By ExperiencePlus! traveler Tamsen Granger
I just got back from the ExperiencePlus! 40th Anniversary Bike Across Italy Tour – Pisa to Venice- what a trip! It was 12 days of extraordinary food, fun, sights, and, oh yes, rides in the company of founders, Rick and Paola, current owners Monica and Maria Elena, fabulous guides Cristina, Sara and Lisa, and a terrific troop of guests from all over the world. My husband, Dan, and I returned to suburban New Jersey invigorated and well-rested with the best souvenirs: choice memories of new friends, exquisite views and the glow of personal achievements.
We’ve been lazy about taking real vacations since we bought a weekend house 8 years ago. However, with our 30th wedding anniversary looming in October, I thought a real celebration was in order. We had been on many adventure trips as a couple and as a family with a variety of tour companies, but none in the last 10 years. Why not indulge our love of Italian culture with a bicycle romp across Italy? The ExperiencePlus! trip from Pisa to Venice seemed doable (rated 201). The dates worked. And they were celebrating an anniversary, too!
The hardest part about going on the trip was tearing Dan away from work. I’m off for the summer, but Dan’s a lawyer and always on the job. Once we got to Lucca, though, it was all about the ride. From our first meander around Lucca atop the ancient walls to our triumphal entrance into Venice, we were immersed in a daily routine of cycling, eating and exploring that was stimulating and restorative.
Favorite memories? Here are just a few (keep in mind that I am an art history instructor): The Buffalmacco frescoes at il Camposanto in Pisa. Trudging up Monte Albano (on bikes) then gliding into Florence through the Cascina Park. Green tea gelato at Neri in Florence. The glorious Roman theater in Fiesole. Art Nouveau ceiling frescoes in Faenza’s Hotel Vittoria. The terrific dinner with ExperiencePlus! staff and family at Osteria della Sghisa in Faenza. Kiwis, cherries, grapes, olives, roses, oleanders surrounding us as we rode through Emilia-Romagna.
…The anticipation of the climb over the Apennines and the exhilaration of reaching the little bar at the top. Stuffing our shirts with newspaper an effective windbreak for the trip down. The unspeakable brilliance of the mosaics of Ravenna, still dazzling after more than a thousand years. Zooming along the Po River past flamingoes, egrets, and doves amid farmland and crumbling villas. Lunch at “the farm”: fresh pasta (rolled before our eyes), oozing gorgonzola dolce and squacquerone, crisp salads and, for dessert, heavenly caramelized figs over fresh ricotta.
…Stilt dancers in Chioggia. Sea breezes as we rode along the Lido. Swimming in the Adriatic. And the final celebration dinner with speeches and poetry and jokes and a visit from “the mayor” (of the street).
The trip was a great success and we truly enjoyed being part of the ExperiencePlus! 40th Anniversary celebration. Meeting Rick and Paola and “the girls” (aka current owners) was fun and hearing their reminiscences from over the years made us feel part of the family. And, through meeting the staff, seeing the hard work of the guides, and pumping Monica and Maria Elena with questions, we got a picture of a savvy and dedicated group, running a business with tremendous attention to detail and marketing know-how. ExperiencePlus! is a family business built on timeless values, supported with up-to-the-minute business expertise. And it shows.