As we prepare to wrap up another great year and get ready for what is shaping up to be an exciting 2019, we thought we’d share our top 5 highlights of 2018 and the top 5 things that we’re looking forward to in the new year.
In short, 2018 has been a great year; lots of change with new developments and opportunities being presented. They say ‘luck is when opportunities knock and you answer them’ – which we believe sums up 2018 for us. Here’s our top 5 highlights:
1. Puglia Recce to launch 2 tours, which have sold out
We spent a lot of time in Puglia in 2018. The heel of the boot is a beautifully rustic region and certainly one of the current travel hotspots in Italy, so we thought we’d explore its suitability for one of our tours. With a lot of criteria to be met, we traversed the Salento peninsula and Valle d’Itria extensively; riding routes that had been developed, visiting towns that were on our radar, trying out restaurants and cooking classes to make sure they fit the bill, and staying in a multitude of accommodation places. The result – the development of a beautiful 9 day tour which we launched in August and have already sold out – both the May and September editions. If you’re interested in joining us in Puglia in 2020, we’re already taking bookings so you can secure your spot here.
2. Riding La Fausto Coppi Gran Fondo for the first time
It was the Italian summer and the weather was perfect. The start in the grand Piazza of Cuneo with 2600 other riders was filled with anticipation. We had done the necessary lead up work over our previous 6 days of riding the magnificent Langhe hills of Piemonte, and we were now focused on safely getting out of town and being in a position to make the first major decision for the day; right and 177km or left and 117km, both of which take you up the spectacular Colle della Fauniera. Left we went, and it took a conscious effort to ease up before the base of the climb, which is a beautiful winding 22km path up and towards the French border. After taking a moment to enjoy a few refreshments and soak up the atmosphere, it was time to descend the 22+km and what a thrilling, hair raising adrenalin filled joy it was…. an absolute rush for the senses. We can’t wait to tackle this one again in 2019 and with a few spots still available, if you’re up for an amazing week in Piemonte (Lonely Planet’s #1 destination for 2019), secure your spot here.
3. Truffle hunting, cooking classes and non riding partner experiences
Our non riding partner program is a key part of our tours, adding a whole other dimension that is enjoyed by non-riders….and riding partners alike…because it is great to arrive back from our riding and non riding activities each day to share the joy of our experiences over aperitivo and dinner. The non riding highlights this year were diverse, but narrowing it down, we think truffle hunting near Alba and a ‘long lunch’ cooking class at a local farm in Piemonte, were right up there in the No 1 and 2 positions. These were both just natural, honest, authentic experiences that symbolised the life and values of Piemonte. A very close No 3 were the incredible walks through the Tuscan countryside, absorbing the serenity, the light, the tastes and smells of this beautiful region….not to mention the fields of poppies that were amazing to see on our June tour. We’re looking forward to hosting a lot more non riding partners in 2019. To find out more about the experiences of non riders, read our testimonials here.
4. L’Eroica #5
Damian managed to ride his 5th L’Eroica in 2018 and enjoyed every moment of it, like it was the first time.
This is probably his favourite day on the bike each year…. but it’s more than just the one day; it’s the festival that surrounds the 1st Sunday in October in Gaiole in Chianti. This is a celebration of cycling like no other and when the market rolls into town, there is an excitement that can’t be described, but only lived and experienced by being there. With the merchants that sell bikes, the old steel pieces of art, there is a shared joy and conversation around the history of cycling that is quite simply unmatched. Then there’s everything about this tour that surrounds the ride itself and the market; sharing what we believe is the magic of Tuscany and seeing guests embrace and enjoy the challenge, the difference and the adventure. This is in our top 5 year in, year out. Secure your place for 2020 here.
5. Nancy receiving her Italian Passport on Christmas Eve
It’s now confirmed that with dual citizenship, Nancy will no longer be able to sit for parliament…that’s a relief! In all seriousness, Nancy formalising her Italian citizenship in 2018 and then receiving her passport on Christmas Eve, is definitely a major highlight. More than the ’ticket to live our dream’ and deliver an even broader range of cycling tours in Italy, the dual citizenship for Nancy symbolises her upbringing, and all that she values about being brought up in an Italian family in Melbourne, Australia. She calls it having ‘the best of both worlds’ by being able to freely live and work 6 months in each country each year, and Damian describes it as ‘the marriage that just keeps on giving’…because if he wasn’t already living his passion, being eligible for citizenship by marriage, is now just the icing on the cake.
Bonus Highlight: Rabbit and Pea Gnocchi….because Damian couldn’t have a top 5 without talking about the food!
By Damian: “I am often told that I have something called the ‘recency effect’ as I have a tendency to say ‘that was the best pasta I have ever had’. Well I do think the best meal for 2018 would have to be the rabbit and pea gnocchi in Alba in July. I am salivating as I write this as it was a dish that was just bursting with flavour over the little soft home made potato pillows beneath. I enjoyed this so much as a primi, I was serious considering changing my choice and indulging in another bowl for my secondi. Coupled with an amazing glass of Barbera wine, this was definitely my food highlight for the year…which is a very big call in a place like Italy, I know!”
Hello 2019. This for us has the feel of a year that is going to be full of rich and rewarding experiences, as we follow our hearts and pursue a dream.
Below are the top 5 things that we are looking forward to next year.
1. A New Stelbel Rodano
A new machine to help Damian go up and down some of the big mountains is on order, and after much deliberation, a Stelbel Rodano was the model decided on.
After testing a few of the frames last year and discussing ride preferences at length with Andrea at Stelbel, the Rodano was the way to go. Built to be a great climber and a better descender, let’s hope its characteristics transfer themselves to Damian through some magic Italian steel osmosis. So far, it has been a great process working out the characteristics and geometry with the frame, the paint scheme and component specs…. the hardest part is going to be waiting until April to collect it.
2. Riding Gavia and Mortirolo for the Queen Stage of the Giro
The Queen Stage of the Giro in 2019 is going to be an epic day. Stage 16 from Lovere to Ponte di Legno follows four distinct climbs including Passo Gavia (the Cima Coppi or highest point of the race), followed by Passo di Mortirolo. With our ride for the day totalling 107km and 3060m of elevation, we’ll get to ride up these two iconic mountains, and before the summit we’ll sit on a hairpin bend and watch the race roll over Passo della Gavia. This stage falls on day 5 of our Tour and will be a cracking day to follow the race before we transfer across to the Dolomites.
3. Travelling and exploring new destinations in Italy
In between tours and for the most of the month of August, we are looking forward to using our downtime to explore, recce and travel to new destinations in Italy. Our top 3 current plans are exploring more of Bologna and Emilia Romagna, spending time with friends on the Amalfi Coast and hosting family in beautiful Tuscany.
– Emilia Romagna is one of our favourite regions in Italy, and particularly the town of Bologna….and what’s not to love. It’s the home of Ducati, Patelli, Furla, Lambrusco, Mortadella, and one of our all time favourite dishes, Tortellini in Brodo. It’s a lively university town with a great buzz and we’re looking forward to spending some time there in June, along with riding an iconic vintage bike ride near Parma, and staying at an agriturismo near Modena that produces balsamic vinegar and has been on our ‘must visit’ list for a few years now.
– When your friends tell you they’re coming to visit in August, what do you do? You book an amazing villa on the sand of a secluded area of the Amalfi Coast, from which the main form of travel is by boat. Think summer sunshine, clear blue Mediterranean seas, amazing swims, boating adventures, enjoying the beach clubs ‘Italian style’, Spritz’s and amazing Spaghetti alle Vongole.
– Then when your family say they’re coming to visit in October, what do you do? You host them in your beloved Tuscany and introduce them to the people and places with whom and where we spend a lot of time. Introducing family to our Italian friends and family is always a highlight, particularly when you know they’re all going to come together and get along famously over beautiful food, wine and conversation.
4. L’Eroica 209
There are many distances you can ride as part of the L’Eroica, with the longest being the ‘209’. This is a long day and a serious challenge but the call for Damian to complete this, is growing louder by the day. Having completed the other distances numerous times, and with a guest on our 2019 tour making noises that he is also keen, 2019 could be the year to go long.
While preparation is key, there is also the unknown quantity with the Strade Bianche on a vintage steel bike, elevating this challenge to a test of physical and mental strength. As the final ride for the year, Damian thinks he’ll definitely be ready for the challenge.
5. Purchasing a home in Italy
When we (Nancy and Damian) first met, one of our first conversations was about spending 6 months of each year in Italy. We both had this dream but at the time, didn’t know how it could or when it would happen. As our Italian tours have grown, and our time in Italy will now be from May to October each year, the prospect of buying a home came onto our radar in early 2018. Again not knowing how or when this would happen, an amazing opportunity to buy a property in a little village in Chianti, presented itself. With Italian citizenship and a passport now all wrapped up, 2019 could just be the year to fulfil this next part of our dream. Stay tuned and cheers to fulfilling your dreams in 2019.