EuroVelo 5

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EuroVelo 5, as well known as Via Romea or Francigena, was the starting point of my 11000km long biking trip. It's a long-distance bike route from Canterbury to Brindisi. It passes 7 countries (UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy) and is 3200km long. I biked it not in its entirety, but the 1700km I did, were beautiful.

Before starting I did quite some research in regards to the EV5. After all, it was the first stretch and I had many open questions. Would I be fit enough, how many kilometers could I do, and so on.

As a note, the descriptions are my impressions, they're by no means objective. Another thing to keep in mind is that I started early in the year, and many things were still closed. Among them as well campgrounds, therefore I stayed in Italy in Bed and Breakfasts.

You can see on the little map, that there are two routes with different colors. I did these stages on the same trip, but quite some months apart. The red part was at the very beginning of my trip, the blue part was towards the end.

Getting to Brindisi

To really start my trip, I had to get to Southern Italy from the center of Germany. The connection by train to Bologna is great and therefore I decided to take the train all the way down South. My first stop was Bologna, after that, I stayed a night in Bari to then get to Brindisi. I could have certainly done it in two days as well, but as I only had a ticket to Bologna I wanted to be flexible. There's nothing worse then stress when taking a bike on a train.

I linked a post about taking a train in Germany and Italy with a bike. Both countries are actually quite different, in terms of price, service, and where bikes are allowed. In both countries taking a bike on a train is absolutely doable, but it's definitely a bit more complicated in Germany. And more expensive as well.

Overall I had a great trip, no bigger problems, but definitely some bruises. Getting a fully packed bike in a train can vary quite a bit in difficulty and it might be good to ask for some help.

Stages in Puglia

EuroVelo 5 - staircase of my Bed and Breakfast in Brindisi
EuroVelo 5 - Oria in Apulia
EuroVelo 5 - Stairs in Brindisi
EuroVelo 5 - a short stop in Mesagne, Apulia
EuroVelo 5 - confetti!
EuroVelo 5 - Grottaglie at night
Stage From To Distance of this stageDistance Ascend of this stageAscend Average speed of this stageSpeed
Day 1 Brindisi Grottaglie 54km 250m 15km/h

The plan was to start in Brindisi and then cycle up through all of Puglia. To Brindisi, Taranto, Matera and so on. I was a bit nervous, as I have never cycled with so much luggage over a longer period. But all went well with that. As soon as I left Brindisi, I biked on a quiet country road with a lot of farmland and orchards. Overall this was a great start. With one exception. I was "greeted" by plenty of farm dogs. The small ones I could easily ignore, the larger ones left me scared. And while it was great to be on quiet roads, I was definitely spooked. Hardly anybody was around and I saw dogs everywhere. I write about it extensively in my newsletter episode, called charmingly "The mindfuck". Meaning I won't get into it here in detail.

The road was great and easy to bike, no complaints there. As was Oria, where I had my first break. And Grottaglie was a beautiful small town, that I would love to visit at another time. For my trip, I decided to get to Rome and bike from there, hoping for less dogs. Eventually, I'll be coming back to Puglia for a bike trip, and am very sure that I will enjoy it.

I took the train to Taranto, stayed there for a night to then continued to Naples. For two days I was eating Pizza and walked around before taking a train to Rome.

Stages in Lazio

EuroVelo 5 - bike path along the Tiber in Rome
EuroVelo 5 - a ram
EuroVelo 5 - Postcard from Naples
EuroVelo 5 - Free ranging horses in Formello
EuroVelo 5 - road up to Barbarano Romano
EuroVelo 5 - a Fiat loaded with hay

Once I arrived by train in Rome, I was eager to get really started. I took so many trains and while quite ok, I came to pedal! In November last year, I was a month in Rome. Therefore I was quite accustomed to the inner parts of the city and knew that all would be very easy once I arrived at the Tiber. Surprisingly though, I found it enjoyable in the rest of the city as well.

Many people have pictures of honking cars in mind when they think of Italy. That was not the case and generally, I found Italians quite polite in traffic. Certainly, they left less space than in other countries, but it was far from a nightmare. In Rome, the biggest challenge was to find the best bridge to get to the bikable bank of the Tiber, with a ramp to get down. But the satellite view is really good at helping to figure this out.

The road to Formello was to a good part a bike road and obviously quite impressive in Rome. If I had not stayed there last year, I would have been quite sad to not be able to get to all the attractions, but I had seen them earlier. Once I arrived in Formello, I was quite hungry. There were not a lot of possibilities on the road, at least not ones that would have been very easy to get to. But my host at Nonna Loreta was absolutely great! She gave me immediately some snacks and drove me to the local restaurant, Cucina Formello, and I had not only one but two portions of Cacio e Pepe.

The next day I biked to Barbarano Romano. It started with a steep hill and free-ranging horses. Love both! The route was definitely more challenging than the day before. Riding on small country roads I was reminded of Puglia, though more hilly. And I again encountered some dogs, but herding dogs. While mostly bigger than farm dogs, I found them a lot easier to deal with. They have a clear job and as long as you're not getting in their way, they leave you alone. Meaning: if you see a herd of animals, don't bike into them, keep your distance! And if necessary, get off the bike and push slowly.

The next day was super hard! It pushed me actually to my limits, and I would definitely not recommend it. Especially with a bike that is not a mountain bike and heavily loaded. You can find the route here on komoot. Muddy streets, flooded tunnels, and an ancient Roman road. Thank god, I had another amazing host in Montefiascone, who gave me a bottle of wine and I had a kitchen. I was very glad to cook a little vegetable dish!

Stages in Tuscany

Eurovelo 5 - view on Tuscan hills close to Ponte a Rigo
EuroVelo 5 - a break in Radicofani
EuroVelo 5 - my Surly Disk Trucker in Radicofani
Eurovelo 5 - The hills of Tuscany
EuroVelo 5 - my Surly Disc Trucker in Siena, Italy
EuroVelo 5 - a nice cloud over Camaiore, Italy

I was excited to get into Tuscany! These beautiful hills! They should not be underestimated... I love going up, but if one doesn't, the daily stages might need to be a bit shorter. I won't get into all the details here, but you can click on the listed stages and get more information. Generally, this was a section where I deviated quite a bit from the EV5 route. The EV5 is based on the Via Francigena, which is a pilgrim's route. Where people hike, not bike. The experience with the antic road made me stick to the Via Cassia. I prefer asphalt to muddy roads, and I'm not too easily spooked about cars. Here are some highlights.

Getting up to Radicofani was exhausting, but absolutely beautiful! Pedaling up to get to a very charming little town with quite friendly people. I was spending quite some time on the local square and by the end it felt like I had met everybody in Radicofani and people started to greet me. Absolutely worth a visit!

Bagno Vignoni, I didn't have it on the radar, but definitely worth a visit! A warm spring, a natural pool in the center of the village, and great views!

Siena, an absolutely charming city. Everybody is aware of that, I guess. Great to bike in as well, with hardly any cars. But be aware of the street passing Monteroni d'Arbia. I would definitely try to stick to the EV5 route here. My hotel was on the main road, and this was a horror stretch. As said, I'm not too troubled with cars, but this was far too much and nobody cared about my right to exist...

The stretch to Camaiore. Beautiful road up, a great view of Camaiore and then a fun stretch down. On the way up I deviated again a bit from the official route. I had a quick conversation with a local road biker and he advised me to take a different route as the original one was again not too bike-friendly. I would generally advise to talk to people and ask, especially local people. They know their streets the best.

Stages in Emilia-Romagna

EuroVelo 5 - Passo della Cisa
EuroVelo 5 - view from my room in Berceto
EuroVelo 5 - night sky in Pontremoli
EuroVelo 5 - cycling the Passo della Cisa
EuroVelo 5 - view from Berceto
EuroVelo 5 - on top of the Cisa Pass

Just a little bit more than a day in Emilia-Romagna. And the most impressive part still being in Tuscany. Namely my first mountain pass, the Passo della Cisa. I got some snacks and got started, a little bit worried because it was quite windy. From serpentine to serpentine I slowly made my way up. Steep, but nothing that couldn't be handled with a little bit of time and patience.

The roads were empty, due to the season I guess. That emptiness came with a downside though. I had hoped to get a coffee and some sweets at the peak, but everything was closed. But still, it was very beautiful up there and the best part? I got a glimpse of the Alps. At first, I thought it was a Fata Morgana, but the only other cyclist on the pass confirmed that it was indeed the Alps.

Everything being closed is something that happened often to me on this leg of the trip. Early March is not tourist season and many restaurants simply don't open. I eat everything, but if you're vegetarian or vegan, you need to have that in mind this time of year.

Stages in Lombardy

EuroVelo 5 - view on Taro in Fornovo
EuroVelo 5 - a little pee break
EuroVelo 5 - hazardous bridge over the river Po
EuroVelo 5 - as a cyclist I don't feel very welcome
EuroVelo 5 - ArteMistra in Spessa
EuroVelo 5 - well deserved lunch. Pizza!

Again, only two days. But these were tough. Fidenza to Spessa specially. Lots of private roads, bikes felt pretty unwelcome and highly trafficked streets. I would definitely check the route thoroughly on this stretch and would leave out the bridge over the Po if possible. This bridge, from Castello San Giovanni to Pieve Porto Morone, is an absolute hazard! I had to take it as the official route ended on a little stream where the bridge was under construction. The whole stretch was an absolute nightmare.

On my way from Spessa to Pavia it finally got warm enough that I could wear my short bike pants. I had my first flat tire, but overall this stretch was enjoyable.

After Pavia I was westbound and took the EV8 towards France. I finished the first part of my trip! Biking in Italy was very beautiful! I had a lot of fun, met friendly people and coffee was plenty. And the views, the views! But it was definitely quite challenging as well at times. I would definitely do it again, but maybe at a different time of year. I don't think though, that I would take my young nephews on this route. There are easier bike routes with less traffic and better signage. This part of Italy felt more like an adventure, in the end exactly what I asked for!

Stages in Wallonia and Luxembourg

EuroVelo 5 - rainy day in Barvaux-sur-Ourthe
EuroVelo 5 - View on Luxembourg City
EuroVelo 5 - great bike roads in Luxembourg
EuroVelo 5 - large foals
EuroVelo 5 - traditional bakery in Belgium
EuroVelo 5 - forest road in the Ardennes

I returned to the EuroVelo 5 in August. Very different situation. By then I had biked through France extensively, did the LEJOG, and visited the Shetland islands. I was closing in on my trip and was on my way to the Alps. I was by far fitter and a lot more experienced. Looking back, I almost wish, that I would do the Italian stretch at this point. Belgium and Luxembourg had excellent bike roads and the ascends were quite easy. The only downside was that I was faced with a lot of rain. The landscape was not dramatic, but nevertheless beautiful!

I can't say too much about this stretch. On the one hand, it felt for me more like a transit to the Alps. On the other hand, the whole stretch was well built out, campgrounds were open and food was plenty.

Stages in Grand-Est

EuroVelo 5 - rose gardens and industrial building on the way to Saarbrücken
Eurovelo 5 - Vallée des Éclusiers in the Alsace
Eurovelo 5 - fully loaded Surly Disc Trucker in Mittersheim
Eurovelo 5 - beautiful vineyards in the Alsace
Eurovelo 5 - Vallée des Éclusiers rock formations
Eurovelo 5 - along the Rhine on the french side

Similar to the part before. Well-built and signed streets and quite a bit of a canal. But beautiful vineyards as well. I was very glad when I arrived at the Vallée des Éclusiers. Dramatic views, the cutest houses, and certainly a place I'd like to return to.

I skipped Strasbourg and took an alternative route. Very easy in this area, as there are so many bike routes. I simply wanted to get to the Alps quickly.

Stages in Haut-Rhin and Switzerland

Eurovelo 5 - swans on the Rhine
EuroVelo 5 - The Rhine close to Basel
Eurovelo 5 - Beautiful Jura Mountains
Eurovelo 5 - bike path along the Lake Lucerne
Eurovelo 5 - View on Sarner See
EuroVelo 5 - My Surly Disc Trucker on the Lake Lucerne

While the weeks before have been beautiful, now excitement kicked in again. I was closing in on the Alps! Once I got to Switzerland, the mountains were coming. First the Jura on my way to Schönenwerd. A beautiful stretch with amazing views and grassy hills.

And then, the big ones were getting in sight. In the beginning, I was never so sure whether it was a mountain or a cloud. But it was mountains, big ones. I passed Lucerne and arrived at the Vierwaldstätter See. This area is beyond beautiful and definitely a joy to bike.

I followed the Alpine Panorama Route in Switzerland, which overlaps with the EV5, and as you might imagine. Perfect roads, perfect signage. But generally expensive. Between Ingerbohl and Sisikon it is not advised to bike, but there's a free shuttle service for bikes. I took the train, I didn't want to wait and I find the train easier than a bus. How great is it to not only make it clear that biking is not advised, but offer as well a solution!

In Fluelen I went East and therefore left the EV5. Overall, I really enjoyed biking on the EuroVelo 5. It has many very different areas to offer, sometimes hard, sometimes easy. I feel that doing it from the North to South might be the way to go, if you want to travel it completely. You can gain some strength to the Alps, cross them and then enjoy the adventures of Italy.

Mood: happy :)