Cycling holidays come in two flavours; either they’re a relaxed touring trip or a training camp – with the focus on doing the miles in sunnier climes. Riccione hotels are attempting to offer a unique blend of the two, by providing hard riding but also with an eye on the other aspects that make a holiday memorable.
Sitting on the north eastern coast of Italy, the surrounding area is a beautiful patchwork of vineyards, cosy villages and cafes serving the finest coffee you’re likely to ever taste. Riccione is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Italy, which explains the huge number of hotels crammed along the main Riviera. Our hotel for the short trip, Perla, is about halfway along the Riviera.
And we mustn’t forget that Marco Pantani, the legendary climber, was born just up the road in Cessana. Pantani used to train all around the area, on the very same roads and climbs you’ll get the chance to ride on this holiday – to say we were excited about this prospect was an understatement.
The Riccione Bike Hotels is a group of 15 hotels, working together to promote Riccione to European cyclists. It’s quite novel for companies to work together for a greater good, and it’s for this reason they’ve received many accolades. They all provide a fully equipped workshop, changing rooms, vehicle support and loads more.
We headed out for just a couple of days in early March to see what it was all about, and at the same time cover the first stage of the Coppi e Bartali stage race. As we only had the two days for riding, we were going to have to pack the miles in, and we certainly did, topping a couple of hundred kilometres in all.
Day by day account
Day 1 – 110km – climbing, climbs and more climbing
Before we start, we should talk a little about the bikes. We and others were loaned some Fondriest bikes, and were all reasonably set up with campag gears. We were only here for a couple of days, so there wasn’t much point in bringing our own bikes, but if you’re going for longer we’d advise bringing your own steed. The loan bikes were fine, but there’s nothing like being at home on your bike.
The first group consisted of about 30 riders, mostly Americans who certainly weren’t hanging around. We took it very easy to begin with, the guide giving us a chance to warm up before we reached the hills some miles inland of the coast. The pace was surprisingly high from the start, it has to be said. Just one guide with no one covering the back of the bunch put the pressure on each rider to keep up with the bunch, heavens knows what would happen if you didn’t have the legs for this pace.
Into the hills and it becomes apparent that there won’t be anyone taking it easy, the bunch has just completely fallen apart. We’re heading south today, following the coast towards Pesaro, the next large town along the road. It’s a very scenic route, passing through idyllic villages and teeny farms with the odd cow and sheep grazing the lush green grass. No time for taking this all in though, the riders are pushing the pace hard and it’s everything we can do to just hold on.
Once reaching Pesaro, the rest of the ride would be mostly flat, aside a couple lumps along the way, but the pace high, about 22/23mph. It was certainly a relief to get back to the hotel, where the other group had recently returned just before us. Dumping the bikes, it was into the shower then back down for lunch. The hotels know how to do food, and lay on an impressive buffet. It’s just as well really, as Riccione is like a ghost town at this time of year and there isn’t much in the way of food when you venture out of the hotel. We did find one nice café in the centre of town, though a 20min walk for tired legs. And don’t mention the word vegetarian in Italy, it’s not a word they’re familiar with. It’s a similar deal at lunchtime, though a little exploring will reveal some nice pizza restaurants, and boy do they know how to make pizza.
Day 2 – around 90km – slightly more sedate climbing…
Our legs were certainly tired from the first hard day of riding, we should really be warming up and taking it easy, but as we’re only here two days it’s hard and fast the whole way. Today’s plan is to head to San Marino, just up the coast and about 20miles inland of Rimini. The climbing on offer was going to be a lot tougher than the first days, so the guides split the groups up. Even so, the two groups didn’t quite cater for the different abilities, and different intentions, of all the riders. We wanted to take it a bit more gently, stop for coffees and grab some photos of the stunning landscape we were blurring through.
But the ride and guiding only seemed to be catering for those desiring hard training, so in the end we had to say to everyone, we’ll do our own thing. We had a map, and so cruised around the countryside at our own pace. We learned after the ride that the hotel offers a GPS system; this would be a good option for people wanting to take it at their own pace. The map provided was excellent though, something to come out of the partnership of these hotels was an excellent setup of graded routes, all on quieter roads where possible and cater for all abilities – we wish we had known about this earlier.
Day 3 – the Final day
The final day of our trip was set aside to watch the Coppi e Bartali stage race, well the opening two stages anyway. You can read about that race right here. Briefly though, it’s great to combine some hard enjoyable riding with some pro action, and despite the weather, was a real highlight of the three days.
We were disappointed with the lack of anything to do when off the bike, Riccione, as any seaside town in winter, was virtually shut down, so entertainment in the evenings was severely lacking.
However, Riccione Hotels have a good setup right on the coastline, which if the weather had been slightly more favourable would have offered fantastic beaches to lounge on in the afternoons. The hotels are all nicely decorated, and offer pretty much everything you’d expect from a three star hotel. The food was good, particularly the help yourself salad buffet laid out every lunch and dinnertime. Not so good is if you’re a vegetarian, our waitress was stumped to say the least when we requested a meal with no meat but always managed to produce something of a tasty alternative in the end. So, overall, a fantastic place to ride with lovely accommodation in a historical setting – maybe not the best choice for those desiring a buzzing nightlife, but leaves no distractions (or hangovers) for the ride the next morning.
Interested in some Italian flavoured cycling? Check out www.riccionebikehotels.it.
And lastly, a big thank you to all the staff in Riccione for looking after us and especially to Ernesto for providing us with all the images for this article.