If there's such a thing as a “Mecca” for bicycle travel, Italy may be the place. And if you love wine and Italian cooking too, then you'll definitely want to pedal through Tuscany.
As an American bicyclist living in Europe, my goal is to find the best bike routes around the continent, some known and others undiscovered. This week, I'm going with a classic: the region south of Florence and Siena. I'll search for some of the richest red wines in the world while taking in the charming countryside, eating delicious local Tuscan cuisine and riding a few tough hills to burn those calories off!
The trip starts in Florence where my girlfriend and I meet up with our traveling partners over dinner near the Basilica of Santa Croce. We feast on capellacci, ravioli stuffed with sweet squash and walnuts, and tender Florentine steak with fresh arugula, all with a tasty local Chianti.
Photo courtesy Trent Strohm via Flickr/CC
In the morning, we hop on our Trek 21-speed hybrid bikes and head south out of Florence into the Chianti hills. The view from Piazzale Michelangelo is a stunning last glance at the city, and while the short, steep hills can be challenging to ride, the vistas are worth it. We ride through lush forests and growing vineyards as we pedal along the Greve River to a small town of the same name, Greve.
The next day, we ride our bikes to the Badia a Coltibuono, an 11th Century Romanesque Monestary with vineyards that were built and planted by monks in 1051 BCE. We stroll through the botanical gardens before taking a tour of the winery and a tasting of the full range of the wines produced here. Tired and content, we take a dip in the pool before spending the night at the agriturismo, where we sleep in the refurbished former cells of the monks.
Continuing south, we ride around Siena and watch as the landscape changes. The hills become gentler and drier, the horizon longer and the views wide open. We cycle to Asciano and stay at another local agriturismo, feasting on more local Chiantis from the region.
On our fifth day of the bike tour, we make our way to southern Tuscany and stop off at the Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore, a Benedictine abbey built in the 13th Century that is full of impressive frescoes. As we head out on our bikes, we take in the stunning setting overlooking the Tuscan hills. Next, we cycle through the “crete senesi”, the famous chalk hills of Siena. After a long day of biking, we enjoyed the long and wild, downhill ride into Buonconvento to our hotel. Tonight is our first evening sampling one of Italy's most important wines, the bold Brunello di Montalcino.
Next, we ride through edge of Val d'Orcia, a valley that's been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the successful interaction of landscape and development seen there. During a short rest at the Abbey of Sant 'Antimo, we listen to haunting Gregorian chants from outside the abbey. The day ends in Bagno Vignoni with us dipping our sore feet into the hot springs in the middle of the town's piazza.
On our last day of bicycling, we turn east to Pienza, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a planned Renaissance town and I'm amazed at how much nicer the housing developments were in the 15th Century than those on Long Island today! We can smell the local Pecorino as we walk the streets of town, so of course we sample some of the salty cheese for lunch. In the afternoon, we bike together to Montepulciano and taste some Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano wine before heading to a local villa for a last night's rest.
If you'd like to take this trip too, check out our Cycling the Chianti and Southern Tuscany, or see BikeSherpa.com for plenty of other great European bike tours.