Sitting back into my saddle, the corners rushed upon me as I swept down the road. Scores of people gathered at the side of the road, not to see me, but it didn’t matter, in my head they were there to watch me, and so they did, with envy as I effortlessly made my way down the mountain.
Having arrived in Barcelona just hours earlier, the hassle of travel was no longer my concern, with the Ride & Seek team taking care of everything from the accommodation and bike, to the some of the most lavish picnics I’ve had on two wheels. The experience of the guides and the planning that goes into each trip really shined through from the start.
Dylan, a bike guide who has been designing, scouting and leading tours for over 12 years promised me a cycling trip that would take me across the most iconic and picturesque routes through Spain, France and Italy. But what I didn’t appreciate fully at the time was that I was about to embark on an expedition that would become regarded by many as
one of the world’s great bike journeys.
With little experience of bike touring, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but with an open mind, and a few weeks of training the legs, I was up for whatever was thrown at me.
Dylan’s counterpart, Sam, proved to be not only an epic rider on the climbs – there to support and encourage when everything else was telling me to stop – but an avid archaeologist well versed in the historical aspect of the route between Barcelona and Rome. Hannibal’s invasion of Rome in 218BC was a major turning point in history, and as Sam pointed out to me, if Hannibal had been victorious against Rome our world today would be completely different.
The trail between these two storied cities passes through some of the most beautiful cycling areas in Europe – Catalonia, Languedoc, Provence, Piedmont, Tuscany and Umbria among others. Not only that, but the epics of the Pyrenees, Alps and Apennines provide one of the greatest and most enjoyable challenges you can experience on two wheels. No wonder they feature regularly in the Vuelta, Tour and Giro.
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Traversing some of those iconic climbs was a time of quiet solitary enjoyment, evened out by nights of laughter and sampling the delights of the diverse gastronomy to be found along the route. Sampling is perhaps too light a word to describe some the indulgent, fine dining meals that were there to be enjoyed. Embracing the abundant cultural and historical elements of these areas, the level of accommodation arranged was incredible, and far off the standard tourist trail, with nights spent in monasteries, castles and farm stays.
As we cycled across Northern Spain and Southern France, from Barcelona to Mazan, on some of Europe’s best riding roads, we passed Roman aqueducts, Cathar castles and medieval villages. We were constantly reminded of Hannibal’s journey, leading an army that included nearly 40 elephants, over the frozen mountaintops of the Alps
and into Italy. It is this leg that is perhaps the most iconic of the journey, taking in the classic climbs of Col Agnel, Col d’Izoard, Alpe d’huez, Col du Galibier and the mighty Mont Ventoux – itself a Ride & Seek itinerary that I returned to tackle months later.
As we peddled into Italy, each days’ riding in the north of the country, across amazing ridgelines in Piedmont, was met with exceptional food, highlighting the essence of the trip, tasting, exploring and discovering the very best in the region.
Time can change many things, but ever since that trip, I have had two recommendations for anyone who asks me about my travels around the world. One is to see the world on a bike, and the other is to do so with Ride & Seek. Both will take you to places you never thought possible. If the history and culture behind the trips is not enough to distract you from the inevitable and ever-increasing ache in your legs, there’s always the food, and the wine.
How Will You Ride & Seek?
Whether you pick up the trail of Hannibal (Barcelona to Rome), Napoleon (Paris to Moscow) or Caesar (London to Rome), experience a grand historical journey of epic proportions.
Suited to all levels of cycling enthusiast, local adventures are shorter cycling tours currently available in France, Italy, Vietnam, and closer to home in NSW's Berry region or Tasmania.
Queen or King of the Mountains
Challenge yourself by conquering volcanoes in Hawaii, the best climbs in Italy's Dolomites, the iconic Pyrenees which straddle Spain and France, or the highest paved roads in Europe.