Most people know Italy by its nickname: even the Italians themselves refer lovingly to the their country as the boot. But only a select few know that when the gods designed and sculpted the Apennine peninsula, they actually meant a motorcycle boot.
Written by: Bella Litinetski Photos: Idan Greenberg
Italy seems to have become the perfect amusement park for motorcyclists everywhere. With the number of motorbikes on the roads of Italy estimated at 7,000,000 for 2018, not including track only bikes and motorcycles of historical value, no longer circulating on the road. The motorcycle culture is so entrenched in the Italian lifestyle that any passerby you talk to will say he has, had or will have a motorcycle. A man or a woman, an adult or a young man, there's not a person who has not come across a two-wheeled vehicle at least once in their lifetime.
The land creates culture and culture creates the land
So what’s so special about Italy that makes it a prime destination for a motorcycle trip? Some would say that the geography in which the state is located is a central part of the matter. The alpine ridge in the north offers spectacular views and endless winding roads, picturesque towns and hotels with huge signs of "bikers welcome" at the entrance. Legendary mountain passes like the Stelvio, or the road still used for motorcycle racing at the Italian Road Racing Championship, Levico-Vetriolo.
On the western side of the Alps, close to the border with Switzerland and France, magnificent valleys stretch out, dotted with side roads and sprinkled with castles and towns. Each valley has its own character, and its local dialect, not to mention the wine and cheeses that the locals pride themselves on.
In one town, which according to the local butcher is the smallest city in Italy with only 12 residents, including the mayor who works at the post office located in the same tiny stone building as the townhouse, there are 5 types of cheeses that are produced only in the cellars of the old slate houses. The town is Moncenisio, and is the last town in Italy before the border of France in the valley val di Susa which stretches out westward from Turin.
As you already know, food in Italy is an inseparable part of the motorcycle culture, and if it comes to motorcycles and food then you have to move to Italy's second mountain range, the Apennines ridge. From Geneva in the north to the tip of the boot in Calabria in the south, the Apennini ridge stretches all over across and along Italy. But one of the most important and interesting areas to travel to catch the Italian motorcycle life is part of the mountain between Bologna (yes the same one where the Ducatis are produced) to Florence.
Appennino Tosco Emiliano
That's the name you want to remember. This place is Ground Zero when it comes to riding. Rolling green hills, endless destinations and small corners to explore on a motorcycle.
On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the local motorcyclists flood the area and at every mountain pass you can see dozens of motorcycles parked at the local bar. But there is no mountain pass like the Raticosa Pass, halfway between Bologna and Florence on the ancient Futa road, you will find many hundreds of bikers congregating in the bar / restaurant located at the top, in what looks like an enormous, spontaneous motorcycle rally. Here you will find motorcycles of all types and bikers of all ages. Even those who come with motorcycles from the sixties, they have probably bought new back then, and still ride them today.
By the way, the Raticosa is already in Tuscany or, more precisely, in the Mugello district. The Mugello district is famous for many things. One of them is the excellent Bistecca alla fiorentina, a large, juicy T-bone steak, and the other is the local racetrack, which hosts many car and motorcycle competitions throughout the year. Of course, seeing the Moto GP race in Mugello is an extraordinary experience, but I would highly recommend going to see the Italian Superbike Championship (CIV) in a more open family atmosphere that allows you to experience the world of racing up close, without all the craziness.
From Mugello the roads lead back, past the Apennini ridge, to the Romagna region, north-east toward Misano. Misano is famous for two things, too. The first is the extraordinary seafood supply in the restaurants of the small resort town and the other is, of course, the racetrack. The Misano circuit also hosts many many competitions and events throughout the year as well as accessible track days. Once in every two years there is also the world's largest Ducati gathering: WDW or World Ducati Week.
Next to Misano you will find San Marino, a small and independent state inside Italy that sits quietly on a hill overlooking the valley below. In this valley, just south of the racetrack in the direction of the town of Urbino, in the Marche region, lies a small village called Tavullia. The access road to Tavullia is decorated with yellow flags with the number 46, Valentino Rossi’s banner, and just before entering the town, on the right, you can see the flat track of the Valentino Rossi's ranch. Inside the town itself is Valentino's bar / restaurant is decorated with the rider's suits and helmets, and rumor has it that even Rossi himself sometimes stops there. Could be because it is the only café in the center of the small town ... By the way, they make pretty good cappuccinos, so I highly recommend stopping by.
If the road from Urbino leads you back north towards Bologna, then you should also stop in Imola. As you have probably guessed, Imola is famous for two things in particular ... The first is a type of flat pita called pidiana - a special baked product that can be eaten but also used to fix holes in the wall, and of course the Enzo and Dino Ferrari track.
Apart from races and track days, the Imola compound is home to one of the largest motorcycle and car flea markets in Italy. The market / exhibition is called mostra scambio and it takes place every year in early September. Hundreds of peddlers, shopkeepers, garages and racing groups come to display their wares and sell surplus equipment, spare parts and antique cars. In one walk around the track, you can see modern race cars, hard-to-detect rust blocks, new and used accessories of all kinds, car-related literature, models and antique furniture. Because ... why not.
After you've filled your motorcycle luggage with unnecessary shopping and your stomachs with the hard-to-digest Piadina’s, you can stop in the city of Bologna itself. Or rather, in a suburb called Borgo Panigale. There, at Cavalieri Ducati Street n.3, you can visit the factory and museum of the most famous motorcycle company in Italy. The museum includes the History of Ducati's production and design, through legendary models such as the Cucciolo that was little more than a bicyble with a motor attached to it, to the most advanced Panigale. After a visit to the museum you can also book a visit to the factory, or even a test ride at the nearby Ducati store.
If you are lucky enough to arrive in the area on one of the days when they’re open, you can see the impressive private collection of Poggi, the most exclusive private motorcycle museum in Italy. One of its kind in the world, Poggi’s collection displays the entire Yamaha race bike history, with models ranging from the 1960’s to Valentino’s M1 and other GP and SBK bikes. Yamaha officials visit the collection regularly to check the seals on all the engines and to make sure that their prized possessions are well looked after. The second hall of the collection is dedicated to a miscellaneous collection of European bikes of various eras and origins. From German Auto Union motorcycles to long forgotten Italian bikes, this is a true heaven for any motorcycle history enthusiast.
So when to come?
Italy is not known as one of the coldest countries in Europe and many riders continue to ride throughout the year. But the best times for motorcycle trips are undoubtedly spring months April-June, and September, in fall. The month of August is not recommended due to lack of events and heavy heat.
How to get here?
Choose an airport close to your first trip destination and do not be afraid to take a flight with a stop in Rome. There are not always direct flights to the destination.
Advanced tip: direct flight to Milan and from there, a fast train to any point you want, Italo trains will bring you to your destination at a speed of 300 km / h.
How to move around?
On a motorcycle, of course. Italy has a number of motorcycle rental companies and the growing competition in this market allows to enjoy a large selection of motorcycles, at more affordable prices. We traveled on a motorcycle sponsored by HP Motorrad, which offers a wide range of motorcycles at 15 collection points throughout Italy.
(use HPbella on your price request for a 5% off your rental!)
Where to sleep?
Apart from hotels and B & B’s, it is recommended to check if Air B & B or an “Agriturismo” is available along your route. Apart from unexpected places and old houses you can usually find a warm and cozy family like experience.
Imola Exhibition: Early September
Moto GP Mugello: early June
Moto GP Misano: early September
Italy Misano Championship: End of July
Italian championship Mugello: early May, end of September
Misano Classic Weekend: End of October
The reunion: Monza The end of May
Road racing civs carried out in parts of roads across northern central Italy, dates on the FIM Federation website