Bicycle bliss: Trail on Italian Riviera is easy and scenic
By LEAH LARKIN | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: May 29, 2015
Put the skis away. Time to tune up the bikes and get back in the saddle. I convinced my husband, Bob, who has done little cycling during the past few years, that he needed to get moving again.
The perfect trek: the 13-mile-long Ponente ligure (west Liguria) cycle track from Ospedaletti to San Lorenzo al Mare — an easy and scenic route along the Italian Riviera.
Old railroad tracks were converted into the wide coastal trail, used by walkers and roller bladers as well as bicyclists. It meanders through the delightful town of Sanremo, then down the coast. No hills. No need to downshift. There are plenty of spots along the route with benches where you can rest and enjoy the scenery. Or stop for a swim or walk along a beach.
Bicycle rental depots are plentiful, with several in Sanremo where pedal-powered mini-carriages are also available. The route leads through small, charming villages (Bussana, Arma di Taggia, Santo Stefano al Mare), where you can stop for refreshment.
We had a fantastic bargain lunch at Cafe Emy by the beach in San Lorenzo al Mare. The insalata frutti di mare (seafood salad) was huge — a meal in itself. My spaghetti frutti di mare (11 euros, about $12) was the best I have ever eaten.
Tunnels are a unique aspect of this bike route, and there are several. The most famous and longest is the Capo Nero tunnel along the section called Sanremo-Ospedaletti, which is a mile long. It has been turned into a memorial to Sanremo’s most famous sporting event, the cycling classic Milan-Sanremo, which was held on March 22 this year.
Every bay of the tunnel is dedicated to a year in the history of the race. Some basic facts about that year’s event are written on one side, with tidbits and anecdotes on the other, in both Italian and English. I was too busy pedaling to read it all.
We rode about 30 miles, from Sanremo to San Lorenzo al Mare, then back through Sanremo and on to Ospedaletti, where we turned around again and rode back to Sanremo.
Sanremo merits a visit on foot. We wandered up through the labyrinth of skinny, twisting alleys and lanes that climb a hill through La Pigna, the oldest part of the city. There are lovely views of the town below and the sea when you emerge from the maze of dark passageways.
After making our way back down, we stopped to shop at the town’s huge covered market hall, a paradise for foodies. There are picture-perfect displays of fruits and veggies; stands selling hams, sausages and cheeses; and booths where you can buy all manner of packaged pastas and jarred Italian delicacies. In the fish section, you’ll find creatures you’ve probably never seen displayed on a bed of ice.
Sanremo became a popular destination for European royalty in the mid-19th century. Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Tsar Nicholas of Russia and others favored its balmy coastal winters. The cycle route skirts the town’s busy harbor, with sections bordered by belle époque mansions that once belonged to aristocrats who wintered there.
Today, Sanremo is popular with tourists from everywhere. We enjoyed good weather and no crowds on the bike route in March. Cycling the route in July and August might not be as pleasant, as it’s bound to be packed with cyclists and walkers.
Bob was happy back on his bicycle. I’ll bet we’ll be taking more bike rides in the future.
West Liguria cycle track
Our accommodations at the tiny Villa Rita (villaritasanremo.it) in Sanremo were reasonable and idyllic. The villa, which has just four guest rooms, is on the bike route, just above the beach and within walking distance of the town center. Our room had a large terrace and lovely views. Ristorante Bar Emy, Via Al Mare 1, San Lorenzo al Mare, Italy, (+39) 0183-91314
The covered market in Sanremo, Piazza Eroi Sanremesi, is open 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily except Sundays. On Saturdays, it opens again in the afternoon from 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
A large outdoor market next to the covered market sells clothes, shoes, linens and much more on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.