An Unforgettable Boat & Bike Weekend in Italy

By Ben Corke
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In March, team members from both Freedom Treks and sister company Ski Safari joined forces for a long weekend to discover what makes cycling in Italy so special.

For many on the ski team this would be their first weekend on two wheels and swapping skis/snowboards for bikes brought a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The Freedom Treks team knew, however, that once we were in Italy it would take little convincing to allay the fears of even the most ardent skier. We would be sampling a selection of guided and self-guided routes, learning about the region and what makes a successful cycling tour.

Finding Our Cycling Feet

After a two hour flight from London Gatwick, we arrived at Venice airport for a short transfer to Vicenza where we would pick up our bikes and get cycling. The first impression from everyone was how brilliant the bikes were.

"Our bikes were smart, modern and easy to ride - the saddle mercifully comfortable, although the benefits of padded shorts still cannot be underestimated!” - Sarah, Freedom Treks Sales Consultant

“I loved trying out the e-bike! It was really good to see how it empowered you and increased your comfort and confidence on the longer cycling days. I might even consider taking grandparents along as part of a family trip with this as an option.” - Vicky, Marketing Coordinator

The bikes were modern, very easy to ride and bright orange - so you couldn't miss us!

From Vicenza we embarked on a short section of our Bolzano to Venice tour. It was a fabulous start to the weekend, with undemanding cycling along a paved route that had a tremendous sweeping backdrop with pretty farmland on one side and grand, vine-lined hills on the other. It was the perfect introduction for our group of 23. It didn’t take long to get used to the bikes, which had flawlessly tuned brakes and an effortlessly smooth gear shift, with no clunking and crunching, just seamless changes. Great for our mix of everyday cycling commuters, part-time cyclists and those who hadn’t picked up a bike for as long as they can remember!

The first of our rides in Italy

At the end of our ride we enjoyed a special treat - a visit to a local vineyard for a tour and to sample the wine and food that are lovingly produced in this region. Watching the sun tumble out of the sky as we enjoyed these local delicacies was an early highlight of our trip.

“The sulphur free (and therefore unanimously considered headache free, surely?!) wine from the vineyard, and the bucolic view was a winning combination. We also enjoyed cheese and salami guilt-free following our first ride” - Victoria, Freedom Treks Tour Co-ordinator

Our first stop, a beautiful vineyard in Vicenza

Our Home Away From Home

After hopping back on our transfer bus we arrived in the coastal town of Chioggia, where we met up with the crew of our floating home for the weekend. We would be staying aboard the superior class Ave Maria, a generously equipped boat that features on our Mantua to Venice tour. After a brief introduction from the five person crew, we set about exploring the boat. We couldn’t believe how well designed our cabins were, with ample space and lots of well-placed storage alcoves.

“Staying on a boat – something I’ve never done before – was a real highlight, not only because the boat itself was a treat but also because it saved having to pack and repack every day, usually a necessity when travelling from town to town.” - Craig, Senior Marketing Executive

The beds were pleasantly comfortable and each cabin had a spotlessly clean en-suite bathroom. After a night cap we retired to our cabins for a very restful night’s sleep. Upon awaking in the morning we began to sail on to our next destination.

“The boat was fantastic and it was a unique experience to stay on the boat and to set sail to our next cycling point while we had breakfast, watching the coastal scenery slip by as we enjoyed a wonderful and extensive continental breakfast with a selection of breads, meats, cheese and fruit” - Claire, Ski Safari Operations Manager

Waving to the Ave Maria after a filling breakfast on the boat

Chioggia and Beyond

Known as ‘little Venice’ (but not to locals!), our morning stroll around Chioggia was a welcome surprise. With similar waterways, bridges and architecture to Venice, this was a great introduction for what was to come. We enjoyed a coffee and visited the world’s oldest clock in the clock tower of St Andrea which dates back to 1389!

The view of Chioggia and Venice Lagoon from the top of St Andrea clock tower

After our enjoyable morning walk around Chioggia, we began our main day of cycling, as we followed a 30km route towards Venice which is part of our Mantua to Venice tour. Our bikes, which had been stored on board the boat, were wheeled off by our crew and we saddled up for a morning’s cycling.

We pedalled out of Chioggia, along a beautiful waterside route with traditional Italian fishing towns and stunning views of the sea, which was as calm as a mill pond. We stopped at one point to wave to the Ave Maria as it glided past us on the water. One of the main points of enthusiasm from everyone was that not only were we enjoying the wonderful scenery, we were able to all cycle together, chatting as we rode and stopping intermittently for a water break whilst comparing experiences of the leisurely cycling.

“What made this weekend so entertaining and different to a ski trip was that we enjoyed everything together. Often when skiing, we spend most of the days split up due to differing groups of abilities, which of course we didn’t have on this cycle weekend.” - Kirstin, Ski Safari Operations Supervisor

One of the pretty fishing villages we stopped to admire

We cycled onwards to the gorgeous Ca' Roman nature reserve, where the cycling now took in views of beautiful dunes, with the sun twinkling off the sand. From here we hopped aboard a public ferry for the short journey to Lido Island which is home to the International Venice Film Festival. We enjoyed more sunny cycling before reaching the main town, with a well-earned stop for delicious ice cream and a beer.

Morna, Richard, Andy H and Sarah stop for a well deserved break

Our final ride of the day took us back down the other side of Lido island, through lively towns before we reached the Ave Maria which was moored and waiting for us.

Sailing Into Venice

We were welcomed onto the boat’s sun deck with a selection of mouth-watering antipasto. Aperol Spritz in hand and with the sun still strong in the sky we began to motor along, and as we did a key point of discussion was the distance cycled. For some of our group, the thought of cycling 30km in a day seemed a marathon distance. But by the end of the day it was clear that these fears were misplaced:

“It was great to be out and cycling all day long without actually realising you are covering such a distance. At no point did I feel I had to stop – other than when the opportunity arose to look at some of the more subtle architectural beauty found in Italy” - Luke , Ski Safari Sales & Marketing Co-ordinator

“This was my very first cycling holiday and I only bought my first bike in November, at the age of 37! I loved the trip and the cycling was very leisurely and relaxed. If I can do it then anyone can!” - Claire, Ski Safari Operations Manager

We continued to navigate through the Venice lagoon and pretty soon conversations turned to the absolutely magnificent view that we were being treated to. Seeing the sun dip behind the countless grand buildings of Venice was something that everyone present was unlikely to forget in a hurry. This was a truly unique experience that all of us felt very lucky to have enjoyed:

“A real highlight of the trip for me was sailing past Venice’s skyline on board the Ave Maria, I had never visited Venice before so to see St Mark’s square for the first time from the luxury of the sun deck, away from the tourist crowds was such a treat.” - Rachael , Freedom Treks Sales Consultant

Sailing into Venice was an experience that our team will never forget.

We moored up in Giudecca, an island off Venice and sat down for dinner. We ate most meals on board the boat and we all wholeheartedly agreed that the food was absolutely fantastic. Throughout the week we enjoyed food inspired by the Veneto region, from beautifully flavoured pasta and creamy risotto to melt-in-the-mouth veal and an imaginative tiramisu. What our chef was able to do in a small kitchen, feeding 23 of us every night was quite brilliant and we were never left wanting more:

“The food was faultless and it was nice to know that it had been sourced nearby. I’m a fan of seafood and got to eat plenty of things I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to try.” - Joe, Ski Safari Sales Consultant

Venice’s Northern Lagoon

On the Saturday morning we sailed from Giudecca towards Punta Sabbioni where we disembarked and began our 35km loop around this part of the Northern lagoon of Venice which makes up part of our Venice to Porec tour. The weather wasn’t in our favour, with a bit of drizzle and a slight wind, but undeterred we pedalled through wonderful wetland landscapes, stopping to admire the wildlife and enjoy warming coffee in pretty local villages along the way. Flat and well-paved roads made the cycling easy, we encountered very few vehicles as we cycled and these all acted very courteously towards us. It was another very enjoyable day on our bikes, experiencing a different view of Italy and bonding with colleagues.

Cycling through beautiful wetlands north of Venice

Upon returning to the boat we enjoyed a bit of down time, with some enjoying a lovely hot shower (something that most didn’t know was possible on a boat!) before tucking into a slice of freshly prepared pizza as the boat sailed back to Giudecca. We again enjoyed a fantastic evening meal on the Ave Maria before departing for our first taste of Venice Island. We caught a vaporetto water bus from Giudecca, a novel experience for those of us who hadn’t been on one before! We had a very enjoyable couple of hours seeing a small part of Venice by night and visiting a few local bars before returning for another restful night on the boat.

Our Final Day in Venice

With a lot of sadness we bade farewell to our fantastic hosts aboard the Ave Maria. The terrific crew, who share the workload quietly and efficiently, were relentlessly hard-working, friendly and helpful. Nothing was too much hassle for them and they really made the trip for many of us.

We again took a vaporetto into Venice, cruising up the grand canal and met our guide for a walking tour of Venice’s magnificent sights (included in the price of our Mantua to Venice tour). We visited St Mark’s Square and ambled through the streets, crossing famous marble bridges and admiring the magnificent architecture all around. We learnt about Venice’s place in history and the famous and wealthy who have called the island home. The tour was very entertaining and a highlight for many of us, especially as it took in some of the residential courtyards and sights away from the main tourist spots. There was even time for a special stop off:

“We really enjoyed visiting the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi department store (formerly home to the city’s German merchants), not for the fashion labels but for the remarkable view the historical building permits on its top deck. Definitely worth a look, and free for all.” - Victoria, Tour Coordinator

After our tour we settled down in a restaurant for a fabulous three course Italian meal. This was a fantastic way to bring our weekend to an end, as we all reminisced about our experiences.

Some of the highlights from our tour of Venice

When this weekend was announced there was a mix of excitement and trepidation amongst the ski team, with many unsure what a cycling tour would bring. Suffice to say, by the end of our time in Italy everyone was glowing about our time on the bikes, cycling through wonderful scenery with friends, marvelling at Italy’s beautiful architecture and enjoying magnificent food.

“The perfect weekend away” - Andy K, Ski Safari Sales Supervisor

“I loved this trip. While initially a little reluctant to switch from skiing, I was very pleasantly surprised at how much more relaxing a cycling trip can be than a skiing one, while still being active and entertaining” - Vicky, Marketing Coordinator

“The cycling days were fun and relaxed, going along at our own pace. We enjoyed experiencing both guided and self-guided journeys during the trip. The guides were excellent and when we cycled without a guide we found the maps to be of a really high quality, with brilliant route notes to back this up.“ - Andy H, Ski Safari Product Manager

“I haven’t cycled for a couple of years now, and can say that the weekend reaffirmed my enjoyment of getting about on 2 wheels. So much so, that I have found a bike which I fully intend to buy soon!” - Kirstin, Ski Safari Operations Supervisor

"It was wonderful to show the ski team why I love cycling holidays so much. Leisurely pedaling through beautiful scenery, stopping for coffees and ice cream and just simply switching off from the stresses of daily life" - Catherine, Head of Freedom Treks


If you would like to know more about the tours we tried and more, please visit our Italy cycling holidays page.

Alternatively, make an enquiry online or speak to one of our team by telephone: +44 (0)1273 224066 (Office Hours (UK time): Monday to Friday: 9am - 5.30pm)

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more tips and advice from our team.

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