Last year I set out to cycle abroad for a holiday and to train a little bit for various events. Not really knowing where to start I asked about on a few Facebook pages and asked a few local cyclists about ideas. Same place kept on popping up in threads and conversations – Benemax or Ian and Liz’s place as its called amongst the people who have visited call it .
You can find the webpage for Benemax B&B in Italy at http://www.benemax.biz/
I ask a couple of my cycling friends if they want to come but have no joy so am a bit dubious about going on my own. Word gets around that I’m looking to head away and a few people who have been or actually know Ian say I would be fine on my own and I would love it. Turns out Ian is ex Sun City Tri / Tyne & Wear fire service Tri. Few years ago he retired and him and his wife purchased a place in Northern Italy and turned it into a B&B for cyclists, triathletes, runners, hikers and various other types.
I eventually book up with them for my summer holidays for 11 days from the end of July.
Time flys and am ready to leave, I contact them to ask a few questions about tools, food and various other niggly stuff that I’m unsure about and have a quick friendly reply every time. You just can’t get that with other holiday companies or if you do it takes ages and is always a pain in the arse.
I pack my clothes and borrow my mates bike box, strip my bike down and pack it up. I cost me £300 with Jet2 to fly from Newcastle to Venice, that included flight there and back with a 22kg baggage allowance and a 30kg allowance for a bike. I arrive at the Airport and check in with no problems, I had my bike, suitcase , backpack and a spare set of wheels in a large wheel bag. The bike and wheels had to be placed into oversized baggage at the airport so I was unsure if my stuff would actually arrive at Venice or if they did in would my wheels be smashed to bits. I Land at Venice on a Sunday night and my baggage is fine to my surprise and I meet Ian who has come and picked me up ( At my request )
Its approx 1/1.5 hours in the little Minibus from Venice to there B&B. Its located in a little town called Campolongo Sul Brenta right in front of a river ( Brenta ) . The closest major town/city is 4 miles down the road, a place called Bassano Del Grappa which is rather impressive on the eye, Very very Italian type town full of good looking people eating ice cream and drinking Prosecco on a wooden bridge that spans the river Brenta the Ponte Vecchio as its called.
Once at Benemax late on the Sunday evening I’m meet by Ian’s wife Liz. She had laid out a meal for me on arrival and after Ian had shown me around the place and to the other two guests, Mark and Ray. I tuck In, local hams, cheeses and wine fill the table am Im listening and swapping stories about various things back home, about my family and friends and our Very International cycling club now South Shields Velo. Once settled I moving into the guest lounge which has some super comfy chairs a TV and a Fridge for our stuff, Its filled with Beer, Wine, Chocolate, Crisps and various other fizzy pops and milk. An honesty tin is placed on top to pay for the stuff you take out of the fridge, it’s fairly relaxed and I often didn’t have change so would wait till later in the day or the next day to pay what I owed. Mark and Ray where enjoying a few beers and to be honest where probably waiting to see who I was. Both lovely people who made me feel very welcome and filled me in on the area squaddie style ( Turns out the 3 of us are all Ex Army ) , so I get a feel for the place fairly quickly. Discussion is raised to what I want to do on my first day of cycling, I say that i’m not that bothered so decide to do Mount Grappa from Samonza ( Dont really know what to expect, I know its a Mountain and a HC climb that’s it ) . Say good night and head to my room which was on the back of the building, it was a fair size with a double bed in as I was on my own ( perks ) a table and chair and a wardrobe. Ian give me the run down on how the ceiling fan worked and how to open and close the shutters.
My first morning I’m up really early as I couldn’t sleep, so decide to head down to the basement/garage to unpack and set my bike up. Ian’s garage was like the Alladins cave for cyclists. Carbon Fiber Blackhawk bikes lined the wall, and it was fairly impressive to see, The rear wall was filled with various arrays of bike tools, lube, sprays and other bike related crap that you pick up over the years, it was all placed out on the wall and was really easy to find tools quickly. The garage was a fair size and Ian’s Motorbike sat in the middle along with a Weights bench and the far side wall filled with guests bikes and baggage.
Once my bike was built I headed up for breakfast where Ian, Liz, Mark and Ray had already started. Breakfast was an array of cereals , yoghurts and fruit juices. With Coffee from the newly purchased coffee machine, coffee in Italy only comes in one size thoe EXPRESSO , which is really annoying so my trip was filled with asking for various different types of coffee, Americano , Latte and cappuccino . Nothing the size of what we would call a normal size cup thoe. Ian and Liz did there best to give you a fairly decent size.
We set of on the first day towards Grappa, Ian and Liz are on the motorbike guiding us round the area and have spair bottles and anything else we dont/cant carry on our persons. We arrive at Somonza ( little town at the bottom of Mount Grappa ) with a Belgium lad called Niels who Mark and Ray knew from a previous ride and was keen to join us and do Grappa. He was tiny and looked like the real deal to me, could have easily fit into the pro peloton. We get our photo taken at the bottom and Ian gives us a quick run down of the climb, I’m not really listening as I’m red hot already its 30-34 degrees and I’m a little nervous.
Mark sets off first as he says ” I’m not the best of climbers, the Italians say i climb like Cavendish” which I’m instantly buckled with laughter, So that left the 3 of us, the first few km’s of switchbacks are really easy and slowly get harder as you climb, the heat is really starting to get to Niells who constantly said in a funny accent ” ITSSS TOOOO HOTTTT ” , I soon set a fairly decent pace and I can see Ray and Niells drift back as I increase speed, I figured if I sit below threshold ill be ok, and I was for most of it but the heat took its toll and I soon started to pour water over my head, which was so nice in the heat , but knowing Ian has loads of bottles on his bike I dont have to worry about running out. 85 minutes later I reach the top , it was a hard climb to the top and I seen some fairly amazing views heading up the mountain, but nothing like what you see at the top ——– THE CAFE , Im sweating buckets and my heart and lungs have had a fairly decent workout, Ian and Liz where at the top to congratulate me and make me feel better whilst taking photos of me suffering, I catch my breath and wait for the rest of the group to arrive, Ray wasn’t to far behind and where soon laughing about Niell’s moaning about the heat and wanting to turn back but 10 minutes later he arrives gasping for air and water. He said he wouldn’t of made it without the words of encouragement from everyone. We head into the cafe and instantly stuff our faces with coke a cola , chocolate, cake and coffee whilst Ian heads back down to find Mark, Hes not gone to long and he and Mark arrive to some cheers and piss taking from us which he shakes of and smiles, which is just in his nature.
After the refuel we head down , ITS FAST and I’m glad I had some coffee to keep me alert because it very technical and my arms soon start to hurt from using the brakes hard. Its great fun though and Niell starts to pull away and actually catch Ian on the motorbike, I have none of this and start to bridge over to him. A small climb of 2% jumps up from nowhere and I fly past the tiny Belgium who is instantly cursing about the heat. Once at the bottom we all are grinning like mad, the 4 of us are feeling amazing, the sugar and adrenaline rush is so euphoric I knew I had just done something that will be fully etched into my memory forever.
The Rest of my trip was just filled with amazing days similar to this, I could write a book about just my week.
Liz Walker – The Food Liz cooked was always fantastic, her choice of music which followed her everywhere she went was relaxing and soothing and I often found my self singing along to some old classics. She was very approachable and I instantly liked her, always smiling and willing to help you if you needed it.
Ian Walker– Always willing to help you out , with almost anything, his Italian and knowledge of the area was invaluable to me and I learnt so much from him in just a few days. Warning thoe when he says its just a small climb ITS NOT , what he means is – ITS NOT A HORs Cat MOUNTAIN and that your legs are going to hurt , A lot . He seemed to know nearly everyone and every cafe within a 100 mile radius. Which to me was very important as I like cafe stops. He still a fairly decent cyclist and had no trouble taking us out without his motorbike which was nice, not sure on his local cycling clubs kit thoe, very very bold, but that’s Italians. I don’t know any person that can possibly say a bad word about this man, because I know I can’t.
The Local Area – Campolongo isnt very big and there is not a lot to do, there is a small bar and tiny local piazza that sells ice cream and Prosecco which was really cheap. Down the road you have a Town called Valstagna which had a few places to eat and a couple of bars where everything was really cheap again. Down the road the other way is Bassano which is the main Town/City in the area, if you want nightlife or some shopping etc this was the place to go, Fairly lively at times but such a wonderful place to visit , everywhere just looked cool and stylish. Visiting this place on its own was worth it. Most places don’t speak much English so I would suggest learning a few basics to get by, I didn’t struggle but think I could learn a little more to be comfortable.
The Cycling- Everything is just big and epic out there, Theres Mount Grappa which you can climb from 10 different ways all fairly tough, The Forza which is a nice climb between a valley and fairly steady gradient, one of my favourites whilst there. Cima Campa & Castelo Tesino both decent climbs. Then there is smaller stuff but not always easier, loads of cat 1,2,3 and 4 climbs dotted almost all over , Ian does know flat routes and the roads are fairly decent and smooth so when you are actually on a rare moment of flat you can shift at some speed. The motorist are really respectful of cyclists and will often let you have right of way.
Benemax as a Business –
It was hard not to forget that the place I was staying was actually a Business because Ian and Liz make it like another home. Everytime Ian came out on a ride whether it was cycling or motorbike its cost me 5euros ( classed as a guided ride ) , I really didnt mind paying this as Ian was pretty much my translator and he carried spare bottles etc, which in the heat was worth it. You didnt have to have a guided ride if you didnt want.
Lunch cost me 10euros every time Liz cooked, which was most days I was there. The local restaurant where on holiday when I arrived so Liz made more of an effort for her guests because of this. The food was fantastic so I had no problem with paying the extra money.
Transport anywhere by the minibus costs, and as its a fair few miles to get anywhere its the only real option as taxis are just way to expensive, I often just jumped on my bike and headed out which wasnt a bad option when I was on my own. If other people join you it’s divided up between the amount of people. Theres a Sportful factory outlet not to far aswell, which is 100% worth a visit as everything is reduced and super cheap.
Overall I cant say enough good things about this place, Liz and Ian where perfect. The location made for a challenging cycling, tough running in the heat and jaw dropping swimming. I cant wait to return , and as a club we now get 10% off. So i’ll be booking up again asap.
Thanks Benemax and Italy