Biking from Bologna to Ferrara
Biking from Bologna to Ferrara was my first long journey since I had a bicycle here in Italy. I always liked cycling. When I lived in São Paulo (Brazil) I tried to include the bicycle in my daily life for routes up to 5km, when it was possible, and I participated in cycling groups. My only attempt at that time to make longer routes was on a descent to Santos, via the Marcia Prado route. It is a path that borders the Serra do Mar, with breathtaking landscapes, but that ended with mine and 3 more stolen bikes. My bike was the only one recovered by the police, but the experience of having a gun pointed at me was something that marked me. After that I never thought about taking another bike trip.
This and some other episodes of violence that I went through when I lived in Brazil were decisive in my decision to move to Italy in 2018. I live in Bologna since the end of 2019. With the recent government bonus, up to 60% discount to buy bicycles to encourage savings and alternative transportation after COVID-19, I decided to take the opportunity and buy a bicycle here in Italy. And it was the best investment I made, not only for my health but mainly to live new experiences.
In this article I will tell my first experience on a longer journey, 74 km from Bologna to the city of Ferrara. I don't know if this is already considered a cycle trip, since after all I came back to home at the end of the day but it is certainly part of my training to make a longer bicycle trip. So read on to find out more about my trip from Bologna to Ferrara by bicycle.
Technical Sheet – from Bologna to Ferrara by bike
Duration: 5h 24 (13.7km/h)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
About Bologna and Emilia-Romagna
For those unfamiliar Bologna is in Emilia-Romagna, located southern than Milan and northern than Rome. This region borders with the famous and ultra-touristic Tuscany and is known for producing high quality food and cars. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati, Barilla, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lambrusco ... These are just a few names that you may have heard and that are produced here in this region. The industry is generally more concentrated in the cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna. Emilia-Romagna is one of the richest regions in Italy, not only in per-capita income, but also in gastronomic terms. Balsamic vinegar is made exclusively in the cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is produced in the cities of Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and Bologna, while Grana Padano is also produced in the rest of the Emilia-Romagna region. We could not of course forget about Parma ham and wines like Sangiovese, Lambrusco and Trebbiano, just to name a few. Finding this type of food at km 0 makes everything much more accessible and I can say that you eat a lot, but very well, spending a few. In bars there is a habit of making an aperitif or happy hour with a board of cold cuts and a bread called 'tigella', a mini bread that accompanies the delicious 'Tagliere'. It is no wonder that Bologna is also known as "La Grassa" that means "The Fat".
Italy, Bologna and the bycicles
Bologna is a city that in itself already offers a lot to cyclists, especially from the perspective of someone who grew up in São Paulo. The number of bike paths, cyclists and the effort to promote the use of bicycles is notable. There are several routes suitable for a bike ride out of the city in a few kilometers. There is a ring-shaped cycle path around Bologna and many smaller cycle paths that connect to it (the so-called 'tangenziale').
The infrastructure of bicycle lanes is already quite extensive and is expanding. In addition cars respect the cyclist a lot when we need to share the same space on the street, always keeping a safe distance at least within cities. See some maps of Bologna's main bike paths here. I can't say the same on the bigger roads. I would say that it is strongly inadvisable to try to walk on bigger and faster roads using a bicycle. In fact, it is forbidden here cycling on fast roads, so cars tend to think that you are wrong to walk on a road even if it is a small road with low maximum speed. The fact is that there are many routes dedicated only to bicycles that we can use, or secondary roads with little traffic, without the risk of sharing the space with cars and trucks on the larger roads. I researched and quickly found some GPS routes that connected Bologna to Ferrara by bicycle. And then the preparation for the trip began.
The preparation for the trip
I will mainly talk about what I should have done. On Friday I found a website that described the route and offered the GPS route. On Saturday morning I already was on the road! The truth is that in my mind I thought the 74km would be like a walk in the park and in reality the planning was almost nonexistent.
Checklists to organize the bike route
So, after the lessons learned I leave here some advice for myself to follow in the future as a checklist:
- Bring a Cap (or better a helmet that also protects from the sun).
- Bring sunscreen (don’t just pass it on, take it to reapply during the trip). Don’t forget to put it on your ears.
- Plan a few stops to get water. One single bottle is not enough and you may not find a place with water for many kilometers.
- Take more than 2 bananas to eat.
- Study the route well before. If you see that there is a route that goes through a large highway, look for alternative routes.
- Be ready to get lost. Ready for water and energy supply. Physically ready to handle the extra effort and psychologically not to despair or get discouraged. Getting lost is part of the journey.
- Leave as early as possible, especially in the summer. The weather will be less hot and the roads more empty. If you are nearsighted, go with a contact lens or wear sunglasses with a prescription.
What I did that I think is right and I also advise you to do:
- Wear gloves, not only because with the sweat your hands start to slip, but also because the sun destroys your hands. If you don’t want to have a 70-year-old woman’s hand, wear gloves.
- Sleep well the day before.
- Eat well before the trip.
- Carry a first aid kit for the bike and for you. Merthiolate disinfectant, a new tire chamber, tools, a pocket knife … Things that can be useful and don’t take much space.
- Don’t give up on the first unforeseen midway. Take it easy, breathe and look for a solution or alternative.
- Be kind to others.
- Enjoy every moment of the trip.
The trip Bologna – Ferrara
The start from Bologna is very smooth. After passing through the city center, you will start the journey from a park - Parco di Villa Angeletti - which is behind the train station. The pebble/dirt road follows most of the time beside a stream called 'Canale Navile'.
I met many people on this trail by bike or on foot. I had some doubts about my hybrid bicycle behavior with this type of terrain but she did very well. After a long way you should find a crossroads that goes up to an asphalt road on Via Giuseppe Di Vittorio. From there another very quiet way on the asphalt, on a bike path passing through Castel Maggiore until arriving at my first road and the first scare.
My bike path ended and I started walking among the cars on the road. Some of those passing just near to me, quite scary, including some trucks and heard some honks, until a holy couple stopped and told me that the bike path was on the other side of the road (I couldn’t see it because it was just below the ground and had no signs). I crossed the road and returned to the bike path arriving at San Giorgio di Piano. (Then I went to check on maps and there is really a good stretch of this road that has no bike path, which appears later on).
A very pleasant town, full of bars and restaurants. Here I should have supplied myself with water and eaten something, but I was still full of energy, I had only done about 23km. I followed another 2km to Bentivoglio and the GPS map signaled me to follow a highway again, without a bike path! So I stopped in a shadow and thought: “it is not possible, I will be honked or have an accident on this trip”. Then I thought about giving up at that moment, 25km was already a good ride. I called Anna who accessed another GPS map that indicated an alternative dirt road route through Via Argine Navile.
Therefore I went back a little bit to make this trip that was very pleasant, going through several agricultural fields of different types of plantations. The only traffic was tractors and other cyclists. I also passed inside a forest park with a well-closed forest with a welcome shade to cool the dryness. At that point, my water was gone and I was far from finding any place with water.
It was only at km 40 that I found a bar. I stopped for about 10 minutes to drink water, calmly review the map and enjoy the shade for a while. The sun was very strong. I ate the other banana (the second one that I took). I thought it would have been enough for the rest of the route and ok, 30 km seemed very few now. Let's move on. The next way was very pleasant also in the middle of a park, with a pebble bike path, but again it ended with a highway. I stopped again, looked at the map, looking for some parallel road ... It looked just like a small stretch of highway on the map before to come back to a dirt road when I looked at another cyclist on the highway. I thought: "I'm going to follow him, it may be safer to go in a group". And really, it was much easier to be on the highway in a group, the cars respect more. The problem is that I got distracted and passed the point where I had to turn onto the country road. No problem, I left turned onto the next one which was also a quiet road with few cars.
From there I crossed very long rural roads with few cars until reaching Ferrara. In the last few kilometers I felt powerless and slowed down a little bit. I still found a snake on the curb, I saw it from a distance and as I am nearsighted and without glasses I thought it was a dead pigeon, I was just scared and nothing more.
Ferrara and the return to Bologna
Ferrara is a very inviting city for cyclists and for those who do not know, it is known as "Città italiana delle biciclette" or the Italian city of bicycles. A large part of the population in Ferrara uses bicycle as the main means of transport at one level similar to Copenhagen.
The arrival was very smooth, with bike paths and very respectful cars. I arrived not exactly at a good time for Italian restaurants (which usually close after 2 pm), but after a quick tour in the center, I found a great bar with beer and burgers. I refueled and went to the station to catch the train back to Bologna.
It is interesting to mention that here you can transport bicycles on trains in the first and last wagon. You need to buy a 'ticket' for the bike, a fee of around 3.50 euros. If it is a folding bike you do not need to pay any extra and just get it folded on the train.
In 30 minutes I got back to Bologna and did the final ride to my home. I took a nice shower and slept deeply.
Traveling by bicycle is an incredible experience that makes you see and know things you would never do by car. It is a time to connect with yourself and nature, to slow down and look at things from another perspective.
Italy is a beautiful country and offers incredible landscapes. To do this safely I consider important to have more and more exclusive spaces for bicycles. The only unpleasant and perhaps even dangerous moment of the trip was having to share space with the cars on the highways.
Undoubtedly, I would do this route from Bologna to Ferrara again by bicycle, but this time I would go in a group so that I could face the highways more safely if necessary and have more heads to look at GPS / Maps and find alternative routes and routes whenever possible. I plan to return to Ferrara soon, but this time I intend to go there with the bike on the train, and thus have the energy to do some trips around the city which seems to have a lot to offer cyclists. Soon I'll write more about it. I hope you enjoyed this story and if you also like to ride and want to share experiences just leave a comment here in the post. See you soon!