No longer content to sit on a beach, with lethargy and sand sticking to my thighs as constant companions, I dreamed of accomplishing something on a vacation. Not that I don't like the idea of sitting on a beach, but the fact is I only like it for an hour.
I'd heard about biking vacations, guided trips through Napa, and supported rides in the South of France and Spain. But when I learned about the Belvedere Bike Hotel in Riccione, Italy, my dreams started to take on a vivid shape — more gelato and pasta infused.
It sounded like the right mix of vacation and activity: a hotel that offers a variety of guided cycling tours daily, but no obligation to do any of them, meals and wine and a comfortable bed included.
The Belvedere is a celestial trip — as though an Italian all-inclusive meteor collided with an adult-cycling, summer-camp asteroid, exploding into Marina Pasquini's hotel achievement. The owner and operator of the bike hotel, Marina is constantly buzzing around the intimate whitewashed Mecca, an oasis for cyclists after a hot day on the road.
Located near the shores of the Adriatic, an hour and a half south of Bologna, the Belvedere's side-street entrance becomes a beacon after your daily ride, when all that stands between you and a poolside beer is a high-five from your tour guide, and racking your bike amongst the fleet of De Rosa's in the bike room. As with the après-ski, reliving the day, only moments after finishing it, is as important as the day itself.
After my tenth cycling friend boasted about the Belvedere experience, I threw in my Allen key and booked my flight, Vancouver to Bologna, with a weekend stopover in Amsterdam. The cost of the KLM flight was significantly less than flying to the east coast to visit my family (sorry mom, I'll catch you next year).
Late May in Italy is a festive time for cyclists — the Giro d'Italia twists and climbs through the country, and the Nove Colli, Italy's biggest GranFondo with 13,000 participants (very few of whom are women), starts in Cesanatico, a half hour's drive north of Riccione. Guests of the Belvedere are well positioned to participate in either the medium (130 km) or long (200 km) route. (Spoiler alert: check the weather before you get on the 4 a.m. shuttle, and if it calls for thundershowers, don't go.)
Like altitude training, it takes a day to acclimatize to the Belvedere's routine.
Jet lagged and perhaps still inebriated from Amsterdam's beauty, shall we say, I signed up for the leisure tour the first day, a slower paced 40 km ride that included a cheese tasting, and I thought, a perfect way of getting to know the gears of my De Rosa Avanti and the ways of Italian cycling.
In theory it was sound, but in practice disconcerting to be amongst people who thought of a false flat as a mountain climb, evidence that the hotel caters to a wide variety of levels. Beginners need not fear, there truly is a ride for everyone.
I found my place and met my compatriots in the following days on the longer Explorer and Road Tours (between 85 and 110 km, respectively, climbing guaranteed) and had fantastic workouts with new friends from around the world (but chiefly from Canada since the hotel's maple leaf occupancy rate hovers around seventy per cent).
If there was a doubt in my mind as to whether I could ride every day as a dedicated weekend warrior, it was silenced at dinner the first night, where the chief topic of conversation after "where are you from?" was "what ride did you do today?" and "what ride are you doing tomorrow?" No pressure, but it really is the thing to do when in Italy at a bike hotel.
There's something different about riding in Europe, cycling is embedded in it's culture for good reason.
Roads are small and plentiful, like a web of arteries, winding over mountains and weaving through towns. Besides the ideal weather (with two days of rain in seven, we were considered unlucky), motorists are respectful, while the views of hilltop towns and rolling fields of green and gold are unending. Each day's ride seemed better than the last.
There is a preponderance of staff photo shoots at the Belvedere, at times it feels like you've stumbled into an Italian family reunion, but that's the way Marina runs her hotel — as a family business, despite the fact the guides and servers are from all over Europe and Canada. The twelve-hour free laundry service for cycling clothes is integral to odour-free living in their modern white rooms, and the spa is another freebie not to miss — a grotto-like Nordic experience which alternates hot and cold temperatures to inspire relaxation. The Dead Sea Salt Bath steals the show, and the hotel-issued black-paper suits are all part of the fun, so don't be put off.
Most guests were return visitors of the serial variety — many had not only been here once, but this was their fourth, fifth, or tenth visit, a testament that this little hotel with the big Italian heart is on to something, not least of which is returning home in better shape than you left, despite your best efforts at the endless buffets and carafes of wine served with dinner.
However many kilometres you ride, each day's adventure provides the dolce vita of the experience. Sitting on a beach during vacation will never be the same, unless, of course, it's earned. Preferably at the end of a long switchback.
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