding back…

A journey of discovery in so many ways: across a continent, from sea to sea: a line drawn on a map, and memories that will last a lifetime.

The #RoadsFromRome complete.

Final Numbers

  • Total Distance Travelled - 2408 kilometres (1500 miles)
  • Total Elevation Climbed - 35,043 metres
  • Total Riding Time - 109 hours
  • Total Full Days - 12
  • Bike Weight - 26 kilograms (with full water bottles and food supplies)
  • Rider Weight Pre-Tour - 69.3 kilograms
  • Rider Weight Post-Tour - 64.4 kilograms

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