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1. Tuscany, Umbria, The Marches. Part II
(Click here to go to Part I)

Florence-Siena-Montepulciano-Assisi-Gubbio- Urbino-Rimini. Km.: 550 - Days: 6 - Month: May

Day 4: Assisi to Gubbio - 42 km.
In spite of being the shortest leg of the tour, the one from Assisi to Gubbio is undoubtedly the most challenging. I leave Assisi from the same road I came by, and take the first turn on the right to Palazzo. After entering the village of Petrignano I turn right again and cycle on until I cross the road to Perugia. I turn left in the direction of Perugia for a short stretch and at the first crossroad I take a secondary road to the right. At every turn since Assisi I have found a sign pointing to Gubbio, so finding my way wasn't as difficult as I have made it sound. What is going to become difficult very shortly is the ride itself. When you reach Piccione you'll know you are on the right way, and, for once, this won't be much of a consolation. A series of steep switchbacks that seems to have no end starts just after this small village. For about 5 km. the road climbs until Belvedere di Gubbio. The gain in altitude is considerable, and you can take the measure of it as the horizon recedes and the view stretches further and further to embrace the hills of Perugia and the valley of the river Tevere to the west, and the imposing mass of mount Subasio, dwarfing the city of St. Francis perched at its feet, to the south. The road flattens deceivingly just before Belvedere, then the climb implacably resumes for another couple of km. The steep descent begins when Gubbio is not much more than 10 km. away. Before plunging into it you may want to take some minutes to enjoy the view of the 1500+ mt. high peaks marking the border between Umbria and Marche, at the feet of which the towers of Gubbio appear. After you start your descent you'll have to watch the road mostly, and in any case, you'll be entering Gubbio before you have the time to say: -whoaaaa...

Day 5: Gubbio to Urbino - 75 km.
There are two ways to get from Gubbio to the via Flaminia, which, since roman times, links Rome to the northern shores of the adriatic. Both cross the apparently formidable backbone of the Appennino Marchigiano, but the one I take proves a much less challenging climb that the one of the previous day. I shun the Scheggia road that begins right in Gubbio, and take the one that follows the bottom of the valley, heading north. After a couple of km. I turn to the left following the signs reading Pesaro and Urbino. The only difficulty on this road is the rather long Contessa gallery, into which I venture cautiously because of the dim lighting. The road is wide, though, and the cars that pass me coming from behind keep well to my left. The modern via Flaminia is a fast traffic motorway with entrance ramps and bypasses at every town and village along the way. But, as I soon discover, the old Flaminia is still in place, winding alongside the new road and crossing it from time to time to link the villages on the flanks of the valley. It is almost free of traffic, although as a consequence, its state of repair is rather poor (don't worry though, those roman flagstones have disappeared since quite a long time). Staying on the old Flaminia, I cross the Furlo Gorges, which the motorway avoids entering instead a long tunnel which is absolutely off-limits for cyclists. The Gorges landscape gives a sudden impression of wilderness and remoteness, that lasts as long as you stay there, which won't be long unless you slow down (they are not the Grand Canyon). The road to Urbino is to be found just after the Gorges, turning left away from the Flaminia. It's mostly a gentle faux-plat, and only the last 3 km. or so are real climb. The traffic, however, seems to increase in direct proportion to the gradient, and in the very last stretch I feel my breath getting shorter and shorter as the fumes get denser.

Day 6: Urbino to Rimini - 80 km.
The following day it's more of the same as far as road traffic is concerned. The road to Pesaro is very busy and, having started off rather early on a working day I find myself engulfed by the commuting traffic. The situation doesn't change until I get to Pesaro. Then it just gets worse. I know what I am looking for though. I steer clear of the main coastal road and go on in the direction of the city centre and the harbour. I follow the signs that read Capitaneria di Porto (the Coast Guard HQ), until there's no way to go but left, through a quiet suburb near the sea. Soon I am out of the urban area and start to climb a wooded hill. After a couple of turns the blue expanse of the Adriatic sea appears on my right. I am following the road en corniche carved along the flanks of the headland that separates the Marches coast from the Riviera of Emilia Romagna, and constitutes the only rugged stretch of coast between Trieste and Ancona. I consider these 15 km. among the most beautiful of my itinerary that has crossed some of the most renowned parts of Italy. After the village of Fiorenzuola di Focara, perched on a windy cliff plunging vertiginously into the sea (a site mentioned by Dante in his Commedia, as the inscription on the gate attests), the view stretches from one side to the sea, and from the other to the hills of Montefeltro, with the medieval fortress of Gradara in the foreground. The last part is a bit of a rollercoaster ride as the road descends almost to the sea level then climbs again on the last crumble of the headland where Gabicce Monte is perched. Looking northward from the top, the white sandy beach (with its belt of hotels and condos) stretches in a long crescent as far as the eye can see (and farther, unless your eye can see as far as Ravenna, which is almost 80 km. away). The wide avenues of the Riviera provide a fitting enough setting for the conclusion of my tour. There are no big crowds, but that's just because the summer season is only at the beginning. Which is much the better to take advantage of the empty beaches for a well deserved rest. Since from the Rimini station trains taking bikes run to Bologna every two hours all day long, I just have to decide how much resting I need.

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Click on photos to zoom

A view of Assisi stretching
at the feet of Monte Subasio

The franciscan Basilica
appears behind a curtain
of olive trees.

The layers on which the town
of Assisi is built reflect the
social stratification of medieval
society. From top to bottom:
nobility, gentry and commoners

In the fashion of a zen garden,
S. Damiano's cloister
gives shape to the spiritual
values of the Franciscan
movement: simplicity and the quest for the absolute.

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