This past May, I returned to Italy once again with my triathlon team, Full Throttle Endurance for another intense cycling trip. This time, we rolled through the following cities in the north of Italy.
Bologna, Parma, Verona and Venice.
To say that cycling in Italy is an experience of a lifetime is somewhat of an understatement. Not to mention vague. However, we were not only cycling, but EATING in Italy, which is a gastronomical game-changer.
Bologna was our warm up day, and we kicked it into cruise control for 40 plus miles of climbing. Our next day was a stroll (90 miles) to Parma, stopping at the Di Nigris Balsamico Village for lunch.
Our “lunch” featured 50 125 year aged balsamic vinegar, traditional “gnocco fritto” (fried dough made with lard), and some soppresatta and piles of tri-colored lasagne. All of this was presented on expansive wooden tables amongst their collection of vinegar aging barrels. It was astounding.
Once off our bikes in Parma, we dined at a local establishment, Parma Gallodoro, that stuffed us full of Parmesan Flan and freshly made pasta. If you have not experienced freshly made pasta, you are really missing the boat. Or bike, as it were. The pasta noodles are exponentially softer and more flavorful. I made it a point to recreate the dish we had in Parma, to much success and lip smacking of the recipients. You can get the recipe on Colavita’s website.
Our next day’s ride featured a quick 20 mile hop to the Antica Corte Pallavicina outside Parma. This gem was a boutique hotel and restaurant (claiming a Michelin Star!), but also a culatello (meat curing facility) and parmesan aging facility. We took a tour of the cavernous curing and aging rooms underneath the hotel, while we awaited our brunch to be prepared “al fresco” atop picnic tables in the hotel’s courtyard.
Our brunch featured some of the most succulent cured meats I have ever sunk my teeth into. Prosciutto, the softest salamis, soppressata, cured sausage….it was all there, and in triplicate. This meaty spread was paired with expertly aged Parmeggiano Reggiano, and freshly made ravioli. Along with some regional Lambrusco, to which you couldn’t refuse.
How do I ride my bike again?
I did manage to (reluctantly) get onto my bike and what ensued was a 70 mile, high speed chase to Verona that had me contemplating all meanings of the phrase, “compromised digestion.” However, it was all worth it! I would do it again for more of that salami. And parm…and ravioli…
We put those carbs to good work the next day, ascending the hills (mountains!) of Verona for 30 –ish miles. A quick wardrobe change and vehicle change – from bikes to boats – brought us to Venice for our final meal at the Terrazza (terrace) of the Hotel Danieli. This was an epic meal with even more startling views of the Grand Canal. We dined alfresco and were treated to a multi-course seafood dinner as we watched the sun descend behind the Medieval Venetian buildings.
Some of us (the smarter among us) stayed on in Venice for a few extra days of relaxing (read: more eating, wine drinking and wandering the streets aimlessly at alarming low speeds). We stayed at a hotel my mom chose for us – the Palazzo Giovanelli. This boutique hotel in the Rialto section of Venice was an actual palazzo. It has been modernized, and is now a beautiful and artfully decorated bridge between the old and the new. The rooms are stately, and one can almost imagine the original occupants descending the expansive main staircase from the stately dining room.
The hotel staff was friendly and helpful, organizing anything from water taxis and tours of Murano to restaurant reservations for us.
The Rialto Food Market is close by, and I recommend wandering through (I actually ran through it with one of my teammates at a breakneck pace that alarmed some of the freshly caught fish), picking up some ripe apricots, bread and cheese, and then hoping in a gondola for a picnic al fresco. Bring some wine – the gondoliers don’t mind!