Yeah! Do you remember fearless freewheeling descents on your bike when you were a kid? And the sweaty work up so you can start all over again?
E-biking in the Trebbia Valley in northern Italy is like that, but without the lung-tightening climb, thanks to the electric motor starting.
Higher and higher, we pedal in a clear and soft air scented with acacia and silent except for the cries of the swifts.
Dramatic: Josa Keyes tries out the e-bike on the hills of Trebbia Valley in northern Italy during an active break with tour operator No Boundaries. Above is Bobbio, a classic hillside town in the region
Then, suddenly, disaster strikes. Distracted by the view, my handlebars collide with another bike and I skid down the road, narrowly missing a Vespa. I pull myself together and let’s go.
It’s not the only breathtaking moment of the weekend — the next day I find myself 15 meters from a cliff, rock climbing for the first time in my life. I’m on a multi-activity weekend with No Boundaries, an innovative company that aims to introduce everyone to the outdoors.
Created in the UK by Italian lawyer Francesco Carta in 2017, the firm survived Covid and now allows people of all ages, shapes and sizes to challenge themselves by canyoning, caving, bouldering, hiking, biking, kayaking, ice climbing and more, in spectacular scenery in Italy, Sardinia and the UK – with Norway coming soon.
It is perfect for solo travellers. The age of my group ranges from 30s to 60s. The size of the groups depends on the activity but generally does not exceed eight people.
We leave the e-bikes for a picnic, then climb a 700 meter outcrop called Pietra Perduca, to visit what must be the world’s tallest crested newt living in a prehistoric oblong reservoir carved into the dark rock.
How the newts got there, no one can explain, but they seem cheerful.
Josa climbs the 700m outcrop called Pietra Perduca (pictured), to visit ‘what must be the world’s tallest crested newt living in a prehistoric oblong reservoir carved out of dark rock’
The Trebbia river flows through the province of Piacenza which, although only an hour from Milan, seems like an untouched secret. It’s all agriturismo here – accommodation and restaurants on working farms – and the key to the experience is total immersion in local food and wine. To reach the Corte Del Gallo farmhouse restaurant, we pass beehives that produce the honey that the place serves with its own cheese. The fresh tortelli – pockets of delicate pasta filled with ricotta and exquisite herbs or Gorgonzola – are ambrosial.
We drink natural sparkling white wine (natural sparkling), which almost resembles cider, in white porcelain bowls.
Our base is a renovated convent B&B – Croara Vecchia Azienda Agricola – on a family farm, owned by the lovely Alessandra. The frescoed chapel, which was once a tractor shed, has been beautifully restored. It is perched above the Trebbia River.
“The Trebbia River (pictured) runs through the province of Piacenza which, although only an hour from Milan, looks like an untouched secret,” says Josa.
I dread the escalation of the next day but, true to my mission to scare myself, I try to disconnect. The No Boundaries team, made up of reassuring experts and skilled mountaineers, takes us to Falesia di Pillori, a vertical slab of gray rock projected into the sky millions of years ago. I watch seasoned climber Giorgio casually pinch what looks like a flat surface, threading ropes through the permanently sunken pitons.
Each climbing route has a name too crude for a family journal. Despite our diversity, our group is tightly knit and we confide in everything from breastfeeding to relationships.
Then all that separates me from a terrible fall is a single knot called a figure eight and one of the guides at the end of the belay rope.
I squeeze my bare feet into tight climbing shoes with rubbery toes and, with the group cheering me on, I throw myself up the steep cliff, pushing my toes and fingers into nearly invisible cracks. I’m glad I got my shellac painted nails trimmed.
I make the mistake of looking over my shoulder – I’m shocked at how far I’ve climbed. I let out a curse but abseiled down, dancing with pleasure.
A slight tremor doesn’t stop me from going up twice more and loving every minute.
There is a lot to be said for embracing a second childhood.