In your dream, you’ve just returned from a three-hour bike ride through the Italian countryside. A few hills, a bit of coastline, the smell of wood smoke, and always, courteous drivers. After placing your bike in a dedicated and secure storage room, you head for the hotel entrance and whom should you encounter but Heinrich Haussler, Levi Leipheimer and Fabian Cancellara, all headed out for a training ride.

Words: Patrick Brady
Images: Michael Crook

After getting a few autographs, you head to your room to meet your family and grab a quick shower. Next, you make your way to the hotel restaurant to enjoy a fine lunch before taking in an afternoon of wine and olive oil tasting.

Picture a hotel that caters to cyclists, and plans meals in its restaurant tailored to the dietary needs of dedicated riders with plenty of lean meat, pasta by the kilogram, and vegetables fresher than the local Romeos. Don’t want to travel with your bike? No problem; the hotel has access to high-end carbon fiber racing bikes for you to use while on your visit.

When you wake from your dream you look around the room and suddenly remember: “I’m in Italy, and this is no dream. I’ve found a resort paradise where cyclists really are treated as special.”

The Hotel Gran San Bernardo is a three-star hotel that makes cyclists and other endurance athletes the focus of its business each spring and fall. It is located in the town of Riccione on the Adriatic coast. While the roads along the coast are flat, almost any route inland turns hilly in short order. We found the spring to be lovely and wondered just how many months of the year the place is a paradise. Owner Kelly Gerla (above) tells us, “The asphalt is burning in June, July and August,” so the best time to visit is March to May and September and October.

Cycling is in Gerla’s blood. Her father was a rider and shared his birthday with another cyclist: Fausto Coppi. Every spring she hosts professional teams as they train for the season. She’s even involved in organizing the five-day stage race known as the International Week of Coppi and Bartali, and can count Andrea Bartali, Gino Bartali’s son, among her friends.

Every day two rides head out from the hotel in the morning. One ride is aimed at enthusiast riders while the other is geared to really ambitious and fit riders. While the difficulty and length of the rides vary some, generally speaking the enthusiast ride is about 70km (roughly 45 miles) while the more ambitious ride is never less than 100km (62 miles). A guide who knows the roads rides with your group, which is never more than 10 people—in our experience, just enough to have company and share the work, but not so big as to be unmanageable.

For any of you out there who have struggled to find balance between family fun and cycling when on vacation, the Hotel Gran San Bernardo may be the perfect mix of both.

In addition to area wine and olive oil tastings, you can take an excursion to a coffee roaster, and Riccione is well positioned for day trips to Ravenna, Bologna and Florence—our personal favorite.

For those with kids, there are several exciting attractions in the area. Aquafan is a huge water park, similar to Raging Waters. Oltremare is a Sea World-style theme park perfect for dolphin lovers. And if you want a European take on a Disney-esque amusement park, Mirabilandia will give you and your family an unusual take on the theme park experience.

One gem not to be missed if you make your way there is Maranello Rosso, the Ferrari museum in nearby San Marino. No one sexes up speed like Ferrari and one could say the museum is a study of 75 years of the love of speed itself.

The real secret to why a vacation at the Hotel San Gran Bernardo works is the simplicity of the place itself. While doing point-to-point rides is ideal for touring, packing and unpacking night after night will get old for a significant other or spouse. And if you’ve got kids, moving can be a nightmare.

If getting time to ride on vacation has ever been a struggle for you, this is just what you need. An early breakfast followed by a morning departure can have you out and in the countryside before your family even stirs. Of course, you needn’t have a family in tow to enjoy a great ride followed by lunch and then time on the beach.

That said, we appreciate that a cycling vacation with family elements has every angle covered. There’s a children’s play area on site and if you and your more generous half want an afternoon to wander vineyards, they even offer babysitting.

We don’t eat a lot of red meat and were impressed that not only were the meals made from fresh ingredients, but many were organic and they are happy to accommodate vegetarians and even—gasp—those who are gluten intolerant. In our experience in Europe, such an ability and willingness to provide for special dietary needs with a reaction other than wide eyes is uncommon.

Let’s face it, as your family grows, the needs a vacation must meet grow exponentially. 

Could we spend days in the Mondrian-inspired bar drinking Rosé and watching the Giro on TV? You bet. But what’s better is the possibility of a three-hour ride followed by a big lunch, family fun and a dinner to die for.

Hotel Facebook page.

From Issue 4. Sold out!