Q+A on Biking in Italy with Maria Elena Price of ExperiencePlus!

From Venice to Florence with expert guides and great accommodations, this easy-level bicycle tour will take you to magnificent spots including family farms, traditional restaurants and to see local views you can only get traveling by bicycle. This tour has most all of the elements of a great trip to Italy: history, cuisine, gorgeous landscapes…and great cycling.

Maria Elena Price is co-owner of ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours, a company started by her parents in 1972. As the daughters of two adventurous bicycle tour and travel enthusiasts, Maria Elena and her sister Monica have become two of the leading bike tour guides of today’s generation, with the sisters even gaining the #2 spot in the National Geographic’s 10 Great Tour Guides List. As a dual citizen of Italy and the U.S., Maria Elena combines her spirited personality with her knowledge of Italian history and geography, and along with her ExperiencePlus! expert tour guides, creates one-of-a-kind tours.

Dream of Italy: How did your family come to start ExperiencePlus!
Maria Elena Price:
My parents, Rick and Paola Malpezzi Price, founded the company in 1972 when they were young college students trying to find a way back to see my mother’s family in Italy They based the idea of a biking tour on their own journey 3 years before when they, set out from Pisa by bike and crossed the Appenines to Forlí – essentially, biking across Italy (in fact, the name of the company then was Bike Across Italy).

Who would have  ever imagined that four plus decades later, my sister and I would continue to craft bicycling vacations for curious travelers?From the beginning, and still today, the emphasis and goal has been to create meaningful connections through bike travel.  When you combine the advantages of a bicycle, a human powered vehicle that is healthy, slow paced and independent with well designed itineraries through fascinating destinations, you get the vacation of a lifetime.

DOI: How have bike tours changed in those years?
MP: What we find has changed is how people decide where to go and when. We have developed shorter and longer tour options for most of our trips.  Most itineraries now have a 7 or 8 day option and a 10 – 12 day extended option so that we can accommodate different needs for different travelers.

We also find that more people want to just travel with their friends or on their own schedule so we found ways to easily set up custom dates or private trips within our schedule. There are certainly differences in the newer generations but we find that ultimately the desire to explore and the delight people have in exploring by bike hasn’t changed that much.

DOI: Tell us about the Bicycling Venice to Florence Tour.
MP: This is it – our most popular tour – the classic bicycle tour that we first created back in 1972; the “big bang” of our family business. If you love “everything Italy”: Roman and Renaissance history, the landscape, the great artworks, the architecture and the famed cities, and the wonderful culture, food and wine, then you’ll love our most beloved tour across Italy from Venice to Florence.

Beginning in romantic Venice, you cycle through the heart and soul of Italy, following routes we’ve ridden for over 30 years. Enjoy gourmet meals and wines from Italy’s most renowned culinary regions, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany and take time to wander through the great art cities of Ferrara, Ravenna while ending the journey in Florence.  Along the way, take in local markets and discover a side of Italy seldom seen by tourists.

DOI: What makes Italy a biking culture?
MP: Cycling is a major part of Italian life both as a means of daily transportation and as a sport. Cycle touring is not as popular in Italy but since everyone rides a bike – either to the market, to school –  or for sport, the presence of cyclists is pervasive. We often get the question “are the roads safe?” and the reality is, since most people are used to biking they really respect cyclists on the road and know how to treat and share the road with them.

DOI: Where are some of the best places to bike in Italy? Are any of them surprising?
MP: Italy is such a diverse country there’s something for every type of cyclist.  Northern Italy’s Dolomites are a mecca for any cyclist who has watched the Giro D’Italia or for someone  who loves the idea of experiencing a blend of Italian, Austrian and German culture amidst the tremendous backdrop of Italy’s most stunning mountain range. This region allows avid cyclists to explore some of the most challenging rides in cycling history.

If you head towards Tuscany, one of the classic cycling destinations in Europe, you can dive into the rich Italian (wine) culture and history by exploring towns like San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Siena, Florence, Volterra. You can also cycle off the beaten path and into important Tuscan towns including Volterra and Montecatini. For example, our Hidden Tuscany Plus! Tufa Towns Tour explores little-known towns like Massa Marittima and Castiglione della Pescaia, while you also savor and relax like royalty at the end of a day in local spa hotels.

Those who desire to explore Southern Italy can cycle the Adriatic Coast between the spur and heel of Italy’s “boot” in Puglia. Nestled against the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean ancient Greek and Italian cultures mingle among hillside vineyards, olive groves, and whitewashed villages. Our bike tour in Puglia begins in Matera, a world renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site, where dwellings carved into limestone caves create an enchanted and ancient stone city. We explore Alberobello, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its unique conical shaped dwellings known as trulli.  The tour ends inland in Lecce, the baroque Florence of Southern Italy where palatial streets welcome us. I could keep going but that’s just a taste of the breadth of experiences Italy has to offer bicycle travelers.

DOI: Is it easy to bike in Italy’s cities?
MP: There are a lot of cyclists and there’s cycling infrastructure in Italian cities, but generally our trips avoid the major cities like Rome or Milan or Bari.  But, when we do enter cities we do so on quiet roads or city bike paths – of course like with most city riding, we make sure people feel comfortable riding in and if they don’t they can jump in the van.

DOI: What’s the latest “hot” destination for a biking vacation?
MP: Portugal has certainly been another top destination for travelers over the past two or three years. Portugal tours have filled up fast and it is not hard to understand why. Great cycling weather, check. Excellent (and affordable) cuisine, check. Fantastic wine, check. Portugal offers beautiful cycling terrain with scenic vistas, colorful countryside’s and lively cities.

Spain is another popular destination including cycling Catalonia’s Costa Brava Plus! Barcelona. This tour passes through some of the most fascinating towns in all of Spanish history.  On this tour you get the best of all worlds: hidden fishing villages, quiet medieval towns, wine country, and one of Europe’s most-loved cities, Barcelona.  With a booming gastronomic scene and incredibly rich art history including Salvador Dali’s birthplace, cycling the Costa Brava will thrill a plethora of interests and passions.

DOI: Is a biking trip a good idea for families?
MP: Well, our parents put us on their bikes before we could even pedal our own and we’ve been traveling by bicycle ever since. So you might be getting a bit of a biased response, but we find cycling to be a fantastic way for families to travel together.

Booking a bicycle tour with a group of friends or family allows all parties to experience the freedom of exploring a country together, without the stress of planning a trip or having someone be in charge of daily activities. We handle all the preparation and daily logistics leaving your group with nothing to do but spend the day exploring. Thanks to our trusty chalk arrow navigation, everyone can ride at their own pace and regroup for dinner in the evening. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too! Cycling at your own pace, and still within a group, allows each rider the opportunity to discover unique experiences while still creating shared memories with those closest to you.

We do have a few itineraries suited towards kids younger than 10 or 11 and we’d work with a family to find the right trip for them but we’ve often had teenagers or older children join their parents and grandparents on tour.