As Lance Armstrong put it: "A bike is freedom to roam".
This is a 2-day itinerary of Ferrara and Ravenna: two cities in Emilia-Romagna you’re sure to fall in love with and are best enjoyed on two wheels, appreciating the freedom of movement with the wind in your hair, a smile on your face, and perhaps a little out of breath.
The tour starts in Ferrara, not by chance called the City of Bicycles. Beyond its perfectly-suited nickname, Ferrara also boasts the status of UNESCO World Heritage Renaissance City. There are various reasons for this and, while pedalling through the maze of streets with a rich past, you will understand why!
Estense Castle: the undeniably iconic symbol of the city, whose first stone was laid on 29 September 1385 by the Marquis Nicolò II d’Este. Today, it is considered the symbol of power and stability of one of the most important and enlightened European seignories. The events, accomplishments, love stories and whims of countless characters that took place within its imposing walls are still handed down today as an integral part of its cultural heritage.
The Cathedral of Ferrara is a short ride from the castle. The white marble façade with a beautiful portico, with a depiction of St. George killing a dragon at the centre, is immediately striking. The Piazza Trento Trieste (previously called Piazza delle Erbe) is just a short walk from here, and remains the main hub of the city due to its function as a fruit and vegetable market. Nowadays, it is also used as a stage for numerous events throughout the year.
After exploring these features of Ferrara, it’s time to get back on your bike to venture down Via delle Volte, a 2-km cobbled street that crosses Ferrara and is perfect for cycling thanks to its subtle and romantic atmosphere that almost seems frozen in time.
After this, there’s still time to continue towards Palazzo dei Diamanti, one of the most famous and renowned buildings in Emilia-Romagna, not only for the beauty and distinctiveness of the external architecture, but also for the quality of the art exhibitions held here. Upon seeing this building, it’s easy to guess where the name comes from: the facade is covered with 8500 blocks of white marble streaked with pink in the form of pyramids (or diamonds), a magnificent composition designed to create unusual perspectives and light effects.
However, your first day would not be complete without a bike ride along the city walls: a pathway on the parapets circle the historic city centre almost continuously for nine kilometres, thus retracing one of the most impressive defensive systems of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
After so much pedalling, it’s time for a toast.
But where? At Al Brindisi of course, the oldest tavern in the world, where some of its most famous regulars included Copernicus, Torquato Tasso and Ludovico Ariosto.
At the break of dawn on the following day, it’s time to head to Ravenna, home to eight monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The merit of the History (with a capital H) is evidenced by the basilicas and baptisteries that house the most extensive heritage of mosaics known to civilization, dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., are preserved. Indeed, Ravenna was the capital of three empires: the Western Roman Empire, Theodoric’s Ostrogothic Empire and the Byzantine Empire in Europe.
Back in the saddle, your next stop on this new day is the Basilica di Sant 'Apollinare Nuovo, not to be confused with Sant' Apollinare in Classe, located outside the historic city centre, 8 km from Ravenna. Sant’Apollinare Nuovo houses the largest series of mosaics in the world, divided into three distinct sections: the upper section portraying the life of Christ, the middle section displaying Saints and Prophets, and the lower section showing the famous Palace of Theodoric.
At this point, following the thread of the mosaics scattered throughout the city, it is time to ride up to the Galla Placidia Mausoleum. As you approach the structure, you would never imagine that the plain exterior walls enclose the oldest mosaics in Ravenna in such as small place. These beautiful and captivating mosaics depict the triumph of life over death, and most striking is the starry sky reproduced on the vault. Legend has it that even Cole Porter was inspired by it for his song Night and Day.
A short ride from here sits the Church of San Vitale, an octagonal temple where the art of mosaics is at its finest in the face of Theodora. However, we suggest you take your eyes off her for a moment and turn your attention towards the floor, where a series of concentric circles represent a labyrinth, signifying the path towards purification. Here’s a clue in case you want to give it a try: start from the centre, the rest is up to you to find out...
The final stop is the crowning glory of this itinerary dedicated to cycling. As mentioned previously, the ride from the centre of Ravenna to Sant’Apollinare in Classe is about 8 km. You wouldn’t want to give up now, would you?
Once you have arrived, you will be rewarded with the presence of the most extraordinary and magnificent basilica of Ravenna, where the mosaics make up the face of Jesus in the middle of a starry sky and a green heavenly landscape full of stones, trees, flowers, lambs and colourful birds, among which the figure of Sant'Apollinare, the first bishop of Ravenna, stands solemnly.
You’re sure to be awestruck, but remember, as the Italian song goes: Under such a sun, it is nice to ride!