My first cocktail was an Americano, made with a Martini Rosso vermouth base. I can still picture that moment – the terrace by the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux, the texture of the bistrot chair against my back, the end of afternoon light with a hint of apricot tint, the ruby colour of the drink, the juicy slice of orange on the side, the dance of sweetness and pleasant bitterness on my palate. It was a moment of pure perfection. Martini Rosso remains my drink of choice to celebrate a moment of happiness. I even have a vintage glass made by the brand, found in an antique shop in Belgium, which I keep to sip on their Riserva Speciale Rubino. Bliss. When Martini asked whether I wanted to come cycling with them along the Milano-Torino route, two of Italy’s most iconic aperitivo cities, of course I said yes. Count me in. I will gladly pedal for the chance of a Martini Rosso on arrival – now that, my friends is true love.
If you do not know me, let me give you some background. I hike, I travel, I occasionally jump in lakes. Cocktails and cakes rock my world. I do not go to the gym nor do I exercise – unless you count carrying suitcases across the world as sport. There is a point to be argued there! I did not immediately realise I had just signed up to cover 100 km. Not the full route, my work schedule being quite hectic but Milano to Casale Monferrato. Looking back, I doubt I ever cycled more than 40 km in total. Oh, my. But hey, I do love an adventure.
Getting ready with the Martini team
I did have a slight moment of panic reading the email mentioning I could bring my own pedals. Running shoes and a yoga mat: that’s about all the equipment I have in stock. Martini reassured me: this wasn’t about racing or competing. Of the 40 or so bartenders (including Erik Lorincz from the Savoy, Luca Missaglia from Aqua Shard, Dean Callan and Hyacinthe Lescoët from Le Grands Verres, Paris) joining the event, not everyone was a trained cyclist. There would be a whole team available (medics, masseur) and vans to collect anyone needing a break along the way. It didn’t matter whether I covered 1 km, 50 or the full 100 km – just that I enjoyed myself. Most importantly, the ride would raise funds for Wine to Water – a charity dedicated to providing fresh water for those who need it most.
So I flew from London to Milan, cycling helmet in hand, filled with excitement and wonder. Martini had teamed up with Bar Termini (go and try their rose infused negroni, a thing of beauty) for the event and designed the most elegant jersey outfit: wool based, beautiful retro, buttoned pockets at the back and of course sporting the Martini colours. That alone was motivation enough to go cycling… We then were assigned a bike – proper ones, with thick tires that could go over cobbled stones without us feeling on a rodeo – which we took for a test ride with a pro cyclist. Yes – this now felt more manageable. Maybe I could do this.
The full team was introduced during the safety brief, as well as the route we would be covered. We all grabbed a Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino and mingled, sharing stories and laughing. A fantastic introduction to the cycling world – team spirit and limitless friendliness! By 10 pm, though, most of us were back in our hotel room. Breakfast was at 6 am and we needed all the energy we could gather…
Milan: Ready, set, cycle!
Breakfast was a big discussion point. It may be early but you simply could not skip it. Eat as much as you can? Stay on the healthy side? I learnt at that point cycling a full day would burn around 4,000 calories. Guilt free then! The key was to start with a good meal, stay hydrated and refuel on a regular basis along the way. Martini had planned stops every 20-25 km so with water, bananas and cake to help keep going.
We were reunited with our bikes in Milan. The city was just starting to wake up, we had it all to ourselves, quite a fantastic feeling… We first headed to Piazza del Duomo: an iconic group picture with the cathedral in the background was in order. There we were assigned a group leader. Mine was quite a VIP: grand stage winner Daniele Ratto. Good wishes and hugs were exchanged all around… Time to go!
From Milan to Vigevano
We joined the cycling path along the canal, passing street art murals, runners, couples walking their dog along the way. The big city slowly faded away, replaced by sweet little houses with neat little gardens, churches, parks with playgrounds. Finally, we reached the countryside, riding between stunning fields on our left and the canal, its water suprisingly clear, now feeling more like a river. A sudden sense of freedom filled our heart. What a wonderful, wonderful way to spend a Sunday…
We got to Vigevano effortlessly and oh, what a surprise to go through the arches and discover Piazza Ducale, a Renaissance square built in the 13th century, beautiful terracotta pattern painted on its facades! We were lost for words. Martini had booked the terrace of a café there and we happily indulged in a proper espresso, pastry and freshly squeezed orange juice. A new definition of the dolce vita, I’m telling you.
From Vigevano to Rosasco
We were ready for more. The sun was getting higher in the sky, the temperature warmer. This was a longer stretch of road, going from one village to another but a picturesque one: bell towers, yellow, ocre pain on the walls, murals… Let alone there was barely any traffic. We all cycled at our own pace, Daniele checking on everyone regularly, sometimes pushing the last cyclist all the way to the front as an extra boost. Some of us would team up , chat happily, before falling silent again, simply enjoying the nature around us. The Martini team drove by from time to time, cheering us, filming too. The team spirit (and the promise of a good lunch) carried us easily to our next stop: Rosasco.
Never has food tasted better. There were sandwiches with grilled courgette, the most satifying pizzas we had ever tasted, fresh fruit. And maybe a few bottles of water used as refreshing shower. We felt, in other words, on top of the world… The mayor showed us around, even taking us up the bell tower to show us the view: Italy already got us under its spell. Oh to stay here a day or two!
Realising I had a blister on my thumb, I asked the doctor whether he had a plaster. Disregarding the idea – it wouldn’t resist the rubbing long – he started bandaginf my hand thouroughly. This got got me quite a compassionate looks through the rest of the day… He was right though, this gave just the right support and I can see why so many cyclists invest in gloves. We picked up our bikes: only 20 km left!
A Martini victory drink in Casale Monferrato
This was the hardest part. Not so much because of the distance: a hilly slope on the way surprised us and took our breath away. I was lucky: my part of the trip had been the flat one. Those continuing towards Turin the following day would have 20 km of mountains to go through… Although, chatting with Daniele, you have 3 options: 140 km fully flat road, 120 half flat half hilly, 0r 100 km with just really 20 km being really challenging.
The traffic became heavier, we were almost there. I never thought I would be able to cover 100 km. Then again, Martini had made it easy for us: fantastic leaders, plenty of food and drink, a picturesque route chosen to wow us all along… It really inspires me to get on a bike more often. Or look into cyclotourism: you really appreciate the landscape differently. I also felt I had achieved something. Not simply going out of my comfort zone, but supporting a charity. It makes pedalling so much more worth it.
There were, of course, cocktails ready to welcome us. Martini will now always have a taste of victory for me. You can count me in for next year 🙂
Photos by the Martini team and Teatime in Wonderland.