If you want to see people riding around on bikes in fur coats, then visit Ferrara in winter. Everyone from young to old, rides bikes in this city. Known as ‘la città delle biciclette’, Ferrara has a well established network of cycle paths and the traffic is quite forgiving, as long as you follow some basic road rules i.e. ride on the right, stop for traffic lights and generally be courteous to other road users and pedestrians.
Many hotels in Ferrara have bikes you can rent. I stayed at Hotel Touring, a 3 star hotel close to Castello Estense who have three brand new bikes for rent (each accompanied with a lock should you want to pop into a cafe enroute). The cost was 4 euro for half a day, though I never found out exactly how many hours ‘half a day’ was, I’m assuming it is 3 or 4? Antonio at reception circled all the best routes on my city map, and there were enough to keep me exploring Ferrara by bike for two half days in a row.
The most popular route is around the city ramparts which are in total 9 km long and surround the city almost entirely. There are a few sections where you have to come off and negotiate roundabouts but there are usually cyclist signs directing you where to go.
As well as being a fun way for tourists to get to know the city, the Ferrara walls are a popular jogging and dog walking route for locals. I lost count of how many small dogs in sheepskin jackets I spied trotting along.
If you tire of cycling the walls, then Ferrara itself offers a plentiful network of cycling paths and streets to explore. One particular route Antonio suggested cycling down was the Via delle Volte, one of the oldest medieval streets in Europe and once the haunt of merchants and prostitutes. A series of six parallel streets nearby also provide a scenic backstreet tour of the local neighbourhood.
The spacious central piazza with its impressive cathedral, porticoed shops and restaurants is lovely to cycle around too. Depending on the time of day it can either be packed with people, requiring some careful manoeuvring with the bike, or eerily quiet when shops close for a few hours in the afternoon.
Helmets aren’t part of the essential bicycle get up in Ferrara, and since cyclists share some of the same streets as cars, I would suspect there to be a reasonable amount of people ending up in hospital. I did see a near miss when a woman rode out in front of a police car but she just squeaked past.
But getting around by bike is definitely the best way to go if you visit Ferrara. If you have a handbag or shopping it can be accommodated in the basket on the front. The bell is also useful for alerting unsuspecting pedestrians that you’re behind them. As for the women in the fur coats, it may look odd but when you’re riding a bike in winter it really is a sensible option for dealing with the wind chill factor.