Extraordinary times call for extraordinary adventures! We are cycling from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to Venice, in Italy, without any motorized support. Why? Firstly, as a Dutch-Italian couple who saw the misunderstanding between the Dutch and the Italian governments rise during the pandemic, we want to create an ideal bridge between the two countries in days in which stereotypes, prejudices and misinformation on both sides undermine relationships and hamper European-wide solidarity. Secondly, we want to show the beauty of slow (and green) traveling—a type of traveling that offers the possibility of knitting friendships along the way.
Who are we? We are a Dutch-Italian couple based in Amsterdam. Both academics, we work for the University of Amsterdam. To travel in style, this trip is sponsored by Terre Lente, a Jordaan-based shop specialized in organic and slavery-free products from small-scale farms in Calabria in southern Italy. You can also follow our adventure on Instagram (@stefonalgonquin) and Twitter (@annliffey and @JoelvdWeele)… and of course on Strava (where you can find the cycling maps, too).
[ITA] Tempi straordinari richiamano avventure straordinarie! Pedaleremo da Amsterdam a Venezia senza alcun supporto motorizzato. Perché? Oltre alla nostra passione per la bicicletta, ci sono anche due ragioni ben più serie. In primo luogo, come coppia italo-olandese che ha visto sorgere l’incomprensione tra governo olandese e italiano durante la pandemia, vogliamo creare un ponte ideale tra i due paesi in giorni difficili in cui stereotipi, pregiudizi e disinformazione da entrambe le parti minano la relazione tra i due paesi e, per di più, mettono a dura prova la solidarietà all’interno dell’Unione Europea. In secondo luogo, vogliamo (di)mostrare la bellezza del viaggio lento (e amico dell’ambiente): un tipo di viaggio che inoltre offre la possibilità di tessere relazioni lungo il percorso.
[NL] Buitengewone tijden vragen om buitengewone avonturen! We fietsen van Amsterdam, Nederland naar Venetië, in Italië, zonder enige gemotoriseerde ondersteuning. Waarom? Naast onze liefde voor de fiets zijn er twee, serieuzere redenen. Ten eerste willen we als Nederlands-Italiaans echtpaar dat tijdens de pandemie het misverstand tussen het Nederlandse en Italiaanse bestuur zag toenemen, een brug slaan tussen beide landen. Dit is van beland in tijden waarin stereotypen, vooroordelen en desinformatie aan beide kanten de relatie tussen de twee landen en, meer nog, solidariteit in heel Europa ondermijnen. We willen dat onze twee landen vrede sluiten! Ten tweede willen we de schoonheid van langzaam (en groen) reizen laten zien – een soort reizen dat de mogelijkheid biedt om onderweg vriendschappen te sluiten.
Finally, the start of our adventure! We cycled the 120K between Amsterdam and Oosterbeek with wind in the back and criss-crossing amazing natural areas, including sand dunes and riverine banks. You gotta love the Dutch network of cycling paths! We stopped in Driebergen for a pancake lunch (so very Dutch!) with Joël’s dad, and concluded the evening at Joël’s mum with a birthday celebration and a pizza in the garden. Bliss!
A very pleasant cycling day along the rivers Rhine and Maas with wind in the back all day. The highlight was the spectacular Millingerwaard, an ecologically restored riverine landscape. And lunch: we cooked a risotto al limone looking at a herd of happy cows running on the other side of the canal.
We took off from Venlo, our last Dutch stop, along the river Maas, cycling for the first 15km in a solitary bike lane, until we crossed the waters at Kessel. On the other side, we enjoyed a last piece of local Limburg pie (“vlaai”) and continued along the small Ruhr river, in a plethora of small and less small gravel paths. We cook lunch by a lake with no name while a black swan swam by. It was a lovely day, but Joël enjoyed it more (for this trip he rides a gravel bike, whereas Stefi only sports thicker tires on her race bike). Covered in dust from head to toes, we landed in the weird town of Düren, our first stop in Germany.
Todays’ 93K at first took us through relatively boring agricultural landscape: endless crop fields, yellow wheat, green told corn, and many thirsty beat fields. Against the pale blue sky, the countryside felt dusty and anonymous. Things changed after the small village of Lüftelberg, where we had lunch… to then continue along the beautiful Kottenforst forest, the first hills and more castles… until the long descent that finally took us to the mighty Rhine river. The last bit was a 20K refreshing ride along the waters, enveloped by green hills on both side, until our stop in Bad Breisig.
Beautiful and hot day cycling along the Rhine river, with remarkably bad roads in what is one of Germany’s top cycling routes. Among the highlights, we visited Koblenz, where we had lunch, and the Deutsches Eck.
Other cute towns along the way included Boppard, St. Goar and Bacharach. We even took a refreshing swim in the Rhine! We stayed in a exquisitely designed room in a weird hotel in a weird town.
Great ride with a lot of wheat west of the Rhine and a lot of wineries east of it. Lots of different landscapes and good-looking towns, including Schwanheim.
We crossed the Rhine in Nierstein (the last boat crossing of our tour) and continued on the other side until we encountered the Neckar. We took a detour to visit Weinheim, and truly enjoyed the last 18K down to Heidelberg, which reminded us of our beloved Florentine hills. Now a rest day in Heidelberg.
So far the most beautiful stage of our trip! We cycled along the silent Neckar river, enveloped between green hills dotted with remarkable castles from yesteryear. It was also the first rainy day since we left Amsterdam, which combined with a good portion of gravel roads, translated in mud, on the path, the bikes and ourselves.
We stopped to let the rain pass in Hirschhorn, a remarkable well-preserved medieval village with its own castle up the hill. Later we switched allegiance to a new (smaller) river named Kocher. We cycled by beautiful Bad Winpfen and Neuenstadt am Kocher. We took a small detour to visit Milanweg 🙂 We lunched in a dug-out in a football field, countesy of SV Germania Obrigheim, also to escape the rain. Which eventually caught up with Stefi in the last bit of the trip.
Peaceful stage with hardly any traffic except a few fellow cyclists. We began the day with sun, yoga and an outdoor self-cooked breakfast, to jump on the bike and follow a bike path along the river Kocher which used to be a train track. We stopped for a cake in the quaint village of Forchtenberg, sitting on a hill by the river. The rest of the ride was a succession of cute villages seemingly with no inhabitants, farmland, forests, and sunflowers. Every now and then a castle would pop up at the top of a hill. A deer crossed our paths, and we encountered five storks walking in the grass. The road itself, however, was a rollercoaster of ups and down, with sudden variations in elevation, good for interval training but particularly tiring in day with 30C and head wind. We were even left without drinking water, which led us to raid a local supermarket close to our destination. Ellwangen, despite its scary witch hunting track record in the 17th century, is today a cute village of many churches, an imposing castle up the hill and a stretch of pastel-painted houses.
We left Ellwangen behind along small countryside cycling paths following the course of the Jagst. After 16K came the first climb of the day, under a fierce sun and along a badly damaged road. We were however rewarded by the magnificent castle of Kapfenburg sitting on top of the hill and the wide view over the countryside below. We continued to the village of Neresheim, with a long stretch of lonely “strade bianche” between thick forest and open fields–a magical, silent place–and its beautiful convent over the hill. After some more gravel, we got to the small but strategically placed Härtsfeldsee, where we took a refreshing dip to then continue to Dillingen an der Donau, encountering yet another grand European river: the Danube. En route to Augsburg, between gravel roads, creepy forests, and yellow fields, we were interrupted by a torrential rain. Eventually Augsburg welcomed us with its historical city centre and … an amazing, much deserved pizza!
We took off rather late in order to do some cultural tourism in the Altstadt of Augsburg, with its impressive Dome, the Rathaus and the Fuggerei, the first social housing project in the world, dating back to 1521. The course today, the shortest so far!, was rather dull, criss-crossing infinite crop fields, and most roads were sadly shared with cars. The many “saliscendi” and a sizeable portion of gravel roads, however, added some spice. Eventually we got to the Ammersee for a dip and a nap in the late afternoon son. After dining in the village of Dißen, we take off to our final destination: a countryside home with a lively folk music concert and many people enjoying beers in the garden. And ten storks sitting over the roof of the village church.
Leisurely stroll up and down along rivers and countryside villages dotted with ancient churches and farms spread between the houses (very 1950s). This was our rest day! Lots of beautiful gravel roads slowly climbing up the mountain (the highlight was the one along the Loisach all the way to the first houses of Garmisch) and surrounded by green lawns and happy cows… and even a large group of storks! … And finally the mountains <3 We encountered a couple of cute villages with pastel houses, which we briefly visited: Weilheim in Oberbayern and Murnau am Staffelsee. We cycled by the placid Riegsee, and could not resist taking a swim and cooking our lunch, until we went told we were on private ground. We made it to Garmisch in time for a very loaded laundry machine of our bike clothes.
Sweltering day for our first mountain stage, with temperature of over 30C and off-the-roof humidity. We crossed into Austria at Buchener Höhe and followed into the Inntal (valley of the Inn), surrounded by imposing mountains and dominated by the tumultuous Inn river running into the city of Innsbruck. Unfortunate features of the Inntal are the noisy highway that runs along it, and the sometimes absurd twists and climbs in the bike lane (up to 18%) making it the hardest stage so far. Highlight of the day was the South Tyrolean lunch overlooking the Inntal, followed by a restorative Kneipp foot bath into the forest.
We continued following the the Inn river up and down a beautiful bike lane with some nasty climbs, passing villages with exciting names like Prutz and Pfunds. We were slowly climbing as did the temperatures! The bike lane often turned into gravel, which however meant much welcome shady forest surroundings. The highlights of this first part were the canyon cut by the Inn and the incredible Altfinstermünz, an ancient fortress/bridge/castle that crossed both the Inn and the Austrian/Swiss border. After that, it was serious business, with the climb from the riverbed to the main road (MTB ground and elevation) and the arrival in Martina, in Switzerland, with the first border of this European trip. From there the climb to the Rechenpaß (Passo di Resia) officially started: eleven irregular hairpins literally under the scorching sun. How welcome was the self-cook lunch in Nauders, opening an internal, green valley leading to the actual pass–two climbs later. The pass welcomed us with an abandoned border station, an Italian flag and … an extra climb, as the pass for cyclists is at 1510 mt (and not 1455 mt like for cars). Italy here we are! The Venosta valley showed all its beauty with the snowy peak of the Ortles and the lakes of Resia (and its submerged village of Curon, a sad story of infrastructure and fascist oppression) and St Valentin, which we circumnavigated on a great bike lake going, for a change, very up and down! What follow was a long discount to Mals, crossing various villages dotted with flowers, fountains, castles and small churches.
Today’s stage was a combination of the Vinschgau (to Meran/Merano) and the Südtiroler Weinstraße (to Auer/Ora). The two distinctive features of the day were the billions of apples seemingly catering to the entire planet demand and the sticky heat of the valley, made only worse by the heavy rainfall of the night before. We took off from Mals/Malles, with its many churches and the view of the snowy tip of the Ortles (3905 mt), to cycle to Glurns/Glorenza, a well-preserved walled town. We continued along the Adige river, which kept us company for the whole day, on the remarkably good bike lane of Val Venosta, well organized, signposted and serviced. We saw many castles on the hills, steep funiculars, the weird marble and aqueduct infrastructures of Lasa, and stopped in historical Meran for lunch. We continued climbing up to the wineries of Nals and Kaltern/Caldaro to descend to its peaceful although seemingly unaccessible lake all the way to Auer/Ora, where we stopped for the night.
Reinforced by Stefi’s cousin Andrea, who surprised us by showing up along the Adige, we cycled to Trento, following the Adige and surrounded by… more apple trees. After a delicious lunch in Trento, we set off for the last 20K of the day: a steep climb up to the Valsugana under the pouring rain. So far for our plans for an afternoon at the lake! We got to our final stop, Caldonazzo, soaked wet. We however managed to conclude the day in high spirits with a wonderful dinner in a local “agriturismo”.