Cyclists Train Like Locals In Italy, Then Eat Well

Top cyclists train daily to race, often on varied terrain and through different weather conditions. Cycling enthusiasts who might dream of racing one day, prepare one step at a time. They find the right gear, become friends with others into the sport and possibly join a cycling club or just meet on Saturday mornings for a ride. Have you seen them? Cycling in packs on a weekend morning or afternoon? Ever wonder what they might be talking about among themselves?

Other than “that guy in the Honda just about hit me,” the conversation might trend in the direction of unique places they have cycled. One such place, and the stuff of dreams for cyclists, would be up and into mountains. Doing so has become so popular that tour operators are offering package deals that come with cycling experts, mountain guides and more.

In their “Train Like A Local” tour, Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine takes cyclists on a six-night bike tour into the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy.Climbs on their “Train Like A Local” tour range between 900 and 1700 meters and provide an ideal introduction to riding at higher elevations. Held from May 26 to June 1 and June 16-22, the tour attracts adventure travelers that share a passion for cycling. But cycling is just one focus of the all-inclusive package, which is priced at $3,695 per person.

Along for the ride are cyclist and mountain guide Vernon McClure and cooking instructor/chef/biker Kathy Bechtel. They bring cycling routes unknown to mainstream tour companies, sharing their expertise and passion for cycling. But their programming has more than other tour operators.

Participants also get an in-depth introduction to magnificent Italian regional cuisine and local wines. On a seven-day Bike and Wine tour, they cycle through wine regions in Alto Adige, Trentino and the Veneto. Starting in Bolzano, (also in the Dolomite Mountains) they travel downhill to Lake Garda and the iconic city of Verona.

Really into food? Italiaoutdoors also has cycling and cooking tours in Italy. This one, at the foot of the Dolomites, cycles through a diverse region located along the shores of the Adriatic sea and highlights another element of the Italiaoutdoors programming: history. This tour follows one of the old trade routes used to distribute spices and goods from the east throughout Western Europe.

Boasting personal service and a custom plan for every trip, Vernon McClure and Kathy Bechtel, the owners and operators of Italiaoutdoors offer a variety of ideas for biking, hiking and skiing tours via their ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine website.

Want to know more about cooking and biking tours in Italy? Check this video:

Embracing the moment: A lakeside lesson in Italy

I’m sitting at a bayside café in San Francisco, on a sun-spattered, blue-sky afternoon, reading my journal and traveling back to a similar day three years ago at a lakeside café in northern Italy, when I re-learned one of travel’s great lessons: the importance of immersing yourself in the moment.

As the summer travel season unfolds, it’s a good reminder that travel’s gifts can stay with us long after the journey ends:

At the Piccolo Hotel café, Garda, Italy:

I’m sitting lakeside at the extraordinary town of Garda in the extraordinary region of Lake Garda, about 80 miles west of Venice.

I’m at the end of an exhausting but also very wonderful two-week stay in this enchanted and enchanting region, and feeling that odd mix of delighted expectation at the prospect of returning home and melancholic sentimentality of having to leave a place that has now become a rooted and enriching part of me, that has shown me so much and reawakened so much.

How to compress the riches of this place into a few words? The beauty of the landscape, the sane slow pace of life – the enjoyment of life! History embodied in old stone palazzo, piazzi and farmhouses. Culture embodied in centuries-old frescoes and 21st-century fashions. Cobblestoned streets and soaring stony chiese. Pasta perfectly al dente. Exquisite house wine. Vineyard-latticed hillsides. Rows of trees brightly budding into green. Sitting at a café by a lake, watching the red and blue and yellow motorboats bob and the stately deep green cypress trees reach like green prayers for the sky.

Arranged before me is a spaghetti alla bolognese, a basket of breads (rolls, sliced baguette, breadsticks), a plate of cherry tomatoes with mozzarella and rocket leaves, a glass of crisp chilled white wine, a side glass of sparkling water. I’m watching sailboats skim the smoky blue surface of the lake – and I’m in heaven.

This is what I want to take back with me – the sense of exultation in small and simple things. The Italians seem to do life so well.

Sitting at a serene lakeside table exulting in the simple sensual richness of things is not the ultimate meaning of life – but if life is a book, I would like to make this sense the texture of the paper that book is printed on.

Or at least the Italy chapters. Of course other places have their own rich textures, but right here, right now, I am immersed in the Italian moment – and it is an exultation of almost indescribable depth and richness.

I am content. Perhaps this is what it all comes down to – a moment of cobblestoned, cypress-green, sun-caressed, vineyard-latticed, chilled vino bianco contentment.

The salad is delicious – the tomato tasting of sun and soil, the rocket piquant and fresh, the mozzarella silky and smooth. I savor another forkful of spaghetti and sigh.

I look at the stony cliffs to my right, the spectrum of greens, from lemon to pine; the elegant aging buildings that line the lakefront – tangerine, pale lemon, blood orange – like a long wonderful fresco. Outside the buildings on the cobbled piazza are dozens of tables covered in bright tablecloths – red, yellow, orange like the buildings. Ducks quack and squabble for breadcrumbs thrown by German tourists. A sleek ferry streams in, passing a sailboat that idles in the breeze-less afternoon.

I want to absorb this scene so deeply that this table, this lake, this slice of Italy, becomes a part of me.

I had never heard of Lake Garda before this trip, even though it is the largest lake in Italy, but from now on, whenever I hear “Italy,” I will think of this blessed place, and the peace and plenty I have found here.

Home life awaits. In less than 48 hours I will be immersed in that reality, dealing with deadlines, crazed by how much I have to do in so little time.

But I hope when the craziness threatens to overwhelm, I can stop and come back to this moment – a table covered by a cream-colored cloth, bright boats bobbing on the lake, tree-covered slopes to my left and right and pastel buildings and café tables behind me.

Good food and wine, good people, a surrounding of natural and manmade beauty, the synthesis of the old and the new, nature and design: a place where life proceeds with an effortless grace.

Three years later, at a sun-lit San Francisco cafe, I read these words and think: Contentment blooms anew on the shores of Lake Garda.