Poppi - La Croce di Pratomagno - Poppi
24.5 miles / 3,500 feet / 2.5 hours
This is a very straightforward ride that goes straight uphill to the highest point of the Pratomagno and then straight back down again so you won’t even need a map. There are many reasons why I like it; it starts in the most interesting town in the Casentino valley, it ends with the best views available anywhere in the Pratomagno and, linking the two, it has one of the quietest roads with a gradient that is never too hard, averaging only 5.5% over the entire 12 mile climb.
There is one important thing to note however if you’re on a road bike. When you reach the restaurant ‘Da Giocondo’ at just under 5,000 feet, the paved road ends leaving you with about a mile to walk along a very uneven strada bianca and then steeply uphill on a dirt track to reach the actual Croce di Pratomagno at the highest point. So a pair of non-cycling shoes will be needed as well as a lock for your bike. Or simply do the bike ride in the morning and drive back up later in the day which is what I do because otherwise you’ll do all of the work and completely miss the best part.
The starting point, Poppi, is situated at about 1,400 feet of elevation and outside the centro storico there are plenty of places to park and then you simply unload your bike and head straight up the mountain.
There’s only one place to stop on this route, the small village of Quota located 5 miles and 1,100 feet into the ride. It’s an attractive little place with one surviving bar to grab a coffee and something to eat.
It’s yet another place in this region that was the site of a war crime in July 1944, but the only one where the intervention of a displaced elderly professor from the University of Florence managed to avert a larger scale atrocity from taking place.
No evidence remains of what he said to the Germans that day over the course of several hours but the result was that they released the 30 young men they had already rounded up in the square (representing such a large percentage of Quota’s working age men that it would probably have resulted also in the death of the village) and instead executed 5 men who were childless, including one who volunteered to take his brother’s place, his brother being the father of six small children. A much better result for sure but a barbaric war crime nonetheless.
After Quota there’s another 7.25 miles and 2,400 feet to go and for the first few miles it definitely feels a little steeper than before, but it flattens out considerably as you get nearer to the top.
Once at Da Giocondo, a 20 minute walk uphill will get you to the highest point. Before the actual Croce however you will come across a memorial to Bert Hinkler, Australia's most famous pioneering aviator of a century ago. An exceptional flyer and inventor of aviation instruments, he held many solo flying records and had just left London in January 1933 to attempt to break the flying record to Australia when he fatally crashed into the Pratomagno massif near this spot.
La Croce di Pratomagno was first erected in 1927, though subsequently rebuilt and repaired several times since then, and sits at 5,200 feet. Given how many high mountains there are in Italy this is an unremarkable height, but less common are the 360 degree unobstructed views from the top courtesy of the isolated nature of the Pratomagno massif accentuated by the river valleys surrounding it.
The descent back to Poppi is long but not as fast and exhilarating as some of the others I have written about due to the less than perfect road surface and, as ever, there's one quite short and shallow climb that interrupts the descent and I found it particularly unwelcome to tired legs.