Following on from my recent trip to Piedmont, the next route took me eastwards from Pavia to Mantua (170km) along the mainly-asphalted ciclovia del po, which hugs Italy’s longest river, the mighty Po. This is a popular cycling route with many albergabici, which are registered cycle-friendly hotels / agriculturismo B&Bs. For the more adventurous explorers, camp sites are available throughout the route.
The route is a small part of a much larger Pan-European route #8 of the Eurovelo cycling network stretching from southern Spain to Greece. The Italian portion of the route is on course to being upgraded via the VENTO (Venice-Torino) project. More details are available on the VENTO website (also in English).
Pavia is a lovely university town on the banks of the Ticino river, easily reached from Milan via the Naviglio Pavense. This time I didn’t stay very long as I had much ground to cover in a short period.
Students enjoy a break on the banks of the Ticino close to the Ponte Coperta
By accident, quite early on, I discovered another walking/cycling path which I naturally diverged onto, even if the route was slightly longer since the journey is more important than the destination. The path is known as Via Francigena (meaning ‘Road from France’) and is an ancient pilgrim’s path from Canterbury to Rome. A brief history of the route is available here.
The river Po can be seen in the background
The path is easy to follow, although I didn’t stay on it for very long as it soon headed due south towards Rome.
Unsurprisingly, many beautiful churches and shrines were built along the route.
Ciclovia del Po – a high-quality cycling infrastructure
The first major city I reached after Pavia was Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Church in PIazza Cavalli
Piazza Cavalli is Piaceza’s main square. It is named ("Cavalli" means "horses") for the two bronze equestrian monuments of Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma (r. 1586-), nephew and valiant general of Philip II of Spain) and his son Ranuccio I Farnese
Church of Sant'Antonino, patron of Piacenza.
I crossed back into Lombardy and 30km of rice fields later, I reached the next major city of Cremona with its rich musical heritage.
The Cathedral and the Baptistery of Cremona. At 112.7 metres (343 ft 6 in), it is the third tallest brickwork bell tower in the world
Since the 16th century, Cremona has a distinguished musical history as it became renowned as a centre of musical instrument manufacture and in particular, violins.
The candy above is Torrone and is typical of the city. It is made with toasted almonds, honey and other ingredients including egg whites.
Despite the soaring heat, the next stretch (40km) of the route was fantastic, consisting of endless fields of wheat & corn.
Luckily, as these fields were being constantly watered with giant hoses, I managed to steer by bike in the right place to cool down.
Seniors play scopa, a popular Italian card game
Sabbioneta is a UNESCO World Heritage city and should be a definite stop on anybody’s itinerary, especially if you are like me a lover of the PC games Civilization & SimCity, since the city represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city. Typically, Mantua’s layout is irregular with regular parts showing different stages of its growth since the Roman period and
includes many medieval edifices among them an 11th century rotunda and a Baroque theatre
Gallery of the Ancients
Piazza Ducale, hub of public activity
The Teatro all'antica ("Theatre in the style of the ancients") was the first free-standing, purpose-built theatre in the modern world.
Chiesa della Beata Vergine Incoronata (16th century)
Inside the church, as beautiful as the Sistine Chapel without the crowds!
After three days of hard cycling in the heat, I was happy to reach Mantova. A mandatory gelato cool down later, I explored this beautiful renaissance city which is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Piazza Ducale and the Duomo
The Ducal Palace was built between the 14th and the 17th century mainly by the noble family of Gonzaga as their royal residence in the capital of their Duchy.
Typical of Mantova, I savoured the Mostarda di Frutta, a delicious syrup made of made from small, sour & spicy green apples called mele Campanine. The Guardian newspaper goes into more details on how it’s made, although it’s slightly different as it’s from Cremona. It’s often eaten with a type of bread made with pig fat and a popular sweet during Christmas time.
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