We couldn’t resist. The international bike trail known as the Alpe-Adria was just too tempting. A bike trail that stretched from Salzburg Austria to the Adriatic resort town of Grado, Italy.
We had joined the trail after we left Bled, Slovenia as we worked our way around the high Julian Alps of North Western Slovenia. Gorgeous riding through a valley with granite mountains on either side of the trail … a former railway that has been converted to a dreamy bike trail. Former rail stations now serve as bike trail cafes for snacks and coffee breaks as the trail rolled first west and then turned south. The trail was packed with bike pilgrims all making the journey to the sea.
Familiar faces from the trail appeared again at restaurants and strolling the streets in the towns and cities along the way, with waves and conversations. And best of all, after the strenuous climbing through the mountains of Slovenia, the Alpe-Adria route offered a dreamy downhill profile … Miles of coasting on smooth trail rarely turning a pedal.
It was so tempting to continue on through Italy to the sea that we simply couldn’t resist and caved to temptation. Italy has worked its magic once again. And so since posting from Valbruna, Italy on the border of Austria, we biked for five straight days working our way to the Adriatic with a few minor detours. And after reaching our destination when we rolled into Grado yesterday afternoon as the thermometer topped 90 degrees, we stayed over night and the next morning headed back north to the Italian/Slovenian border town of Gorizia.
This trail – The Alpe Adria – would be a fabulous trail for a first time self-supported bicyclist learning how to bike tour. Just make sure you head from Salzburg to the sea not the reverse, which would turn this relatively easy ride into a wickedly long, slow gradual climb. Here are some photos of some of the beautiful places along this route.
What more can you say. These mountains are famous for a reason, and they did not disappoint as we cycled through miles of towering granite mountains, waterfalls and small villages heading from Valbruna on the Austrian Border to the town of Gemona, in the northeast corner of Italy known as Friuli.
A massive earthquake struck the Friuli region in May, 1976 with strong aftershocks that continued until September devastated this part of Italy. The medieval buildings of stone crumbled, and many were never restored. Today, the towns in this region consist of modern homes built in the 1980s – a true contrast to most of the rest of the country that still preserves their architectural heritage. It’s impossible to see re-built Friuli 40 years after their earthquake and not wonder what will become of Umbria, site of the most recent earthquake that devastated towns and destroyed centuries-old buildings. And after seeing the photos of the devastation forty years ago in Friuli and the rebuilt towns now provides a glimps of the effort and unity needed to rebuild the rubble of Umbria into liveable communities once again.
Udine … This town is fabulous. Who knew? I’m coming back ...
It’s young. Loud. Vibrant. Udine oozes great food and art and culture and medieval architecture to rival most of Italy. And, it’s the economic and culture heart of the Friuli region.
Locals here are rightly proud of the Friullian white wines that are considered by many to be among the best in the world. And having been diligently tasting the wines, I would have to agree. And I’m quite sure they don’t export the good stuff to Seattle – though I will look harder to find it now. They also produce prosciutto here to rival Parma’s … Though I’m sure Parma would vehemently disagree. This area has a fabulous food culture.
Time in Udine prompted thoughts of a bike ride from Udine down the Adriatic Coast of Italy to Puglia … The heel of the Italian boot … Hmmm…
Venetian Star Fort turned town – Palmanova
When the Venetians dominated this part of the Mediterranean world they built impregnable forts in the shape of a 9 pointed star. Most are gone, but Palmanova not only still exists today, is houses a vibrant town that hosts music and art in it enormous octagonal central Piazza. We biked in and biked circles around the center … And promptly became so disoriented that finding our way out of that perfect star of a town took both of our navigation gadgets, a few foul words in between (“How did we get back here?”) and an understanding of how effective this fort design must be do disorient an enemy.
This screenshot from my navigation/map shows the outline of the fort from above. The red line is the Cycle Alpe Adria, which runs right through the center of town. The Center Plaza is enormous and set with stones in geometric patterns leading out from the large, open center. The Piazza is lined with buildings, and streets lead away from the center with perfect geometry. The walls of the town are still intact and form the star shape visible from above.
The Romans left their mark in the town of Aquileia. Back in the day this was one of the most important Early Roman ports in the Mediterranean world. There is an entire city buried under Aquileia … And most remains unexcavated. It’s an archeologist dream … And the site of current ongoing digs. What is excavated shows the forums and ports and homes and shops of a city and commerce center that thrived thousands of years ago.
Aquileia was also an important site for early Christianity and was crucial in the spread of Christianity once the Roman Emperors converted and spread the faith through the empire. Their early Christian Basilica melds the gorgeous mosaic tiled floors of the Romans with the Byzantine frescoes found throughout the early Christian churches when the church was centered in Constantinople.
Grado and The Adriatic Coast
I had reservations about going to Grado. An Italian resort town where pink tourists rent a patch of sand and an umbrella in neat lines across the beach is not my idea of a good beach experience. Nor is the thrumming discos and overpriced tourist shops. But Grado proved to be a fine place for an evening spent recovering from a 95 degree day. And it was also an excellent starting point for a beautiful ride along the coast through nature reserves and coastal scenery that appeal more to my idea of an ideal coast.