Oslo still doesn’t provide the best conditions to start into the road bike season. Weather conditions paired with our love for great food and excellent wines made it easy to choose the destination for this year’s season start – Tuscany!!!
Many know Tuscany from the typical pictures with rolling hills and vineyards so far your eye can see. But Tuscany has many different facets. So the best way to approach Tuscany is to separate it in the different areas – northwest Tuscany, east Tuscany, Siena and central Tuscany, South Tuscany, etruscan Riviera and Elba.
We booked our base more or less in the centre of Tuscany – Radda in Chianti. From there we made bike tours in each of the above mentioned areas. Since all the areas have different grapes and wines, we also had to stop here and there to discover all of them 😉
But before we start with what we have experienced, we should start with the most important part of a trip to Tuscany: Food and Wine!
Tuscan food is almost an art form. Not too many ingredients, but always of good quality and pure. It is composed with everything Tuscans grow on their fields and harvest from the sea and woods. From Maroni, to fresh herbs, white truffles and freshly collected mushrooms or catch of the day from the mediterranean sea.
No matter if you’re eating in a fine restaurant or a simple Osteria, the food is always delicious – no wonder we didn’t lose weight despite our long bike loops.
Tuscany is known for a great variety of excellent wines. The link between Tuscany and vineculture is ancient and the region has been extremely protective of its winemaking legacy – as early as 1716 Cosimo de’Medici heralded the concept of designated areas when he defined some of the highest quality wine producing zones. In Tuscany you find wines that are world famous, like Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti or the Super Tuscans to name a few.
Vines grow across all provinces in Tuscany and there are many appellations throughout the region. The most representative variety is for sure Sangiovese, a great vine whose grapes produce extraordinary wines. But there are others, too. The most common red ones are Canaiolo Nero, Ciligiolo and Aleatico as well as the whites Trebbiano Toscano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Malvasia Bianca, Ansonica and Vermentino.
Besides the native species, Tuscany also became famous for producing great wines from international varieties (e.g. Bordeaux vines), which have found an ideal environment to grow.
Today, winemaking in Tuscany is closely linked to appellations like Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti, Bolgheri, Carmignano, Morellino di Scansano and many others. Even though the region is primarily know for its red wines, they also produce excellent white ones, too. Vernaccio di San Gimignano, Bianco di Pitigliano, Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario and Bianco dell’Empolese are just a few of them.
There even are a number of sweet wines, too. Starting with the extraordinary Vino Santo, made from the sun-dried Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. It becomes event more appealing in the Occhio di Pernice version made from Sangiovese, Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo grapes. Another one of the sweet type is the Moscatello di Montalcino.
So you can imagine, that we had to go all in to be able to discover all the good wines and grapes around Tuscany 😉
Enough of the theory, you might want to see what we were up to, right? Here you go …
Arriving in Tuscany and first tour to Radda
After a long car drive down to Tuscany, we finally arrived in this beautiful little cottage in typical Tuscan style. A beautiful house rented out by Holly and Luca – two fantastic hosts, that always were service minded and did everything for us having a great time.
After settling in, we decided to take a short walk into Radda and to go to the grocery store and a little store with local specialities to buy some antipasti and food for dinner.
First day – no biking 🙁
Sometimes not everything is working out as planned. Firstly I have to confess, that I forgot to pack our helmets. Without helmets no biking – safety first! So I spend half of the night awake being angry with my self and googling for bikeshops to buy helmets. The second part wasn’t that easy as the on Sunday most shops were closed. Besides, it was still pre-season.
However, we are in Italy, the land of cycling-loving people. So we found a store, not far from Radda in Gaiola that had opened on Sunday, where we finally found helmets.
The second issue was the heavy rain that day. So biking in that weather was not really an option for us … Therefore we decided to do some sightseeing instead.
After a short stop in Lecchi, we went to Siena to have a closer look at this beautiful city. The legend has it that Siena was founded by the son of Remus. That’s why wolves greet you when you enter the city.
However, historically the city was built by the Etruscans, and Siena grew to a proper city under the Romans. Siena became even more important in the 12th century when trade picked up.
The historical city center is a marvel and a must see when you are in Tuscany. The Piazza del Campo surrounded by beautiful old buildings like the Palazzo Pubblico, is a great place to drink coffee and to let time pass by. Once a year there is a horse race around the square which is more than just a tourist attraction. But also the Cathedral of Siena (Duomo) is a must see and really impressive.
After our sightseeing stop in Siena we went back to Radda with a short visit of a beautiful castle – Villa Vistarenni. We spotted this place the day before on a hill across the valley from Radda. When we got there, the owners were so nice to give us a private guided tour around the estate. I think we found a place to celebrate a wedding day or something similar 😉
Wine tasting with a cultural twist
Not only is Castello di Ama renown for its first class wines, it also has an impressive collection of contemporary art. Every year they invite an artist onto the estate. There he/she can find a place to set up an installation. Below we put together some impressions of this fantastic collection.
First tour on the bike to Siena
Finally we got all our things together (including the helmets), and the weather was in favour of us … It was at least sunny, even though it wasn’t really as warm as we’d expected.
Our tour lead us on the same route as we drove by car yesterday. From Radda we passed Gaiole and Siena. After a short coffee stop in Castellina we were ready for the last uphill back towards Radda Chianti. This tour is really giving you the essentials of the Chianti region – a lot of beautiful vistas included.
Of course we’d like to share the route we did:
San Gimignano and Volterra
Today we startet our loop in San Gimignano. With its 14 towers inside the surrounding wall, this former Etruscan village looks a bit like a Medieval Manhattan. In the 12th century San Gimignano became very wealthy, also due to its strategic geographic position at the Via Francigena. To show the wealth, its aristocratic families built high towers. At the most, there were 72 towers reaching up in the sky.
However, in 1348 the plague killed most of the inhabitants and ruined its wealth, so that they had to go under the administration of Florence in 1353.
Nevertheless, this town is really worth a visit. With its picturesque buildings, churches and palazzos, as well as the hometown of the wine “Vernaccia” (there is even a museum dedicated to this wine), there is plenty to see. But be there early or late in the day, so you don’t get run over by busloads of other tourists that invade the town every day.
As said, we started and ended our tour here in San Gimignano – we left towards northwest, and went westwards to Volterra.
Volterra is also a beautiful little town on the top of a hill. Also originally built by the Etruscans and one of the most important settlements with up to 25.000 inhabitants, it became part of the Roman Empire in 260 B.C. Most of the historic city center was built in the 12th and 13th century. What this city is most renowned for are the products made of Alabaster, which comes from the nearby stone quarries.
After our coffee stop in Volterra and taking some pictures, we went back to San Gimignano on the southeastern route via Roncolla. This part of the route was less scenic and there was much more traffic than on the way to Volterra.
Here are some impressions from our tour:
And of course the route in case you’d like to try yourself:
On the way back from our cycling tour, we headed directly to our next wine tasting at Villa Cerna, where we did the Gran Selecione Tour – a tour throughout the wine garden and the cellars, as well as tasting some of Villa Cerna’s fantastic wines. We were very lucky and had an exclusive tour just for the two of us. One thing you should not miss out: try Villa Cerna’s Super Tuscan “Coevo”. For us, this was one of the best wines we have tasted during our week here in Tuscany.
Lucca and the leaning tower of Pisa
You haven’t been to Tuscany, if you haven’t been to Pisa. Seriously, this is a MUST and if you are there early in the morning, you can get a good view of the leaning tower before all the people trying to support the leaning tower 😉 …
But Pisa is more than just the leaning tower. For the Romans, Pisa was an important harbour, that covered both trade and the military naval part. A lot of architectural gems date back to the 12th and 13th century when father and son Nicola and Giovanni Pisano formed the architectural style in Pisa. The other side of Pisa is their heritage in education and science. The most famous son of the city is Galileo Galilei, who taught at the university at the end of the 16th century. The university is still one of the most prestigious in Italy and is what makes Pisa such a lively city.
From Pisa, we cycled on a busy street out towards Lucca. After a couple of kilometres the streets were much calmer and we could enjoy the landscape around us much more. We did a short stop at the Castello in Nozzano, before heading towards Lucca, where we had our obligatory coffee stop at the buzzing main square. What we also can recommend is a round trip on your bike on top of the city wall around Lucca. It is full of life up there and you have great views into the historic city centre.
After our stop in Lucca, we cycled back around the little mountain to Pisa. Once back on the SP2 towards Pisa things got more busy again, and we had to fight against trucks, cars and motorcycles. Aside from the traffic at the start and the end it was a great tour and we really enjoyed it.
Here some impressions:
And here as always the route:
In the evening we went to every meat lovers heaven. We ate at Dario Cecchini. Probably the best butcher in Tuscany and renowned for great steaks (especially the Bistecca Fiorentina). Unfortunately I already felt ill and couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked to, but this is another MUST on your travel itinerary. You only pay a flat fee per person and share a large table together with total strangers. Once you start eating and drinking, you get to know your table neighbours and start chitchatting. And the courses are coming one after the other. One meat course better than the other.
Montepulciano and Montalcino
This was not really a night to remember. After spending most of the night on the toilet (and this was not due to Dario’s food, but rather my sickness I had acquired before), I just was not able to do any biking today. Therefore we decided to do the planned tour by car instead. So we headed to Montepulciano first , where we started right away with a tour and a bit of wine tasting at the Cantine Dei. A very interesting winery. They originally started in the Marble business and only later commenced producing wine. The current owner, Maria Caterina, gave up her stage career in 1991 to devote herself entirely to her vineyards and land. Besides great wine, the winery also is an architectural marvel and you can fine a lot of fantastic sculptures all over the estate.
After the tour and wine tasting, we went up to the city of Montepulciano. Normally the streets of Montepulciano would be filled with thousands of tourists. However, when we arrived, we were almost alone and so it was great to stroll around and take a look at this fantastic city, which is renowned for its Vino Nobile. By the way, every year the winemakers of Montepulciano roll their wine in huge barrels up the mountain for the yearly wine festival (by hand …). Something we definitely have to see one time.
After our sightseeing tour in Montepulciano we went to Montalcino, where we also went around in the historical city centre of the home of Brunello di Montalcino. We couldn’t stay too long as we had to get back to Radda for our evening program (tour, wine tasting and dinner at Volpaia). But if you’d like to taste some local wine in Montalcino, here is a recommendation: Caparzo – Established in the late 1960s – they still continue to experiment with innovative training systems and, in particular, different clonal selections on their estate.
The Volpaia estate has been established in the 11th century as a fortified village through the efforts of the Della Volpaia family of Florence. During the tour, we were guided through the ancient cellars in the castle, through the sacristy, and the cellar of the Volpaia churches, that are now used to make and age wines. They use the gravity during the winemaking process, starting at the very top of the village and ending up at the bottom for filling the wine into bottles. You must finish up the tour with a delicious dinner in the Osteria. They really serve delicious food in a fantastic atmosphere.
This was the tour, we had planned, but couldn’t do. So just in case you want to ride it…
A last tour in the Chianti region
Since I still was a bit unsure about my (stomach’s) fitness, we decided to do another loop in the Chianti region instead of driving down to Pitigliano.
The streets in Chianti are relatively calm in terms of traffic and the views are nothing less than spectacular. Riding in this landscape is just breathtaking. À propos breathtaking; the last uphill towards Radda was exactly that. I think I never rode such a steep uphill on a road bike before … (25% .. for more than 1 km …)
Here are some pics of today’s tour: