How to keep your cool cycling up Italian mountains with a teenager in tow | Italy holidays

Bikini to swimsuit. Factor 15 to 50. Paperback to Kindle. The answers to my holiday prep questions have changed over time, but this year there was one extra decision: pedal bike or electric?

I was off on a four-day cycling tour in the South Tyrol with my 16-year-old daughter. Her idea of a holiday errs more towards Instagrammable moments involving beach sunsets and flower-shaped ice-creams. Pedalling up hills in 30C was a much harder sell.

‘Steep gradients melt away and it’s as though you’re riding on the flat,’ says Lucy Rock. Photograph: Lucy Rock

A friend suggested we hire e-bikes. What a cop-out, I thought. How wrong I was. These eco-beauties transformed our 30-40km trips from grumble-filled endurance tests to enjoyable jaunts with plenty of puff left for bonding chit-chat as we rode. E-cycling still feels like a workout. You’re pedalling and pumping out endorphins, but on full throttle, steep gradients melt away and it’s as though you’re riding on the flat.

And so it turns out that e-biking along lanes bordered by grapevines and apple trees, with pit stops at a winery for a glass of freshly pressed juice (or Müller-Thurgau in my case), or at a lake for a cooling dip, is very appealing to teenagers – and their mothers.

As is arriving at your destination hotel, lying by the pool in the late afternoon sun and looking forward to an evening of pizza, pasta and gelato after all that fresh air and exercise.

At the start of our tour we enjoyed a day in Bolzano, which boasts a blend of cultures with centuries of Germanic, Austrian and Italian influences at play. The coolest man in town is Ötzi the Iceman who, at around 5,300 years old, is Europe’s oldest mummy (cue “He’s even older than you, Mum” jokes). He lies in a refrigerated cell in the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, the star of a fascinating exhibition displaying his clothes and tools, and explaining his way of life, which ended violently with an arrow in the shoulder blade – a real Paleolithic murder mystery. There’s even a full-sized reconstruction of him, pale-skinned with a luscious head of hair. He might look different now, given new DNA analysis recently revealed he was in fact dark-skinned and balding.

Pit stop: Lake Caldaro, the warmest and largest lake in the region. Photograph: Travel Fotoworld/Getty Images/500px

Afterwards, we threaded through ancient streets, past elaborate fountains, the 12th-century shopping arcades and the cathedral with its distinctive green and yellow mosaic roof, winding up at the cable car station. A gondola whisked us up to Soprabolzano, a high plateau above the city where we feasted on (wonderfully Instagrammable) ice-cream and panoramic views.

Day two saw some serious e-biking along undulating vine-clad hills, heading south through quaint villages – with wine-tasting opportunities aplenty – to Termeno. We stopped at Lake Caldaro, the warmest and largest bathing lake in the region, to float on our backs and admire the jagged majesty of the Dolomites.

Termeno (or Tramin, its more widely known German name) is steeped in wine. The gewürztraminer grape is named after it (tip: pair the wine with a punchy blue cheese. Delicious.) Our digs were along the road from the Gothic 86m-tall church tower, which dominates the village, at the Gasthof Goldene Traube, a restaurant serving local specialities – and decent burgers – with rooms above.

Table talk: local cold cuts and Mediterranean delicacies en route.

On day three we took a circular route along designated cycle paths, much of it along the River Adige. Just as we arrived at the medieval market town of Egna late morning, the heavens opened. Diving into the nearest café, we whiled away a convivial hour or so with other sheltering diners, tucking into comforting bowls of canederli (bread dumplings) filled with speck and Graukäse cheese in a beef broth – a South Tyrolean speciality.

The next morning as the train carrying us to Verona cut through the mountains, we marvelled not only at their splendour, but how easily we might have tackled them. Viva la bici elettrica!

Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk) offers the Apples & Vines cycling holiday from £985pp based on two people sharing, with four nights’ B&B accommodation, one dinner, bike hire and maps. E-bike hire from £28pp, until 31 July and 13 August to 15 October 2024

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Three more cycle tours through the Italian countryside

Tuscany
On this eight-day adventure you can e-bike or cycle through the olive groves of Tuscany, starting in Florence and ending in Pisa, cycling around its famous leaning tower. On the way, there are stops in Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo, and the city of Lucca, with its tree-lined pathways that are perfect for cyclists, soaking up stunning views of Tuscany’s beautiful Garfagnana valley on the way. Holidays for seven nights/eight days start from £1,800, including meals, transport and accommodation.
For more details, go to intrepidtravel.com

Puglia
Cycle through Italy’s heel, known for its whitewashed hill towns, baroque churches and white sandy beaches. Highlights include the trulli houses of Alberobello and the ‘white city’ of Ostuni. From £1,369 for a seven-night self-guided tour, including accommodation.
For more details, see headwater.com

Sardinia
A self-guided e-bike tour of Costa Smeralda, taking in coastal towns, remote villages and some of Europe’s best secluded beaches. Even better, you can enjoy this stunning coastline on routes that are relatively car free. Seven nights with hand-picked hotels, three evening meals and luggage transfer between hotels, from £1,925.
For details, go to cycling-for-softies.co.uk

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