Yup, an e-bike. Why not?
The hills south of Alba, vines dripping with purple Nebbiolo grapes that will be turned into Barolo wine, are steep. Why make this day hard on ourselves?
Plus my friend, while fit, hadn’t been on a bike in at least a decade. As it was, we returned our bikes to the shop with just over 15 minutes to spare.
To pull off this ride, we relied on Alba’s tourist office to book bikes for us and to seek out some wine tastings. Had I been organized, we could have handled the first part ourselves with a bit of Internet sleuthing and emails. The second, unless you have your heart set on a particular place, isn’t really necessary. You’ll find shops that offer degustazione.
I was surprised at how hard it was to find bikes to rent — the tourist office had to call three places, and we nabbed the last two that this shop had that would fit us. Admittedly we got a bit of a late start from Turin and so it was almost noon when we arrived in Alba (just under 90 minutes by train heading southeast, ticket cost 6.30 euros each way). Who knew a Friday in September could be so busy?
It took us maybe 20 minutes to walk to Torto Cicli, where the bikes were waiting and we got the rundown on range (90 km on eco mode, less if we demanded more assist, all the way up to turbo). Helmets and a lock were included.
But the woman helping us was not impressed with my approach toward route-planning: one of those free area maps from tourist information. I planned to circle the towns we needed to aim for, then pull it out from time to time and watch for the road signs. She hooked me up to the store’s Wi-Fi and had me download the Barolo route from Torto Cicli’s Komoot page (scroll down to the last one).
Komoot is a Ride With GPS rival that is popular in Europe, though we use it in the U.S. Download the app before you go.
I saved the Barolo route so I could navigate without eating up data. (It still drained my phone battery.)
Finally we were off!
Once beyond the outskirts of Alba, we turned onto the road toward Castiglione and got our first hills. More climbing to Monforte d’Alba, where any photo I took wouldn’t do justice to the church spire, then down and up again to Barolo. We’d intended to follow the tourist office’s suggestion and taste wines at the castle (a fancy tour and tasting couldn’t be arranged on such short notice), but we ended up lingering over a lovely lunch and a glass of Barolo apiece.
Oh look — someone is separating stems and crushing grapes in the middle of town.
Oops, now no time to waste because we needed to get to La Morra for the fancy winery. Good thing an e-bike makes a nasty climb seem effortless!
The tour? Uninspired. We did taste three nice wines (and for those who wanted, some grappa on request). While we by chance had a lovely chat with the owner (I learned that oenologists are in short supply) and I was able to recharge my phone, I wouldn’t say the experience was worth 25 euros apiece. Plus we’re both traveling with carry-on only, so no point in buying wine. YMMV.
La Morra was the highest point on this loop (1625 feet above sea level), so steep descents followed, slowed only by sharp turns and slow-moving farm vehicles at the end of a day of harvesting. Komoot and bike paths got us through Alba rush hour and back to the shop with lots of juice still left in our batteries.
Komoot says this was a 25-mile ride. I wouldn’t have guessed that.
Some practical stuff
To my surprise, the bike shop we used isn’t open on Sundays. To be fair, lots shuts down by Sunday afternoon in Italy, but it’s still tourist season.
In fact, we went back to Alba on Sunday for a wine festival on the main streets of the old town (nearly two dozen area wineries, only a bit of Barolo. All-you-can-taste for 18 euros, including a nice wine glass. But it can’t compete with a French salon des vignerons independents.)
While Barolo is south of Alba, Barbaresco territory is to the north. Check out the Bar-to-Bar route (Barbaresco to Barolo, also for hiking) as well as routes on Komoot. (Torto Cicli has a bunch.)
Thumbs up to the ice cream shop across from the train station, a rec from a random guy my friend approached on the street. Deep dark chocolate (fondente) and a guandujo (hazelnut chocolate) called cremino. Don’t be shy about asking for a taste (posso assegiare?)
Beyond Alba: my timing was off on this one, but the tourism office in Pinerolo (southwest of Turin) offers a 3-hour e-bike tour for 25 euros on the second Saturday of the month, per a flyer I picked up in Turin. Bike and helmet included.