By Patrick Bènard, another installment in the ‘Fuori Tutti’ weekly series
The park area along the Serchio River is one of the jewels of Lucca. Nature walks, bike rides, and for some, swimming, are just a few hundred meters from the fortified walls of our beloved little town. For many years, I’ve heard rumors of a bicycle path running along the Serchio that connects Lucca to the city of Pisa called the Itinerario Ciclopedonale di Puccini (ICP). There are sporadic signs throughout (Porta Santa Maria, for instance), and yet I’d never met anyone who had completed the itinerary. I can confirm that sections of the path do exist, and run to the north of Porta Santa Maria. I can also confirm that the starting point of the bike path is the community of Ponte a Moriano.
Although the river and its path are lovely destinations for a picnic, a walk, or a leisurely bike ride what I have long wondered though, is where the path eventually ends. What is the destination of this path? Along with my two intrepid bike associates (our dear editor: Sandy Brown, and man about bike: Mattia Orrù), we tried to answer that very question.
Truth be told, this was not my first attempt at completing this ride. Three times before I’ve ridden the distance from the ICP’s northeastern start in Ponte a Moriano to an unsatisfactory end. I was unfortunate enough to get THREE flat tires on one ride, and had to abandon that first attempt. The other two bids resulted in disappointment, I reached an end, but clearly not the one intended by whoever designed this path. You see, the signage is MOLTO terrible. ‘Random’ doesn’t start to describe the problem. If they had set out to create confusion, they could not have done a better job. There is no single authority overseeing the ICP, so laying blame is difficult. But how satisfying it would be to wag a finger at the incompetent boob who surveyed his work and thought “Meh, good enough!”.
You can’t get there from here:
Despite Sandy, Mattia and my combined experience (we have logged over 10,000kms of bicycle touring between us), we were challenged to reach our goal. Using our wits, improvisation, and a little luck we did actually ride the entire length of the path and can report back
This is how it’s done: Ignore the bike path, or at least most of it.
The ICP signs regularly refer to a path from Lucca to Pisa, but it doesn’t actually go to Pisa. The final destination is Massaciuccoli and its lake. This makes sense since these are the places of Puccini. Lucca (his birthplace), and the lavish villa on the lake comprise some of his homes.
I’ve broken the ride into three sections in order to accommodate varying levels of riders.
The section from Ponte a Moriano, past Lucca and south to the Rocca at Ripafratta, is more or less clear. The ICP runs along the river, and is composed of paved and unpaved paths that are accessible to all levels of cyclists. No cars are allowed and the ride is safe and leisurely, except for one very busy road that needs to be crossed at Ponte San Pietro. In order to complete this section you will have to cross the river at the pedestrian bridge, there are no signs indicating this, but it is so.
Once you reach the little hamlet of Ripafratta, you’re 10 kms into your ride and approximately halfway to your goal. A convenient train ride back to Lucca is one option, especially if you have little confidence or comfort with riding on trafficked roads. There are a myriad of signs in Ripafratta referring to the ICP, but they are best ignored unless you’re looking for frustration.
Although there is traffic on the second section of your journey, it is modest and the road is mostly wide enough to instill comfort. As a destination, Massaciuccoli has much to offer; the wildlife preserve on the lake is charming, boat and canoe rentals are available, and the town offers two restaurants for lunch or a caffeine pick-me-up. Massaciuccoli is also the site of a modest Roman terme ruin, that (for this part of Italy) is rather well preserved. In my opinion though, the highlight of the destination are the views as you depart.
Resuming your ride up the road going east (the Osteria le Terme restaurant will be on the corner), you will begin your return journey with impressive views of the lake, wetlands, and farms that extend to the sea towards Viareggio. The marble mountains of Carrara, and of course the Ligurian Sea itself, are spectacular on a clear day. This final section has a climb and a speedy descent as well as trafficked roads, so is not advisable for the novice. If you’re not comfortable in this scenario, your best option may well be to retrace your steps on the roads previously taken.
If you do undertake the journey of my revised ICP, you are looking at a 30km ride. Give yourself an afternoon, and enjoy the cafes and sights of Massaciuccoli. I would suggest avoiding Sundays, as traffic is much heavier. Most Italian drivers are aware and mindful of cyclists, but the roads can be narrow, and Sundays are also when you will encounter large groups of cyclists, which is a double-edged sword: Yes there is comfort in numbers, but be prepared to get the side-eye by the spandex crowd as you huff and puff your way up the road and out of Massaciuccoli.
Thanks to Sandy and Mattia for the company, and for reminding me that I need to get back in shape.