This randonnée is the equivalent for southern Italy of the 1001 Miglia, that exists for several years, and that I rode in 2016, 1001 Miglia being located in northern and central Italy. Like 1001 Miglia, it is approximately 1600 km long, and both are now part of a new four-year challenge, called Grand Tour d’Italia, that will include also a randonnée around the Alps in 2018, and a two-part randonnée in the islands, 600 km in Sicilia, 600 km in Sardinia, in 2019. The organizers kindly put three BIG on their route, which was a good bonus for me.
The randonnée started in Roma the last Sunday of June. It was a very nice trip as it was designed to take us around some of the most beautiful sites of the country. The start was for instance in the Circus Maximus in Roma. The first notable site was Castel Gandolfo, where the popes have their summer residence. This place overlooks a very nice lake, with strangely steep banks.
We followed our way down to the sea at Sperlonga, with wonderful views to the coast and the Ischia Island, then we got back into the lands to visit Reggia di Caserta, a very impressive building, and Pompei, where I arrived at night, so saw nothing of the roman town, but had a look at the very nice cathedral. By the morning, I reached the sea again in Sorrento, where I had a little sleep before climbing the first BIG of the trip.
Picco Sant-Angelo is not the hardest BIG on earth, but it opens the road to the very scenic Amalfi Coast. The road follows the coast, half-way between the sea and the cliffs above, with wonderful views to the sea below and the villages with their houses built above each other on the steep slopes of the coast. After Salerno, we headed to Paestum, where we cycled across the archaeological site and its impressive Greek temples.
From Paestum the route went eastwards. I was happy to find a group of riders for the stretch up to my second night stop in Tricarico. The day after we passed by Matera and its famous Sassi, a borough where houses are dug into the rock. After Matera came my toughest moment of the trip. It was mid-day, end of June and the temperature was about 40° C. We were riding on a rather unpopulated area, with no villages (and no fountains) along the way. With the heat, I drank a lot and I saw the moment I had to stop in one of the scarce farms to ask for water. So I was much happy to arrive at the town of Mottola, where I was able to drink liters, eat an ice-cream and cool down a little for the rest of the trip.
After visiting the nice town center of Martina Franca, I arrived in the country of the trulli. I had already heard of this typical form of building, but I hadn’t realized it was so extended. Trulli can be seen all around and inside Alberobello, the capital of the region, and are very numerous. One out of two or three houses in the area is in fact a trulli. After Alberobello, we followed our way to the Adriatic Sea and Polignano a Mare ,then began our westwards return to Roma. I had another night stop in Castel Del Monte, that we saw all illuminated on the top of its hill long before we arrived.
The next day was frustrating for a BIGger as we passed along Monte Vulture without climbing it. But after the last night stop in Morcone, came a more rewarding day in Matese and Abruzzo. We started with the climb to Bocca della Selva from which Sella di Perrone is reached going downhill (I know, I know, this is not an official BIG side, but I’ll come back). Then we passed along lago del Matese, lago di Gallo and lago di Barrea before starting the climb to Passo del Diavolo, third and last BIG of the randonnée.
After the descent of Passo del Diavolo, we came across Fucino, a very large and totally flat dried lake with a spatial center full of antennas in the middle of the fields. The town of Avezzano was at the end of this part and after began a gentle climb to Colle Civitella. I arrived at about 1 am at the last control in Castel di Tora. There, I was wondering if I was going to sleep or tried to reach Roma the same night, as we were only 80 km away, with more downs than ups, so it looked like the arrival was now very close. At this moment, I was asked by another rider what I wanted to do, as he told me he was leaving now. This decided me, so we were three, an Italian, a French and a Swedish to go into the night for the last stage.
Well, I regretted it a bit, because, soon after we left, I began to feel very sleepy. I told my fellow riders that I would stop for a rest, what I did. But despite having slept a little, I felt still very asleep while riding. The coffees I drank along the way in the bars I was lucky to find open at such an hour didn’t make much and I had to stop again, taking some minutes of rest leaning against a tree in the outskirts of Roma. Finally, the arrival of daylight woke me a little and I was able to ride the last kilometers to the finish line, where I was rewarded with a beautiful certificate.
I then went to the central station to get a train back home. Many trains were full so I had a few hours before being able to take one. I knew I was in Roma, I had made at home an itinerary to visit all the famous sites of this capital, but all I was able to do at this moment was to seat on a bank in a nearby square and sleep until it was time for the train. But I’ll be sure back in Roma, as lot of BIG still await me in southern Italy.