Day 9: Alba – Acqui Terme

Distance: 56.94 km

Time: 2 hours 48 minutes

Average speed: 20.3 kph


Cumulative distance: 426.97 km

Cumulative time: 20 hours 55 minutes


Word of the day: ‘salire’ (sah-leer-ay) – to ascend, to climb


We had a quick trot out to look around Alba yesterday afternoon, but it was still raining, and it was a cursory effort, to be honest. We saw the square where the Slow Food movement began, and some interesting Roman remains under glass in a square, and popped into a wine and truffle shop to buy some of each for tea. A little supermarket provided everything else we needed, and we headed back to the apartment for a relaxing evening.

Our host, Rossella, delivered as promised fresh croissants to our little outside table this morning (while we were still asleep!), so it was breakfast in for a change. Today’s route was to take us over three climbs, the last of which looked like a challenge.

We left Alba flawlessly, despite the navigation being a little complex, there was lots of traffic, not scary or aggressive, just lots to cope with. The Giro must have come through here, they were just getting around to unwinding the pink ribbons from some of the trees.

Eventually we crossed under the autostrada, and left most of it behind as we started up the first climb. It was a sunny morning and it was warm work, not steep, but a slog. We stopped in Neive for a drink, but for some reason there was a horrible ‘dead animal’ smell throughout, so we didn’t tarry long.

The second climb appeared all too soon, again not too demanding and great views over the vineyards. The descent, after a very sharp right turn, was lovely, and the serenity only spoiled (according to the Captain) by the Stoker yelling at the GoPro, which was pretending to be deaf in the wind of the descent. “GoPro, start recording… GOPRO START RECORDING… GOPRO START (expletive) RECORDING…”, and so on.

As well as the vineyards there were areas planted with rows of what looked like hazel trees, for the nuts, presumably. It’s been a feature of the last few days, maybe this is the centre of ‘gianduia’ production, that delicious hazelnut creme stuff that turns up in desserts, ice-cream and so on. Not that we’ve actually had a gelato yet, strangely, despite having been in Italy for nearly two weeks.

We raced along the flat towards Nizza Monferrato, the base of the fearsome last climb and our lunch destination. The road surface was pretty awful, the right-hand side where bicycles might be expected to be was full of potholes and cracks. We’ve developed a strategy of riding on the smooth bit until traffic comes up behind, to minimise the bumpy ride, which involves a lot of Captain/Stoker communication, but works fine. The roads are often so straight that there’s plenty of time for drivers to work around us, and Italy being a nation of cyclists, there’s plenty of give and take.

Nizza Monferrato was lovely, the usual central pedestrian ‘centro storico’, and a little restaurant under the arches in a big square.

We had ‘ravioli dal plin’, the ‘plin’ part apparently referring to the pinch which closes the parcel. It’s a traditional dish of this Piemonte region, so since we will cross into Lombardia later this week, it was a good time to have it.

By the time we left, the restaurant was absolutely full, with people waiting, obviously a popular lunch spot for locals and deservedly so. Everything people were eating looked delicious. After a bit of photographic procrastinating, we rode off.

The third and final climb today looked a bit vicious on the map, a proper cone shape on the elevation graph, over 200m of ascent over about 8km. It turned out to be pretty gentle, though, and we made slow but determined progress. The views were spectacular, and of course today we could actually see them. It was mostly vines, a few workers in the fields today tying bits of vine to support structures. At the top we stopped and enjoyed the views, rehydrated a bit and took some pictures. In the far distance there were mountains, the Ligurian Alps, the south western extremity of the Alpine mountains.

The reward for the climbing, of course, was a downhill finish, and we barely pedalled all the way into Acqui Terme.

Finding the hotel was a little tricky, it’s in a fabulous location in the old part of town, very close to the duomo. It’s actually what was once a seminary, so the rooms are small and simple, off corridors of austere wooden doors.

After a quick shower and a rest, we had a wander around town, including a visit to the hot spring itself, in a beautiful square.

There’s a fountain from which the spring gushes, and the water is so hot it’s actually steaming, even though it’s such a hot day. It’s over 75 degrees Celsius, and there’s quite a whiff of sulphur!

A long day in prospect tomorrow, to another ‘spa’ town, Salice Terme.

Here’s today’s track.