bicycle touring southern italy
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Bicycle Touring Southern Italy

We spent about two weeks bicycle touring Southern Italy from Bari to Villa San Giovanni, where we crossed by ferry to Sicily. Southern Italy is an amazing place to cycle during the winter. We lucked out with (mostly) sunny and wonderful weather, and Italy continuously astounds us with its incredible historic towns, delicious food, and friendly people.

Route

bicycle touring southern italy map
Map of our route across Southern Italy.

Download the GPX track of our Southern Italy tour. NOTE: This is not a polished route and is intended for research/planning purposes only. There were several cases where we wound up bushwhacking, pushing along the beach, or accidentally trespassing, so bear that in mind.

Ferry from Patras to Bari

We took an overnight ferry from Patras to Bari, which took about 17 hours. Luckily we arrived at the ferry terminal over an hour early, because we learned upon checking in that we needed a negative Covid rapid test to board the ferry. Slightly panicked, we rode our bikes as fast as possible to a nearby testing center and got our results surprisingly quickly.

bicycle touring southern italy
Sunset on the ferry from Patras to Bari.

Onboard the ferry, we claimed some couches in the lounge to sleep on since we bought economy tickets rather than a private cabin. It seemed like an OK idea at the time, since we have slept in many an airport terminal on our sleeping pads. Unfortunately, it turned out that most of the ferry passengers were truckers who preferred to hang out in the lounge until 3am and listen to music. You can’t really complain that much when you’re sleeping in a public space, so we put in our earplugs and got as much rest as we could.

Bari

We stayed in the old town of Bari for a few days to rest up and plan our route through Southern Italy. Bari is an incredibly charming city and we were glad we decided to stay awhile. It’s famous for the Basilica San Nicola, a 12th century church whose crypt holds some of the bones of St. Nicholas.

basilica san nicola in bari
Basilica San Nicola in Bari.
Ruderi di Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio in bari
The Ruderi di Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio in a quiet corner of the old town of Bari.

We also gorged ourselves on Italian food – pizza, orecchiette pasta (typical of the Puglia region), skirt steak sandwiches, and Jenny tried octopus for the first time (it wasn’t her favorite).

bari italy old town
Walking around the streets at night.
bicycle touring southern italy
Posing with the bikes at the Castello Svevo in Bari, getting ready to ride out of town.

Small Towns of Puglia

After leaving Bari, it seemed like every town we rode through was more beautiful than the last. Even the tiny towns we visited had lovely old town centers with centuries-old churches and narrow cobbled streets. We followed a Bicitalia route through quiet olive groves that was very enjoyable, though getting out of Bari was pretty hectic.

bicycle touring southern italy
Riding into the town center of Bitetto.
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First wild camp in Southern Italy. Found an area between two olive groves where we were pretty hidden.

Matera: A Troglodytic Village

Our AirBnB hosts in Bari mentioned Matera as a popular excursion, but we didn’t really know too much about it before visiting. Our first view of the city was a jaw-dropping overlook of the expansive old town, built primarily of polished white tufa. The regal Duomo sat on a hill above the city, and ancient homes were carved into the cliffs below it.

bicycle touring southern italy
Looking out over the town of Matera.

We parked our bikes in one of the piazzas and took turns exploring the town on foot since the many staircases made the bicycles cumbersome. There were a plethora of historic churches with well-preserved frescoes and enchanting views around every corner.

old town of matera italy
Walking around the beautiful streets of Matera.

We were surprised to learn that much of the old city of Matera was evacuated in the 1950s due to poor living conditions before being revitalized as a tourist destination in the 1980s. The historic center is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and might be one of the coolest towns we’ve ever seen.

old town of matera italy
Another view of Matera. A recent James Bond movie (No Time to Die) was filmed here!

Peaceful Riding on Country Roads

After leaving Matera, we continued following the Bicitalia route on low-traffic country lanes and dirt farm roads. The winter light on rolling pastures was gorgeous, and this was a really fun section of riding. We passed by some more hill towns that looked beautiful, but since they’re a pretty big commitment to ride up to, we couldn’t see them all.

bicycle touring southern italy
Rolling green hills and fun dirt roads.
bicycle touring southern italy
View of Montescaglioso from the road. Didn’t ride up to it but it looked very pretty!
bicycle touring southern italy
Dirt road leaving one of our wild camps. It was great until Andrew got a flat tire!
bicycle touring southern italy
Piece of metal that punctured Andrew’s tire.

Route Dilemmas and Mountain Towns

The cycling route we were following was still in development, and it followed a busy highway for long stretches. After a short ride along the coastal highway, we decided we would rather make up our own route than be on a miserable traffic-packed road.

bicycle touring southern italy
Riding down some switchbacks at sunset near Rotondella.

We cycled up into the hills, which required a lot of zig-zagging and roller coaster elevation changes, but it was much more enjoyable than the highway. We came to Rotondella in the evening near sunset, and we were amazed at the town perched on top of such a perfectly round hill. The ridge line byway between Rotondella and Oriolo was especially scenic, despite having very windy and chilly weather.

bicycle touring southern italy
Rotondella at dusk.
Rotondella from our campsite at night.
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Our wild camp with a great view of Rotondella. We were somewhat close to a farm house and had dogs barking at us all night, but that’s a pretty familiar sound at this point.
bicycle touring southern italy
It’s all fun and games until you see the next uphill. This road was beautiful and hardly had any cars, but it was very steep and we had to push our bikes up quite a few hills.
bicycle touring southern italy
Ridgeline road before descending into Oriolo.
bicycle touring southern italy
Awesome views out to snowy mountains in the distance.
bicycle touring southern italy
As soon as we descended from the mountains, we came upon this cool tower on the beach.
wild camping southern italy
We trekked through a lot of mud and thorny blackberries to get to this campsite, but it was worth it!

Adventures on Capo Rizzuto

The Magna Grecia cycling route is especially incomplete (so we learned the hard way), but the GPX track is available online and due to a translation error we thought it would at least be passable. After cycling on the highway the day before and making good miles with a tail wind, we decided to go ahead and see what the track had to offer, even if it would require some route finding.

wild camping southern italy
Troll campsite under a bridge.
bicycle touring southern italy
After having zero issues with rodents for so long, Jenny got a little complacent with food storage and woke up to a huge hole chewed into her pannier. Took a bunch of bites out of her handlebar grip too.
bicycle touring southern italy
Fun singletrack through a field near the beach.
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I forget where these ruins were, but they were very scenic.
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Column from 450 B.C. on Capo Colonna.

The route took us on dirt farm roads and some singletrack, which was really nice overall. However, there were several water crossings that didn’t have a road or bridge or anything, and we just had to figure out a way to get across. This led to pushing our bikes down the beach and quite a bit of bushwhacking, but it was still a good time!

bikepacking southern italy
Pushing our bikes through deep sand turned out to be the easiest way to ford the water crossing.
wild camping southern italy
Wild camping in an abandoned palazzo to escape the wind.

The track ultimately put us through private property, and a guy caught us as we were hopping a fence to get out of an olive grove. He didn’t speak much English, but we explained through Google Translate that we had come up from the beach and were sorry for trespassing. He told us that “The land had been kidnapped,” which was an odd translation, but he was really nice and gave us directions to the next town. After that, we decided we’d had enough excitement for one day and stuck to roads that actually existed and weren’t on private property.

Castello Aragonese in le castella
Castello Aragonese in Le Castella.

Coast of the Tyrhennian Sea

We crossed to the other side of the Italian boot via Catanzaro and a beautiful mountainous area with lots of wind turbines. After making it to the coast, we rode through the seaside town of Pizzo and eventually made it to Tropea, where we stayed for a couple nights before continuing to Sicily.

bicycle touring southern italy
Windmills and rolling hills.
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Steep descent into Pizzo.

Tropea is a magnificent town built atop tall vertical cliffs next to the ocean. The town was very quiet and most restaurants were closed for the winter, but it was still a wonderful place to wander around and take in the views.

Cattedrale di Maria Santissima di Romania
Cattedrale di Maria Santissima di Romania in Tropea, 12th century.
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View of Tropea from the beach.
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Looking through a grotto on the beach in Tropea.
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The Isola di Tropea and hilltop sanctuary.
Pannier patch job at the AirBnB. Tenacious Tape and Seam Grip did the trick! We’ll see how it holds up over time.

Coastal Riding to Villa San Giovanni

It took us a couple more days from Tropea to reach Villa San Giovanni, where we took the ferry to Sicily. We had beautiful views along the coast toward the island of Stromboli, and we really enjoyed riding through the seaside town of Scilla.

view of stromboli island italy
Amazing coastline and Mount Stromboli in the distance, one of the three active volcanoes in Italy.
bicycle touring southern italy
Dirt road courtesy of OSMand with Nicotera in the background.
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Pretty painted boats in Scilla.
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Alleyway in Scilla.
bicycle touring southern italy
Viewpoint in Palmi, Sicily and Mount Etna out in the distance.
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The stunning coastal scenery never ends.

Video from Southern Italy

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