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Wish you were here: The Cyclist/Rapha Travel cycling holiday in Varese, Italy

In-depth
7 Feb 2018
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It’s the details that count. There are plenty of riding holidays that offer guiding, but will they surreptitiously refill your bidons while you’re having a mid-ride espresso at a hilltop cafe?

Will your bike be cleaned overnight and the next day’s route be uploaded to your GPS device? Do you get a Rapha jersey? Is there a never-ending supply of jellybeans?

Will a sumptuous picnic magically appear halfway through your ride? Is a professional photographer on hand to capture images for a feature in the world’s biggest road cycling magazine?

That’s what you get on a Cyclist/Rapha Travel riding holiday.

Eat, drink, ride

It’s surprisingly warm for October in northern Italy, meaning the 16 guests at the Art Hotel in Varese can enjoy a coffee outside while waiting for their bikes to be removed from travel cases and professionally assembled.

As everyone has just arrived, the first day’s ride is a gentle warm-up involving a 48km loop up to Lago di Lugano and back through the regional park of Campo di Fiori.

Many of the roads aren’t marked on Google Maps as they’re inaccessible to traffic, but fortunately we have local guides on hand who know the area intimately, so much of the ride is on pathways through quiet woodland.

Day two’s ride is a more serious affair. The first 50km is a leg-loosener to the shore of Lago Maggiore, where a right turn signals the start of a 23km climb with almost 1,200m of ascent.

This is where the group splits into mountain goats, hardy rouleurs and dogged tailenders. The first to the top will have an extra Coke while waiting for the others to catch up, but everyone is well looked after by the Rapha crew, some on bikes and others zipping around in fancy BMW estates with full team car set-up.

A dizzying descent is followed by stretches of full-on time-trialling, so that by the time we get back to the hotel everyone is feeling the effects of a big day out.

It’s agreed that the best antidote is to sample the hotel bar’s extensive range of gins, followed by skipping the queue at Varese’s most popular pizza restaurant.

Day three is a slightly more peculiar affair. A winding route takes us into Switzerland, up a long, lazy climb to a cafe with spectacular views over Lago di Lugano.

One espresso later we descend back into Italy before beginning another climb on deserted roads to a remote churchyard, where the aforementioned picnic is waiting for us.

This is followed by our guides taking us on unmarked gravel roads to explore World War Two tunnels by bike, which isn’t something you’ll find on most riding weekends.

Even the final day manages to squeeze in a 12km climb with 800m of climbing to an observatory that offers views across to the Swiss Alps.

All that’s left is a fast descent and a shower while the mechanics pack the bikes away into their travel cases for the journey home.

It’s all so good that we might just have to do it again next year. If you would like to join us, keep an eye on cyclist.co.uk/travel and rapha.cc/travel for more details.