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Bologna, a bike-friendly city



“You could paint a portrait of Emilia talking about bikes,” suggested Zavattini (from Reggio Emilia and the author of “Bicycle Thieves”) because “their natural home would seem to be here.” Not to mention the great cycling champions.


Housewives in the saddle.

Bikes have always been the means of transport of the ‘zdaure (from rezdoure or housewives) and of all the “bassa” (low), indicating the plain and maybe the class as well. The one “on high” on the hill, leaves it to the others to ride their bikes. And it is Ferrara that claims the title of city of bikes. Under the Via Emilia, where the Apennines reach 2000 m, it is a completely different sport


Cars out of Bologna.

With the lanes in the centre still in the Middle Ages, Bologna which is surrounded by leading engine brands (Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati) has returned to cycling: senior citizens and students. But the cycling craze is growing, seeing that the city centre is sending cars away.


A feeling that is being renewed.

The honeymoon between bikes and the city is entering a new era. Bologna was among the first cities to launch bike sharing, but that is a little languid now. And the certificate of ownership: the bike is stamped with a number, a “number plate”, listed on the national register and paired with an ownership document that is valid for the Town Council and Police. The operation takes place every week and costs 5 euros.


Zero tolerance.

Meanwhile, bikes that are abandoned are confiscated and put up for auction in the square. It’s a real hoot. And every time, the rules are different: today, the one who makes most noise, wins; tomorrow, the one with the most beautiful disguise or who tells the best joke gets the bike, reconditioned, stamped and with a certificate of ownership, all at a political price.


Velo station, can you imagine it?

If I go into town on my bike, where can I leave it? At the mercy of the “bicycle thieves”? No, leave it at the velo-station. A garage next to the promenade area where you can also have repairs done and hire a bike at an affordable price, if you need one.

Bikes keep up with the times and connect historic towns with modernity: institutions are beginning to notice it.




Bologna-Val di Zena (Lago dei Castori: Beaver Lake).

Cremonini sings “How beautiful it is to ride around the hills of Bologna”: well, let’s check it out. Prepare your eyes for green hills, valleys and ravines, which compare favourably with more renowned landscapes (e.g. in Tuscany or Umbria). In addition, the long stretch through the town crosses only parkland to discover the pleasant urban surroundings of the outskirts of Bologna.


From history to green parks.

We start from Piazza Maggiore, to fill our eyes with its mediaeval splendour: Palazzo Re Enzo (the golden prison of the son of Barbarossa, which roamed freely chasing after women); Palazzo d’Accursio where the Emperor Carlo V was crowned, the one who said “the sun never sets on my Kingdom” because it went as far as America, and the Basilica of San Petronio, left unfinished like a Symphony by Schubert. Go into Via Rizzoli and slipping past the two towers, the symbol of the city, you turn into Strada Maggiore, with its beautiful cobblestones, so comfortable under the saddle. You go past the houses of Rossini and Carducci (the one with the pomegranate tree “to which you stretched out your little hand”, as he says in his famous poem) until you come out onto the avenues surrounding the city and entirely crossed with cycle paths, where you bear left and go on as far as the Sant’Orsola Hospital. The path runs through it, then you continue on into Via Pizzardi and along Via Azzurra. From here onwards it is all city parks.


Parkland in the city.

You enter the Arcobaleno Park where the cycle path named after Carlo Piazza begins. You go over the railway, crossing Via Lenin and then Via Lincoln, continue into the garden of Giuseppe Impastato and, once past the tunnel, you are in San Lazzaro, still in parkland, this time consisting of Cedars. Just the other side of the road, you find the Parco delle Rimembranze (with its sports facilities) and come out into Via Bellaria. It’s still part of the city but it feels like you left it miles behind. Here you are in the area known as Pulce. If it is already time to have lunch, we recommend the eating house with the same name. Conversely, continuing along the cycle path, you are inside the Parco dei Gessi (Chalk Park), a nature reserve where this material abounds and used to be extracted for use in building work.


Cyclist traffic.

A chalky and, we might say, lunar landscape with gullies, that you leave behind, diving straight back into the greenery of the Farneto. A beautiful, typical country Church. The road running by the Zena river starts here, passing by farms and vineyards through its unspoilt valley. Only make sure you don’t get run over…by cyclists, that is, the competitive ones. They use this valley like a gym, in their hundreds (we have counted them!) and pedal like mad, or “a busso” as they say in Bologna.


Beavers and castles.

You decide when to stop and turn around, but our advice is to go as far as two places that make the trip really worthwhile: the Laghetto dei Castori (Beaver Lake), a favourite with fishing enthusiasts, and the Castle of Zena, a short ride further on, where your well-deserved restaurant lunch awaits you. If you haven’t got the legs for the whole 20 km (and 20 km back!), you can stop along the way at one of the typical farmhouse restaurants of the Apennines and enjoy the wonderful Bolognese cuisine, including the first courses of tortellini, tortelloni, lasagne, which are listed on the menus as ‘minestre’ (soups).

You can even go on further and return via the Monte delle Formiche and Monterenzio, but this requires trained legs. So, we recommend coming back the same way, which is surprisingly comfortable and downhill and shows just how far you rode uphill on the first leg.

Distance: about 20 km + 20 km

Vertical climb: 220m

Difficulty: for everyone, with some short inclines on the outward journey




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