Cycling Apennine Mountains | Lucca Cycling Club

Apennine Escape: Lucca to Bologna


Ciao! I'm Alison.

If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.


Ciao! I'm Alison.

If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.

You want to thrive, be healthy, have great relationships and kick ass in your calling.

Our happiness and fulfillment come from pushing our personal boundaries to overcome obstacles, be more, and do better. As human beings, we evolve by making progress.

That’s why the Apennine Mountains are calling your name — specifically the 185 kilometer stretch between Lucca and Bologna. It’s the third and hardest ride of my Destination Trilogy (special prizes for those who complete all three).

You were born to reach great heights. Regardless of your work or family demands, you must go where you feel most alive.

In the mountains of wisdom, no climbing is in vain. — Thich Nhat Hanh

In 3300 meters, I promise, there’s plenty of wisdom (among other treasures) to be found. Here’s your vacation to train for — and the flexibility of riding without a large group.

Ready to see what cycling in the Apennine looks like?

If you’re familiar with Lucca, you’ll recognize the valley roads via Ponte della Maddalena (or the Devil's Bridge) and Bagni di Lucca. I like leaving early — anytime before 6 am — to make strides before the muggles arise.


I once lived in Bologna and would ride makeshift routes to Lucca — only to miss all the good stuff. Emilia Romagna calls itself a region with a thousand souls: locations, interests, events, itineraries and experiences. Curators (of anything) know that the devil is in the details. I do now, too.

A spectacular stone-lined descent ushers you from Tuscany to Emilia Romagna, and into Porretta Terme. Known since Roman times for its thermal springs, Porretta Terme is our first, well-earned coffee stop of the day.


From Porretta Terme onwards, the landscapes are distinctly Emilia Romagna. It's a fascinating countryside, interspersed with eroded clay gullies, ancient castles, parish churches and medieval villages.

This particular route through the Apennine coincides with sections of the Gothic Line, the final main German defensive line in northern Italy. In honor of the lives lost, a mountain lighthouse was built on the Sasso di Rocca in Gaggio Montano.


Make it up three short cobbled muretti and 130-ish stone steps, and you’ll have the world at your feet. The expansive views overlooking the Bolognese Apennines are worth their weight in gold.

If the riding doesn’t convince you, the food surely will. The best osterie and agriturismo are often in the countryside (alongside their crops). City folk flock to these places on the weekends to taste the freshest Tortelli, tagliatelle al ragù, gnocchi and polenta with porcini mushrooms.


If it wasn’t for the raw, natural beauty, 185 kilometers would be too tall a task for a rider like me. Yet the destination is just as beautiful as the journey. The allure of the Madonna di San Luca with the Bologna cityscape on the horizon is enough to keep any cyclist from the brink of implosion.

The finishing climb of Giro dell’Emilia (via the 666 arches of St. Luke) drops you into Bologna, or the land of Mortadella and ragù. Take solace in the fact that the pro men ride up “San Luca” five times, while we ride down just once.


Special thanks to Alessandro Salvaggio for images that I hope will inspire your own photomontage.

This experience isn’t for everyone, but you’ll surely know if it’s for you. If you have a living sense of wonder, an innocent obsession with cycling, and seek the most of life, THIS is indeed the ride for you.

Cycling this Apennine Escape with me, you’ll see, feel and taste:

  • Porretta Terme and Bologna
  • Gaggio Montano Lighthouse
  • Flavors of typical Emilia-Romagna dishes
  • Soul-stirring mountainscapes
  • Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca plus the 666 arches of the Portico of St. Luke
  • Peaceful meandering mountain roads

It would be my honor to guide you through the Tuscan–Emilian Apennines. When you’re ready to take on the challenge, book this ride here.

Note: While there are no gravel sectors on this course, we recommend at least 28 mm tires, compact gearing and 11/32 cassette.

4 thoughts on “Apennine Escape: Lucca to Bologna”

  1. Derek J Rosario

    Looks absolutely fabulous Alison
    Hope to join you one day when all this madness is a bit easier to negotiate – when would you suggest us the best time of the year to visit?

    1. Alison Testroete

      Hi Derek, glad to have you here. Cyclists typically travel to Lucca/Tuscany from mid-April through mid-October, and all seasons have unique characteristics. On this ride, for example, you can pick cherries en route from early June through mid-July, but it’s also the warmest time of year.

      If you struggle with the heat but are okay with weather uncertainty, April, May, September and October would be for you. If, on the other hand, you’re okay with the heat and can’t stand riding in a bit of rain ( 💁🏼‍♀️ ), come in June, July, or August.

  2. Wow, looks great! I will be back in Florence in June ’23 and hope to add the Siena and Bologna rides to the Florence ride that you posted. Am hoping to drag along a few friends, as well. Thanks for these great rides!

    1. Alison Testroete

      I like your thinking, Jonathan. These rides are specifically designed for folks who spend time in Lucca so if you’re coming to Florence, other options open up. Get in touch when you’re ready to talk tactics!

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