Bicyling The Piedmont Countryside

It felt like biking through a Van Gogh painting. The open fields. The poppies. The bucolic, pastoral scenes.

For two weeks in the spring of 2013 we drove around areas of North Italy in search of our new home. But when we realized we’d be in Piemonte (Piedmont in English) for my 32nd birthday, we wanted to make it special.

Yet Piedmont is such a simple place, I wondered. Will this birthday be any fun?

I hadn’t expected it to be a birthday I’d never forget.

June Poppies of Piedmont (Italy)
June Poppies of Piedmont (Italy)

The Piedmont region lies in northwest Italy, overshadowed by its neighboring region Liguria (the home of Milan). But Piedmont not to be missed.

In the Monferrato area, just north of Asti and all it’s fancy-pants wine tasting appeal, we found an agriturismo. It turned out to be an old farmhouse renovated by the grandson (now in his forties), and turned into a B&B, called Casale Osvalda.

Agriturismo (Piemonte)
Agriturismo (Piemonte)

The owners made their own jams, the husband worked the land, and the wife made jams, running around sweetly and under-slept from the infant on her hip. They were really kind people. They even brought me a plate full of amuse-bouche pastries the morning of my birthday.

Beautiful birthday breakfast spread we had to ourselves (Piemonte)
Beautiful birthday breakfast spread we had to ourselves, including birthday pastries

As planned, the husband set us up with two mountain bikes so we could explore the area—he pumped tires while we stood around, scanning the landscape and chatting about their story. He told us how they decided to leave Milan and return to his family’s land, how renovating the property and living a quiet country life had been the “easy” choice.

He never mentioned what the “hard” choice had been. But I didn’t ask.

Once we took off on two wheels, we rode downhill on a gravel road behind the house, wound into a valley and then emerged onto an old country lane. From there, we meandered through fields and along paved, empty roadways. And we breathed. In. And I smiled. The smell of cut hay and earthy floral scents buoying me. Carrying me effortlessly forward.

Life doesn’t get simple — or better — than this.

Jason biking a country road (Piemonte)
Jason stopped to take in the view from a country road (Piemonte)
Me on the bike, starting out (Piemonte)
Me on the bike, starting out (Piemonte)
Jason biking over a railroad track (PIemonte)
Jason biking over a railroad track (PIemonte)

Overall, this area of Piemonte feels unpretentious. Authentic and unassuming. There are old, rusty red tractors from the 50s parked in the corners of fields. Dry grasses and crusty wheat fields. Barren, baked brick and concrete towns. Churches that looked like they hadn’t had a service in twenty years.

Another Piemonte hamlet (Italy)

Piemonte hamlet (Italy)

There was some attention to tourists (but not too much), as we encountered a few trail signs/maps on the sides of roads.

Piemonte roadside trail map

Road signs (Piemonte)

I even had the chance to clock myself at a speed-check…

Getting clocked by a speed check, at 16 kph (under 10 mph) (Piemonte)

Many hills were made of golden hay stubble just recently cut. But then you’d turn a corner and encounter a patch of green, the road rising and swaths of vineyards appearing on the scene. A different crop would follow, something growing, even mature. Then a forested hillside.

The landscape changed so quickly, you’d better not blink, or you’d miss it.

Green farm field (Piemonte)

Beautiful contrasting farm landscape (Piemonte)

Mostly, though, it felt like an emptied out place, devoted otherwise to working the land. Which is what I liked so much about it: we had it all to ourselves.

Long, empty country roads of Piemonte (Italy)

Eventually, we biked to an old santuario—a religious refuge on a hill.

Sanctuary on a hill (Piemonte)
Sanctuary on a hill (Piemonte)
Church at the 'sanctuary' (Piemonte)
Church at the ‘sanctuary’. (Piemonte)
Sanctuary (Piemonte)
Another part of the sanctuary. (Piemonte)

After parking our bikes, I bought a popsicle at the church bar, enjoying it in the shade of the centuries-old walls. We walked a trail that circumnavigated the sanctuary buildings, where we wondered if other people coming to Italy got to experience things the way we did.

Jason looked at me just before biking back, and he winked, “Not a bad way to spend a birthday.”

Not a bad way to spend a life.

Our parked bikes, at the Sanctuary (Piemonte)
Our parked bikes, at the Sanctuary. (Piemonte)
We found this on the side of the road, so I had fun with it (Piemonte)
We found this on the side of the road, so I had fun with it. (Piemonte)
Vineyards outside the sanctuary (Piemonte)
Vineyards outside the sanctuary. (Piemonte)

Ever been blown away by an underwhelming place? How have you learned not to judge something at first glance? These things, or any bicycle trips you’d like to share, tell me about them in the comments below!

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