There's one country in Europe that ticks every box as far as cycle touring goes and it is Italy. It's got flats and mountains, a beautiful coastline, dozens of glorious cities and thousands of pretty villages, some of the friendliest people in Europe, usually reliable weather and a carb-heavy cuisine that almost seems designed for long days in the saddle.
26th April - 11th June 2012
I saw almost the whole of Italy, except the mountains in the north and given that they are just over the border from Austria, I'd imagine they are just as attractive as the rest of the country. If you are looking for flat cycling, although obviously with less attractive scenery, you can cycle from Milan to Ravenna with hardly a hill. Tuscany is everything you've heard it to be and the shin of Italy's leg offers stunning coastal riding.
The roads are very good. I've heard tales of cyclists who found Italian driving to be a little flaky but in my 3,500 kilometres in the country I didn't notice it to be as bad as anywhere else and it was considerably better than in the UK. At least Italians kept their distance.
Watch out. Italian cities like their cobbles and they can stretch for miles. If cycling south out of Naples expect to have your bike shaken to pieces.
Italy is more expensive than other Mediterranean countries. Of the twenty-two campsites I visited, the average was €13 (ranging from €9 to €24, although €24 is an anomaly - it was Pompeii - and the second most expensive was €16). My fourteen hotels averaged €48 (ranging from €30 to €85).
The international hotel starring system is a science. In Spain, an entry level hotel merits one star. In France the same hotel would have two stars. In Italy it has three.
For a language that is pretty much only spoken within these borders the typical Italian in Italy is a bit rubbish with foreign languages. With a little knowledge of French or Spanish, it isn't difficult to pick up the basics of Italian. Once again, I recommend Michel Thomas's Italian course.
All the reasons already mentioned plus Rome, Florence, Ravenna, Perugia, Sicily and loads of other places.
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