Via Postumia, Cycling across Italy on a Road Built in 148 BC

The route we are cycling is based on the Via Postumia, which is highlighted in light blue on the map. From it the Romans could get to Rome from Placentia via the Via Aemilia (red) followed by the Via Flaminia (dark blue).

The Via Postumia, an ancient military Roman road, was constructed in 148 BC by the Consul Spurius Postumius Albinus Magnus. It goes across Northern Italy from the coast of Genoa, through the Ligurian Apennine mountains to Dertona, Placentia and Cremona, just east of the point where it crossed the Po river.

Apennines

The Roman conquest of Liguria depended upon this road, and several of the more important towns owed their origin largely to it.

Crossing northern Italy from Genoa to Aquileia, the Via Postumia was also used as a pilgrim route to the Holy Land. Traveling westward, pilgrims could link up with the Camino de Santiago and we have cycled to Genoa along this Camino from Bilbao, which you can see in my previous two posts.

Click for the map of our route from Genoa to Piacenza

Click for the map of our route from Piacenza to Treviso

The Medieval streets of Genoa are narrow and dark

For a video of cycling into Genoa firstly through the heavy traffic then getting lost in the Medieval alleys click Genoa

It was mid October when we set off from Genoa on the start of the Via Postumia. We had been cycling for a month from Bilbao in temperatures between 23 C to 30 C and our first day heading up into the Ligurian Apennines was hot. Then overnight the temperature plummeted down to 10 C with the arrival of a strong northerly headwind, making it feel a lot colder.

It was like a maze cycling through these streets and our Sat Nav had no idea where we were so we saw a lot more of them than we expected.

Leaving Genoa was no mean feat. We quickly left the noisy city, with all the motorbikes and mopeds, behind us as we headed up, straight up, with no bends to ease the climb. In the end we had to resort to walking. But it didn’t matter. For the first time in a week, since we arrived on the Côte d’Azur, we could actually hear birds singing, it was such a relief to be away from all the noise.

We were passed by quite a few young men on ebikes, all wearing full downhill helmets for the steep rocky descent they were about to make. As we went over the top we passed Fort Begate, which looked better outside than in, then headed steeply down on a narrow, windy, deeply rutted road through the woods and passed people searching for fungi. We could see a castle on top of every hill.

On a really steep section we came to a tiny hamlet and realised this was the end of the road. The only way onwards was up some narrow, stone steps and this was where our route took us. They got steeper and more slippery as we pushed the bikes up, but a farmer at the bottom had said it would get easier and he was right. We were still pushing for about 2 km, but it was nice to be able to look around.

The fact our route took us up these steps was a bit of a surprise
The steep access track to many of the village houses
Houses in the steep, pedestrian only village.

We passed quite a few houses whose only access was this steep narrow track. It was straight down on the road after this and time for coffee in the village. There was a second 450 m hill to climb before lunch but we took a short cut halfway up which came out at an amazing family restaurant. So we sat in the shade under the Lime trees and had a relaxing meal before rolling down the hill to San Biagio where we were staying.

One of the many hill villages
Heading down the hairpins to San Biagio

The next day came as a bit of a shock after sweltering in the heat for a month. Initially, while we climbed the steep Ligurian Apennines the cool air was welcome, but after climbing 750 m to Passo Bocchetta there was a howling northerly headwind and it was freezing. Luckily there was a hut there so we quickly changed into full UK winter kit before tipping down the other side. Even so we were both freezing and had to stop in a cafe to warm up.

Definite change in the weather today.
Looking down from Passo Bocchetta
The village of Votaggio where we found a welcome warm cafe
Cycling through Votaggio

We woke the next morning to clear blue skies and a heavy frost, but it had managed to make it up to 8 degrees C by the time we left. We were immediately on a small Piedmontese country lane listening to cocks crowing, donkeys braying and avoiding the odd chicken ambling about in the road. We were climbing again all morning but today the gradient was gentler, as the road builders had discovered hairpins. It really was a perfect day. As we climbed through the woods we heard woodpeckers and saw lots of butterflies and hornets and a two foot long florescent green Lizard ran across in front of us. There were wonderful views and lots of gravel and rocky tracks. This is walking country with paths going off in all directions through the hills.

Setting off towards the hills in the morning
Wonderful views over the Apennines
Some of the tracks had been a bit washed out
A gravel and mud track into Tortona
In Tortona

We had a very strange day cycling from Tortona to Casteggio. Generally the land here is very flat, but the towns and villages, with their churches are generally on the top of very steep hills with the roads going straight up. As the route we are following is not only an old Roman road but also a pilgrim route, if there is a church at the top then that is where the pilgrims went, and therefore our route. I tend to think that the Roman civil engineers probably had more sense and stayed on the flat. Quite a few of these hills were gravel or mud, and it was just sprinkling with rain, enough to make this stick to our wheels and make it hard work. We walked a lot!

Pushing up a steep gravel hill
Vineyards as far as we can see
Village of Monleale Alto
More walking
Volpedo where we stopped for coffee. We saw quite a few of these sundials, generally on churches

Cycling from Casteggio to Rovescala in the Province of Pavia, Lombardy should have been stunning with rolling hills covered in vineyards and distant views. As we were cycling in intermittent light rain and low cloud what we could see was lovely, but a little disappointing. It seemed a very poor area with many of the villages semi deserted with crumbling houses. We discovered later, talking to our host for the night, that the ground here is very unstable which means the houses need constant propping up. The roads too have long wheel sized cracks running along them which required constant vigilance. We stopped off in Poggolio for the best lunch we have had for ages. There was no menu we just ate what we were given, and the chocolate salami was just the best. The food we have been eating is very regional and the ingredients will change suddenly when we cross a regional border.

Vineyards sweeping into the valley
Church appearing out of the mist
The shape of the hillside is quite dramatic, I just wished we could see more than the mist allowed.
Arriving in Rovescala
We were cycling from one hilltop town to the next

It warmed up dramatically the next day, so after the rain we now got fog. We started the day with two very big climbs but then dropped down to a totally flat plain that we stayed on for the rest of the day. This was made more interesting by some gravel tracks and a little single track through the woods and a visit to a diary farm. Piacenza was a big, busy place with an ancient centre.

A foggy morning
Cycling through a dairy farm
Little bit of single track in the woods
A square in Piacenza
Rolling hills

Of course, now we are on the flat Po River flood plain the sun has come out with a lovely blue sky. Most of the way to Cremona we were cycling along the top of high dykes. We were basically following the Po River, but it was a while before we actually saw it as the flood plain is so wide. Centuries ago the Po was more a 24 km wide slow moving bog but now with the land around it drained for farming, and in the past industrial use, the level of the land around the Po has dropped below the river level leaving it Perched.

Statues in the main square in Piacenza
The River Po
Cycling on the dead straight and flat dykes
Cremona
At least this place takes flood defence seriously

It was foggy again to start leaving Cremona, but the sun got through eventually and it quickly went up to 21 C. Although we couldn’t see the Po we could certainly smell its tributaries.

Early morning fog outside Cremona
Up on a dyke I think!
The sun came out and we watched the start of an off-road race.
Cathedral in Casalmaggiore

After a section of small lanes we arrived at the fully walled city of Sabbioneta. Going through the main gate archway we found ourselves cycling on rounded cobbles held in place by loose sand. The town was full of interesting old buildings and narrow alleyways. The 2 main gates to the town were Renaissance-era.

The old walls and Renaissance gate of Sabbioneta
Inside Sabbioneta on the cobbles

Later in the day we found ourselves crossing a river on the Ponte e Barche di Terre d’Oglio, one of only 2 barge bridges left in Italy.

The Ponte de Barche di Terre d’Oglio barge bridge, one of only two left in Italy. Built in 1926, it was bombed during the war and rebuilt.
The barge bridge, uncomfortable to cycle over as all the planks of wood move, especially if a car comes over at the same time.
The were some nice tracks along the Po heading for Mantova
Main square in Mantova
Mantova Cathedral

We had the only heavy rain of the trip leaving Mantova and it had been raining all night. We played puddle dodgems leaving the city but then found ourselves on a lovely cycle track along the river. Because it was raining there was no-one else about so we saw lots of birds on the river such as herons, storks, cormorants, grebes and moorhens. But better than that a very large otter ran across the track just infront of us.

For a video of cycling through bits of Italy please click Italy

Dodging the puddles leaving Mantova
On the cycle track beside the river where we saw the Otter
Approaching Peschiera del Garda
The city gates of Peschiera del Garda
Lake Garda in the fog

As it had been humid all night after the rain yesterday not only was everything including my shoes still wet in the morning, the fog was even thicker. So we never really saw Lake Garda. Lucky we have been here before! We headed up into the hills and along a canal towpath. It was a bit scary in the fog as road bikers were coming the other way, often two abreast, and we could only see them at the last minute. Then add walkers and runners into the mix.

That was probably Lake Garda
Nice tracks through the woods

We cycled through the centre of Verona which was loud and busy so we didn’t stay long and were soon on a wonderful gravel track in quiet woodland. The flat landscape then became covered in horticultural plastic and netting. Acres of asparagus, orchards, kiwi fruit and the occasional flock of sheep. Plus there were clouds of mosquitoes so we didn’t hang around.

The trouble with coffee stops is choosing the cake
The Coliseum in Verona
Verona was loud and bustling
Acres of Kiwi fruit
Apple orchards

We had stayed in Lonigo in the Province of Vicenza, a lovely little town on the plain with the hills rising right behind it. We set off as the sun was rising climbing straight into the hills. Initially on hairpins while our legs warmed up, then as they got bored of bends, the road went straight up and we started pushing. It was great to be in the hills again after four days on the flat and this time we could see the views.

Heading in to the hills in the early morning
View down into Lonigo
Up in the hills

We eventually dropped down from the hills into the city of Vicenza. I am sure it is a lovely place, but it was stuffed full of market stalls in every street and square and thronging with people. We walked through and managed to get a coffee in a quiet side street, but we couldn’t see any of the old buildings over the stalls so we headed out. We were staying in Cittadella that night which has imposing old walls around it, but the buildings inside seem relatively recent.

Market day in Vicenza
Back on top of a dyke
The main gate into Cittadella

It rained heavily overnight but had thankfully stopped by the time we left. We were on rough riverside tracks for most of the day, which was nice, although some were rougher than others. We popped in to Castelfranco Veneto through the old city gate before heading off on some exceedingly muddy tracks. These took us through the Gran Bosco dei Fontanassi forest, over broken wooden bridges and high tree routes and tracks with supersized puddles. Then on to a gravel rail trail that took us all the way to Treviso.

Church and Tower clock with bells, typical in this region
River track leaving Cittadella
Gate into Venito
Panaderia gearing up for Halloween
Negotiating the slippery broken bridge in the wood
And the raised tree roots
The town of Bodoero. There were two sets of these curved building facing each other dating from the 1650’s. It was originally a market with traders on one side and artisans on the other.
Treviso.
Treviso

After lunch we headed out to the industrial area to buy a large sheet of plastic to wrap our bikes in when we fly back to the UK.

Buying some plastic to wrap the bikes for flying

But all was not that easy in the end. At Venice Airport you are not allowed to fly on any airline with your bikes wrapped in plastic. Only in official Bike Boxes or Bike Bags. Several of us missed our flights, despite much argument. For us the next flight to Bristol was in four days time. So we spent the time in Mestre getting Bike boxes, arranging transport for them and visiting Venice on the one day it wasn’t raining. St. Marks Square was only slightly underwater, but they had all the high walkways out.

Halloween street food fair in Mestre
On the island of Burano with the colourful houses
A man singing an Aria while going along the canal in a gondola
Aahhh, so many people!! We were glad to leave Venice. The islands of Murano and Burano were much more peaceful and pleasant.
This peaceful alley turned out to be a dead-end

We eventually managed to get some bike boxes and fly home with less hassle at the airport but three times as much hassle transporting the bike boxes to and from the airport.

For a video of the start of our trip through Spain please click Spain

For a video of our cycle through France please click France

Leave a Reply