Walking & Cycling in Piedmont with Headwater Holidays
So you are considering an active touring
holiday but which is best, two wheels or two feet? It was a close call on my
latest filming trip with Headwater Holidays in Piedmont, Italy. Happily I got
to try out both.
These are self-guided, independent,
point-to-point touring holidays. In other words, you make your own way, in your
own time, either on foot or by bike, between hotels whilst your luggage is
transported for you.
First, let me recommend Piedmont as the
ideal region for this type of holiday, and especially so if you are new to the
whole concept point-to-point touring. Less well known than some of the other
Italian big hitters, the region lies in the northwest of Italy bordering France
and Switzerland. As you fly in over the snow-capped Alps to the gateway of
Turin you have a dramatic illustration of the origin of its name, 'at the foot
of the mountain'. There are plenty of different areas to explore from the Alps
to the lakes but the Headwater itinerary we chose focused on the lush, rolling
hills of the Langhe Valley, an area famous for its production of wine, cheese,
hazelnuts and truffles. It provided a perfect holiday blend - activity and
gastronomy. Our week included beautiful serene landscapes, quiet roads, vine
covered (only occasionally physically challenging) hills, uncrowded and
intriguing little villages and towns, hundreds of small wineries and delightful
restaurants taking enormous pride in showcasing the very best of the region's
Now I can ride a bike but do so very rarely
and would definitely not describe myself as a confident cyclist. I am fine on
the flat but would try and avoid hills as I'm easily perplexed by multiple gear
changes. So, as we took the 90-minute transfer from Turin airport to our first
hotel, I was anxiously assessing the gradients of the hills and feeling just a
tiny bit daunted. We had taken Headwater's advice and opted for e-bikes but,
even so, I had never ridden one before and was unsure as to how much difference
it would actually make. I needn't have worried - as Headwater rep Luke
explained during the bike handover, the joy of an e-bike is that, even on the
lowest setting, that extra boost of powered assistance also gives you the all-important
boost of confidence and, when it comes to the hills, you simply move up through
the settings according to how much of a 'push' you feel you may, or may not,
My other concern was how long the battery
would last. The bikes are powered by a fairly hefty battery which slots under
the pannier. Fully charged, we were told, it lasts up to 70kms on the low setting
(which is what we used 85% of the time) so, providing you remember to plug them
in to charge overnight in your room, there shouldn't be any need to recharge
during the day. I was happy to discover also that the e-bikes we used only had
8 gears. After a short practise ride up and down the drive of the hotel, we
felt ready to hit the road.
Our first morning cycling was a genuine
revelation - not only did the e-bikes with their solid frame and wide leather
seat provide a comfortable ride but, they were remarkably intuitive to use. As
we reached the first steep hill, I found myself grinning from ear to ear as,
literally at the push of the button, moving from Low through Medium to High
power mode, I rode straight to the top without even thinking about stopping and
even overtook my husband (who's macho pride left him stubbornly set on 'Low').
You are still putting in some effort but nowhere near the thigh burning, heart
pounding, sweaty effort that same hill would have demanded from me on a normal
bike. And so there we were, scooting along quiet country roads and tracks,
tackling the occasional steep climb with ease and revelling in the downhills. I
soon forgot all my cycling fears and was able to relax and enjoy the glorious
scenery all around us. As we were filming our experience, we were stopping and
starting a lot more than you normally would but, even so, we comfortably
managed the 40-50km routes that we needed to cover between hotels.
Finding our way was also easy using the
'Ride with GPS' app. Headwater send you all the instructions before you leave
and, so long as you are familiar with apps, it’s a simple process to download
it and have all routes easily accessible on or off line. Out on the road you
get clear audible instructions and an alert which sounds the second you miss a
turn or go off route. They do also provide 'old school' maps and written route
notes if you prefer but the Ride with GPS really is so much easier to use.
The only downside of an e-bike I can
possibly see is the disdain you occasionally come up against from 'proper'
cyclists. It’s understandable - no serious lycra-clad cyclist powering their
way up a hill with 100% pure physical strength likes being overtaken by a
50-something Brit on an e-bike cheerily calling 'Buon Giorno' as they sail by -
it put a smile on my face though!
For the second part of our week, we
(somewhat reluctantly) gave up our pedal power in favour of pounding the hills
on foot. Now were following written route instructions and covering between 10-16kms
a day. We walk quite regularly at home so relaxed into the slower pace with
The joy of walking of course is the slow
pace, drinking in the detail and having the chance just stop whenever and
wherever you want. And there is plenty to stop for in Piedmont. The linear
patterns of the vineyards and the picturesque hilltop villages provide endless
photo opportunities as do the gorgeous flower-filled meadows. Then there are
boutique wineries and cantinas where you can pop in to sample the glorious
Barolo and Barbera wines produced here. Our evening meals were included on this
trip but at lunchtimes we either found ourselves a little wine bar serving
light meals or bought a simple picnic to take with us.
On most days we would easily be back at the
hotel by mid-afternoon, allowing a good few hours to relax and enjoy their
consistently delightful settings, sometimes with the added bonus of a swimming
pool. We particularly loved the Villa D'Amelia in Benevello and Villa Beccaris
in Monforte D'Alba, both exceptional boutique properties, oozing Italian class.
Most of the walks were on quiet roads and
tracks often walking alongside or even through the vineyards, sometimes taking
the farm workers by surprise. Italians are way keener on cycling than
walking. We literally did not come
across any other walkers in three days. Off-road the terrain was pretty even
but, even so, walking boots did prove essential - in dry weather the vineyards
are dusty and occasionally rocky and, after a night of rain, as we experienced
on the day we walked to Barolo the dust quickly turns to thick claggy mud. Even
in high summer you do need the proper kit - decent boots, wiki layers, a
waterproof and, certainly on the steep downhills and in the mud, poles could be
So as to which is best - walking or cycling
- I have to say I am torn. If you love walking and want a relatively gentle
itinerary, Piedmont is ideal territory and you really can't go wrong. On the
other hand, the cycling was great fun, it felt more adventurous and we could
obviously cover more ground. The e-bikes are terrific for less confident
cyclists. If your motivation is pleasure rather than physical pain - I can't
recommend them enough.
Watch a video about Headwater Walking & Cycling Holidays in Piedmont.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Headwater Holidays.