“This is great”. Those where the first words out of most everyone’s mouth as we drove to Cividale. It is a pretty special place, one that has stolen a piece of my heart, and after this week of riding, dining, culture, and couture, the cyclists here with me and those of you following along via the blog/picture gallery will hopefully have a piece of your hearts stolen too.
Yesterday, as we where putting the bikes together there was a wedding at Il Roncal, the winery we are staying and they where taking pictures in the vineyards. Think we might have photo bombed a few by accident. But as the early arrivals came back from their ride the bride saw them and asked them to be in her pictures! The people here are very friendly and helpful.
The group arrived in stages, and on Sunday morning, the group that checked in to Il Roncal Winery on Saturday went for an exploratory ride beginning with a 17 km warm-up to La Grotta d’Antro in San Giovani. These are caves that have been used as a place of worship, with different denominations adding their own touches over the years. When there are heavy rains, the original entrance to the church would flood, and the water would flow through the caves all year, providing a place for the local people to grind up corn and flour, from the offerings to the church, for food.
The walls, at one point where covered in frescos, but with the humidity and harsh conditions, most no longer exist. The Longobords added a section that they decorated in a gothic style, an altar was added to another section, but after thieves stole statues three times they replaced the original (now in the Udine museum) with a replica. The second part of our tour took us deeper in to the caves to see the stalagnites, small fish, repairs after earthquakes, and neat rock formations due to the winds and waters that have flowed through over the millennia.
We continued our ride up to the top of the hill, testing our equipment and gearing choices, before returning to Cividale for lunch. As this group was having lunch, the other was at the opposite end of town also having lunch before checking in to Il Roncal. When the groups met there were hugs and kisses all around before the cyclists continued their ride up to Castelmonte, another climb ending in an impressive Monastery. Will have to remember to bring long shorts next time we would like to see the inside of a church, as knees and shoulders and feet need to be covered.
The second group did some final adjustments on their bikes and headed out for a ride. Chris and James where ready before the rest, and headed out to catch the first group up on Castelmonte, which they did. That left 4 cyclists and we headed out for an easy spin to get our blood flowing and make sure our equipment was set up properly. This route was flat and half of it was on a quiet road the wound around vineyards. After every curve there was a view of a steeple in the distance, an old stone house, and beautiful vegetation. The ride, though short, received great reviews.
Our evening ended with a shuttle in to Cividale and dinner at a local restaurant. This was our first meal and I tested their sense of adventure by asking them to choose rabbit or trout, it was 50/50. The meal began with plates of prosciutto, salami, smoked duck and cheeses. There was one cheese, local to the area, that is a combination of 7 different cheeses, it was amazing. One bite had one flavour and sensation, then your mouth tingled with excitement, and there was a lingering joy that filled every taste bud. The seafood gnocchi was impressive, the mains where enjoyed by all, and we ended with gelato where I may have seen one person lick their plate clean. The conversations flowed, the company was lively, and we had a great first night together.