Thursday 20 June 2013

Hills near Milan - Oltrepò Pavese

Earlier in the year I wrote about hills you can ride just to the north of Milan, in Brianza. In the interests of balance I also plan to write about hills in other directions from Milan. Today is about hills just to the south of Milan.

If you head due south from Milan for about 20 miles, you reach the historic town of Pavia. Continue past there for a further 6 miles and you reach scenic countryside with rolling hills. Further in the distance the mountain range around the Ligurian Appenines and Monte Penice come in to view. If you are feeling energetic you may want to scale those slopes and drop down towards the dramatic Ligurian coast.
The good news though, is that you don't need to travel so far to enjoy a scenic hilly bikeride! The Oltrepò Pavese, just south of Pavia is made up of rolling hills on which vineyards are perched, and agroturismos await, ready to welcome tourists wanting to enjoy a full gastronomic and wine-tasting experience.

And the cycling's all very scenic. As you ride along the various valley roads, you quickly realise that everything on either side of you goes upwards - in some cases with a castello or a charming medieval village at the top of the steep roads.

While riding around I notice lots of signs reminding me that I am on the Strada del Vino e dei Sapori - meaning that I can stop off and sample, even buy wines, and other local produce like salami and mushrooms. In fact, looking around, this could be a mini Tuscany - I may not find Chianti here but I could sneak a cheeky Pinot Nero or some local spumante into my bidon! And it'll all taste just as nice!

The great thing is that Oltrepò Pavese, not having been heavily publicised has not fallen victim to the tourist trap. Bikingwise, that means I get the roads practically to myself - well apart from loads of other club cyclists! Yes, Oltrepò Pavese is very popular with club cyclists from the Milan/Lombardy area, so on a sunny Saturday or Sunday you are never alone. However, motorised traffic is very light - which is the bonus of cycling around here.
And if you don't want to go home straight after the ride there are lots of agroturismos providing a very authentic and untouristic experience at reasonable prices.

I have ridden in the Oltrepò Pavese on a number occasions. The first time, was during a ride to Liguria. I went via Montalto Pavese and Zavatarello to reach Bobbio via Monte Penice.
On other occasions I have been  to Lago di Trebecco via Rocca de Giorgi and Passo Carmine.

Either way, the sequence is similar - a nice run-in along a valley road, followed by the road progressively getting steeper and steeper and going on for around 20km. The area becomes more desolate, and every time I think I am at the top I see another castle or church that is even higher up. As I near the top, I put in some big out-of-the saddle efforts as I think that my climbing is coming to an end - but alas, heaving and panting I realise I still have more work to do! Finally, I reach the top - tired, but glad I managed to hang in there and I am treated to a beautiful view. The descents are twisty but exhilarating, and it's hard to believe that these small lanes that provide so much fun are relatively unknown.

I even did a cyclosportive here at Salice Terme earlier this year, which went through lots of other pleasant parts of the Oltrepò Pavese. Sadly, I can't fully describe the route as the weather on the day was grey and abyssmal (to match my performance!). I look forward to doing this cyclosportive again - hopefully when I am fitter and when the weather is nicer.

Getting down to Oltrepò is quite easy. I can get a train to Broni, Stradella, Voghera, or Casteggio. Otherwise I can ride all the way there. I must admit, riding down to this area is much more pleasant than riding up to Brianza, since most of the route to Oltrepò Pavese is done on the traffic-free Naviglio Pavese, and even the less scenic roads around Pavia are not completely choked with industries and factories like some of the roads to the north of Milan.

And of course, at the end of my ride I won't have any trouble finding a glass of something nice! Cheers!

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