On foot, by bus...or by bike! The third way to San Luca
Updated on 18 May 2022 From Bologna Welcome
The Santuario di San Luca (Sanctuary of San Luca) is one of the symbols of Bologna: located on Colle della Guardia (Guardian Hill), it looks down over the city and is a landmark for departing or arriving Bologna residents and tourists alike.
Climbing up to the sanctuary under the world's longest portico is a must; every day many people do just that, for exercise, worship or simply to admire this iconic place.
In another blog article, we explained how to get there: on foot or by tourist train/public transport. But there is also another, not much talked-about way – though it's only for the most fit and fearless: by bike!
The approximately 2 km of Via di San Luca skirts and ducks under the portico several times on its way up. This is the route you take to reach the sanctuary on a bike saddle. But the road has impressively steep inclines and hard sections, so it's only for cycling daredevils!
However, it is important to point out seriously that to undertake the ascent you need to be super-fit and have solid, high-quality equipment; so we don’t recommend this route to anyone without adequate physical training or a bicycle suitable for the job.
Because even for a well-conditioned amateur cyclist, the climbing is a bit of a feat, because of the technical difficulties and the awe it inspires, recalling the great courses of the Giro dell'Emilia – the professional cycling race that covers the San Luca ascent annually or the times when it has been a stage in the Giro d'Italia.
So, if you’ve all the above aspects covered and feel ready, let's get started!
N.B.: If you have an e-bike this experience will be a lot easier and less exhausting than what we describe here.
Arriving from the city centre, go along Via Saragozza until you pass under the Arco del Meloncello, a scenic architectural element of one of Bologna's UNESCO Porticoes (but you won’t have time to stop and admire it!). The road suddenly veers to the left and bam! – the vertiginous ascent before you is your welcome to hell – or to heaven, depending on how masochistic you are.
The first stretch of the climb is immediately extreme, aggressive and unforgiving. The momentum you’ve built up from Via Saragozza quickly peters out. Gradients of 11% to 15% will make you comfortable with the climb; however being cool will allow you to enjoy the portico and the views over the city that begin to appear on your right.
Your breathing may quickly become laboured, however, if you start off in fourth gear and go hard into these first 500 metres. The next section is more manageable and will allow you to recover and continue to enjoy the ascent while you can.
After a nice straight stretch where the road really flattens out, make sure you gather your strength because what you can't see yet is the very epitome of your experience of San Luca by bike – at once the most beautiful and hardest point, and its now-or-never moment: the Curva delle Orfanelle (Orphans’ Bend).
The road turns sharply to the left and passes under the majestic portico. Now you are faced with a tight S-bend with brutal gradients of up to 18%. Brutal yes, but also marvellous: a cycling arena carved by nature. Fan messages are daubed on the asphalt, because this is where the most enthused spectators gather when the races pass through.
You come out of the chicane pumped up but suddenly your morale takes a nose-dive, because in front of you there is about 200 metres of straight road with gradients that show no signs of easing off. There is no way you can enjoy the beauty of your surroundings here; you are likely to be running on empty and all you can do is just keep pedalling and survive this stretch. You’re coming to the summit at the hardest point; your gaze rises beyond the road horizon and where you thought it would level out, you realise you still have more to climb, only with slightly less gruelling gradients. But hang on in there, the worst is behind you... now you have to keep you dignity intact for when the road turns right and crosses under the portico. Now you can start to get your breath back. The road now flattens out and now, taking heart once again, you try to get your panting breathlessness under control.
You begin to see the Sanctuary on your left and even though you lose sight of it on the last few bends and the road climbs again, it’s only a short way now and there... you’ve made it, you’re at the top!
A fountain marks the entrance to the Basilica park. On a hot day, it will be like striking gold. Rest, rehydrate and enjoy the beauty of the place, the peace, the view and the nature. You sweated it – literally.
But (I can tell you now), there is in fact another way to get to San Luca, certainly easier for people who like muscle-powered bikes. Challenging in a different way and longer, but with kinder gradients, is the route from Via Saragozza, then Via di Casaglia. From here you climb up to Via di Montealbano and onwards. You will thus reach the Sanctuary via the “back road”.