The Hannibal bike is an amazing journey. Having lived and breathed Hannibal for 20+ years, from university study to research at the British Museum to documentary making with the BBC and obviously running this journey as a tour for the last 7 years it made sense to step back and take a fresh look and we have loved doing this. It is funny how a tour can develop and take on its own form but when you look at the big picture there are so many opportunities for improvement.
We started this process by compiling 7 years of feedback from the tour, then we worked day by day through it and of course, we re-read the history especially in the areas where it is a bit vague (almost everywhere!). So many days on the tour are outstanding and it made no sense to change these just for the sake of it but it is always surprising how many good things you can find when you look afresh or just make a little adjustment…
Take the Alps.
Amazing riding and spectacular scenery always, but did we get to all those spots we really want to ride? ….and where are there possibilities for improvement…. food, wine and hotels are challenging in the Alps but can they be improved? They definitely can.
With a few changes to the itinerary, we have made every aspect outstanding, and this isn’t just blowing smoke which I will demonstrate below. These are huge improvements to an already outstanding journey.
Firstly, we now have an interlude day in the heart of the Alps in a Les Plus Beaux Village – La Grave. The hotel is run by one of the loveliest couples I know, who are now good friends and give a huge welcome to the group. They also have the best food and biggest wine list north of Briancon! The Edelweiss, in La Grave, is a huge step up from our previous hotel in Bourg d’Oisan as is the village itself. This interlude day also enables so much for the tour. All riders now get a genuine chance at both Alpe d’Huez and Col Galibier. With both of these as designated ‘extra loops’ prior to our changes, often riders would just think it was a bridge too far after riding all morning or knowing an HC category climb (Izoard) was in the afternoon. However, for those who did ride these two behemoths, they were often the highlight of their tour. Now, with our adjusted itinerary, there is time in our normal day’s ride to fit them in – we just need the energy to! For those who are just naturally strong and able to fit them in as extra loops, don’t worry, this just buys you access to more classic climbs – Col Glandon, Lacets du Montvernier and more.
Secondly, getting that little bit further into the Alps for our interlude means we could get a little bit further the next day. So a stay in ski village La Chalp in a comfortable ski lodge with a good meal has now moved to a stay in another of the recognised most beautiful villages in France. It also happens to be the highest inhabited village in Europe – Saint-Véran. Further to this, we are staying at the spectacular Hôtel & Spa L’Alta Peyra with Michelin star restaurant to boot!
We are really happy with the updates and we know you will be too.
Or take the heart of Italy
One reoccurring point which came up each year was arriving into Tuscany with a whimper rather than a bang! The name Tuscany evokes such atmospheric imagery and landscapes to roll through – sunflowers, vineyards, villas and hilltowns…. We used to drop into the Garfagnana valley which is nice but not the idyllic Tuscany we all dream of… Well I can confidently say now we hit that nail right on the head and further to this we are now more historically accuRAT (sorry if you have kids who watch Horrible Histories, which of course mine do, you will get that bad joke…) We now ride further into Emilia Romagna which can only be a good thing (villages like Montecorone and Zocco attest to how beautiful this added leg here is) then head south traversing the Poretta valley.
We tested and decided on the Poretta Valley for 3 reasons:
- It has a justified reputation for immense cycling
- It is historically most likely the route Hannibal took south after the winter post the battle of Trebbia (see Patrick Hunt of Stanford University’s assessment of Hannibal’s route over the Apennines)
- It drops us straight into the Mugello, a genuine Tuscany highlight, and right into Fiesole which overlooks the capital of Tuscany and the Renaissance – Florence – there is no better place to spend an interlude day for Stage 3!
So, with that connection complete, we needed to rejoin our route at Trasimene as it is the next big historical landmark. Two of the highlights of our original Hannibal route in Italy were Chianti and the Val d’Orcia. Because we changed the route through Florence we actually have gained some distance so we are now able to spend more time in these beautiful regions. Further to this, our locations to stay are much better. We did stay in Pisa and it was nice to see the leaning tower, but it was touristy, busy and the hotel options were limited. We now stay in Fiesole which avoids the tourism but gives us the option of Florence which tops the list on anyone’s Tuscan top locations to visit. From there we head through Chianti to Siena and Cortona. In Siena you have a must-visit hilltown, in Cortona, a slightly lesser known village but one of the most spectacular of all. In any Tuscan sojourn, these are huge highlights so we are really happy to fit them in. Further to this, we have connected with the local Italian historical society at Trasimene and they intend to great us in full Roman armour as we ride onto the lake!!
Options, Options, Options…
One of the reoccurring themes of feedback was: “We ride through so many lovely places such as Carcassonne but don’t have time to explore them“. We have fixed this…as much as we can. We will still ride through many amazing places but now destinations like Carcassonne won’t just be an evening visit. We will have what we call an interlude day. This will mean for those who want a rest and a tour, can do just that. For those who want to ride we have set up the best local loop rides you can find and it will be just like a normal day on tour but you’ll stay in the same hotel for 2 nights in a row (which can be quite nice!).
Now everyone loves food, especially when you are cycling and hungry! On Hannibal the food has always been great – local, interesting, everyone is always impressed. However, there is always a way to improve. Our improvement here is we get to test a Michelin Star restaurant in France against a Michelin Star restaurant in Italy! Now isn’t that a bit of added foodie fun?!
The best accommodation….
Our favourite hotel of the tour was for almost every guest the Villa Sparina – it is beautiful. It is surrounded by its own vineyard and has a Michelin Star restaurant. You can explore the cellars or the local town Gavi and it is such a memorable location. So why not make it the location for our rest day and spend 2 nights there? We have done this, as we know everyone will love it. We used to have our rest day one day previous in Alba which was nice (the hotel was decent the town interesting) but this knocks it out of the park.
We haven’t settled for good – Hannibal was without doubt really good before – we have gone for exceptional as that is the byline our tours live by. I know this sounds cheesy but it is true.
As if extra time in the Alps wasn’t enough we now have an optional start the Hannibal bike tour in the Pyrenees to take on all those Tour de France specials! Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde, Aubisque, Solour…. We call this a split start and we ran it in 2017 for a custom crew and it was exceptional so we now run it on all our Hannibal tours. What made it so good was that it allowed those super keen for a test in the hills to do just that, while the rest of the group rode there way into the tour. We regroup in Carcassonne only 5 days in for an interlude day then head on as a group together.
The question I get asked most is “What do I do with my partner?” – Well, we now have the answer! With a fully developed non-rider itinerary with a dedicated specialist guide and vehicle non-riders can now have the Hannibal experience. Imagine riding all day knowing your partner was having equally amazing experiences, then catching up for an aperitif and a great meal together – For couples where only one rides but they like to adventure together – what better way could there be to travel?
Now, we love history and this has always been part of the Hannibal tour when Sam was part of it. What you get with Bike Odyssey is both genuine expertise and the real deal. Sam, our Hannibal tour leader, has excavated Roman ruins and researched Hannibal and Roman history for 20+ years at the best sites across Europe from Pompei to the Crimea. He worked at the arguably the world’s leading museum The British Museum and rode ‘On Hannibal’s Trail’ for the BBC in 2009. This documentary is where the Hannibal bike tour began, and the Bike Odyssey Hannibal tour is what it has become. Sam can give you the best of both the ancient and modern history of this epic journey.