Bicycle Bliss in Abruzzo – Sempre Sopra

Cycling in Abruzzo offers some of the best mixed-terrain rides in Italy!  We asked Bill and Eloise who recently  bought a holiday apartment in Sulmona and are avid cyclists if they could share some of their favourite rides and tips to making the most of cycling in Abruzzo.

We are a couple who recently retired from the USA. We have been visiting Italy for a while and decided to purchase an apartment in Sulmona. Sulmona is a perfect base for us since we enjoy cycling and touring the countryside by bike. Sulmona is a lovely medieval town that is in the Valle Peligna. It requires a climb to leave it and explore the neighbouring villages, or you can use the train to get to areas such as the Adriatic coast. Trains in Abruzzo are very accommodating to cyclists. Due to the climbs out of Sulmona to reach the cooler mountain towns that are 650 – 900 meter climbs we have chosen to purchase e-gravel bikes.

We rented e-gravel bikes from in Francavilla al Mare & found them to work well for us. So well, in fact, that when we went back the next year and were offered the option to buy the bikes, we did! We highly recommend Bikelife for their excellent bikes as well as the service they provided along with excellent pricing for rentals or guided tours. We choose Gravel Bikes because of the varied terrain; we have found that 35mm tires work best and you can easily add bags or panniers to the frame.

On our 1st excursion from Sulmona, we decided on a short ride to the nearby town of Petterano sul Gizio. It is a 32km round trip ride thru some beautiful scenery. We chose an alternate path back that adds some distance to the ride but also adds some more local flavour.

Part of this ride is on a nice nature path next to a stream. We also chose to ride towards the
train bridge that you can see from the Centro for a little added fun and scenery. Although you can shorten this ride to an out and back, we highly recommend taking in the diversions to enhance your trip. When we arrived in the town we were not sure how to get to the Centro.  As we stopped to look around, we met a signora anziana. We asked her “Dove il Centro?” She smiled and pointed up the street we were at and said “Sempre Sopra”. Since then, we laugh about how most of our experiences on our rides are “sempre sopra” and it has become our mantra.

We always joke that Eloise is treat driven when it comes to our bike rides. So, we always take advantage of stops along the way at Bars to enjoy a caffè or spremuta along with cornetti.
Petterano sul Gizio has a lovely Bar and fantastic views to enjoy.


On our 1st ride we just followed the main road to Petterano sul Gizio, but it had more traffic than we like. We decided that we needed a better way to plan our routes than simply entering a destination into our Garmin. So, Bill researched various ride apps and settled on Komoot.

You can use it for free to download gpx files and do some research. However, to unlock all its capabilities, you need to purchase a region or pack. Single regions cost around 3.99 but we chose to purchase the world pack for 29.99. Both are one-time costs and since we plan to cycle in more places, the world pack seemed like a good fit for us. We will post links to the rides we talk about at the end of our article.


Rivisondoli & Pescocostanzo

This route takes you thru Bosco di Sant’Antonio, which is an enchanting ancient Beech Forest. During the summer it is a busy spot Italians frequent to escape the summer heat. As you ride you get to see the happy cows in the fields and then reach these lovely ski towns that are fun in summer as well as a relief from the summer heat. After a long climb, there is a welcome respite of wonderful bars and restaurants where you can relax with a refreshing beverage and a dolci to fuel your return trip.This trip from Sulmona is a 65km roundtrip with 1127 meters of climbing and descent. However, one of Bill’s favorite rides is to skip the same return route and ride on to Campo di Giove and Passo San Leonardo before returning through Pacentro to Sulmona. This will add approximately 20km to the ride and one very steep but short climb that will max out at 10.5% rade. However, it also adds some beautiful scenery.

Sant’Eufemia a Maiella

Biking in Abruzzo

Sant’Eufemia a Maiella is a commune in the province of Pescara and located in the Maiella National Park. To get to this lovely little town you get to travel thru Pacentro and Passo San Leonardo. Pacentro is a short ride from Sulmona but a nice climb of 283 meters. On days when time is short, we enjoy riding the old road up and the new road back. This makes for a quick ride, but we still get in some relaxation and a treat. When in Pacentro, we like to stop at Caffè De Martinis. They have the very best spremute and cornetti as well as the nicest staff.  Pacentro is a treasure to visit and by itself is worth the ride up. Once replenished, we continue sempre sopra to Passo San Leonardo. Eloise has been known to carry a cornetto in her back pocket for the stop at the top of Passo San Leonardo. This is a ride full of switchbacks and not a busy road unless it is a weekend, then there are a lot of motorcycles also enjoying the ride. The views are magnificent at the top, in the fall you will see people out foraging for mushrooms.

The abandoned ski resort is a sad sight, but we were privileged to stop and eat a truly delicious lunch there in 2019. The parking lot of the resort is also used by hikers as the starting point for hiking up the surrounding peaks.

Francavilla al Mare to Vasto

Biking in Abruzzo

This was an overnight trip to Vasto. We carried our luggage for 2 days in Vasto. We used the Bike to Coast route, some of which is a dedicated Cycle Path along with sections of road. The Komoot route took us on a section of very busy road to Vasto. Bill modified the route for the return trip that took us thru a Preserve that eliminated the busy road section. Bill reversed this route for the gpx file below. This ride is relatively flat with 220 meters of elevation gain for 59km. We had fantastic views on the Trabocchi Coast as well as a fantastic lunch along the route. We arrived at our hotel (Hotel San Marco) hot and tired. We carried backpacks that resulted in sore shoulders. Panniers or frame bags are planned for future overnight adventures. Vasto was a great town to spend time in. Hotel San Marco was extremely accommodating, allowing us to store and charge our bikes in their garage.

A bonus local route for those looking for something in the beginner category or if you just don’t have a lot of time is the 20km Ciclovidia loop in Sulmona. The terrain varies from road to dirt and goes thru the town as well as the countryside. It also highlights some of the local history like campo PG 78 which was a WWII prison camp which held allied prisoners. This route canalso be found on Komoot.

Tips we Have Learnt Along the Way

Use google Earth to check out the route that you find with Komoot. We have found ourselves on some very narrow and winding roads as well as going through some long dark tunnels or Galleria that had no shoulder and were a bit nerve racking.

Once you have your route from Komoot check out the elevation profile to evaluate the difficulty. Komoot gives you other information like surface types and road types that you can expect to encounter along your way.

Refilling your water bottle is easy as all the towns have multiple fountains of potable water.

Ski towns start to close in early September, so finding a place to eat can be limited. Carry snacks just in case.

Regarding train travel: Look for the carriage with an image of a Bicycle on the outside. Other trains may allow bikes, but you should always check first. Also note that the bike is hung up on a rack so the heavier the bike the harder it is to lift it up onto the rack. As of last year, there was not an extra fee for your bike. 

Travelling to the coast in the Summer: the trains will be busy and the bike racks can get full.  Planning on an early train helps avoid having to wait for the next train.

About our bikes:

We purchased Bianchi impulso e-allroad Gravel bikes. We chose these over road bikes because of the more comfortable geometry and the ability to ride wider tyres at a lower pressure. The bikes are aluminium frames with Shimano 1X drivetrains and a Mahle rear hub motor. At 37 pounds, these bikes are 19 pounds heavier than the non-electric road bikes we have back in the States, but the rear hub motor gives us up to 40Nm of natural low drag support with a 250Wh battery. As with most e-bikes, there are three levels of assist. The nice thing about the Mahle is that it has a great app that links to the system and allows you to adjust each assist level to optimise your battery life and customize the assistance level. Bill usually rides at 60-70% of eco while Eloise rides at 10-15% above that. This allows us to ride at roughly the same speed and receive just the right amount of boost to get up the hills. Because we never ride in level 2 or 3,we stretch the battery life. This allows us to see more areas without getting charge anxiety.  The motor also connects directly to our Garmin head units, so instead of relying on a system of coloured flashing lights to know very roughly where our battery is, we have an accurate percentage display.

Links to GPX files:
Rivisondali & Pecocostanzo

Sant’Eufemia a Maiella

Francavilla al Mare to Vasto

Bill and Eloise Velasquez Doeren
Author: Bill and Eloise Velasquez Doeren

Bill & Eloise were born, raised and spent their careers in New Mexico. They met five years ago and share a love of cycling. Prior to retiring, Eloise was a nurse and Bill was a construction manager. They recently relocated to Oro Valley, Arizona where they enjoy cycling in the mild Winters. In the Summer they escape to Sulmona where they ride to nearby Mountain towns. They have also done bike trips through Puglia and the Rioja region of Spain. Their 2024 adventures will include cycling the Camino de Santiago Portuguese route from Porto to Finestere.

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