Pedalling Through Tuscany
Tuscany is a paradise for enthusiasts of cyclotourism as it boasts a good network of roads and paths and has little traffic, inviting cyclists to venture amid landscapes seemingly from yesteryear. The possibilities are endless and there are routes for all difficulty ratings. In this post we cover a route from Siena to Florence in two or three stages – depending on how fit you are – crossing a region where one of the world’s most famous red wines is produced – Chianti. With beginners in mind, we have chosen an easy itinerary stretching for 95 km. While it does include slopes, particularly in the area known as Colline del Chianti, you will find it is well worth the effort, as the route takes you through a stunning countryside, and inquiring travellers will be rewarded with amazing stories and local hosts eager to help and strike up conversation. There are exquisite culinary experiences awaiting you, too.
Jewels of Tuscany
As soon as you land at Florence’s international airport, head for the city’s historic centre. If you choose a morning flight, before going to pick up your bikes at the hire shop, you can walk around the monumental area of what is the cradle of the Renaissance.
A quick but really spectacular walk starts at the Piazza del Duomo, which looks onto the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with its huge dome – the work of Brunelleschi – and its beautiful facade faced with Tuscan marble. Next up is the Piazza della Signoria with the stunning Palazzo Vecchio, the Neptune Fountain, a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David and a collection of statues of the Medicis, prominent among them being Perseus with the Head of the Medusa,by Cellini. The last stretch of our stroll involves crossing the emblematic Ponte Vecchio over the river Arno.
Ice-cream, Bicycles and Trains
We recommend you hire your bicycle at Florence by Bike and then head for the Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station, less than 1 km from the bike shop.
If you fancy a genuinely artisan ice-cream, stop off at I Gelati del Bondi, at Via Nazionale 61R (on the corner of the Via Faenza), as you will pass by it on your way to the station. They sell ice-creams made by the master, Vetulio Bondi. Consider that people travel to Florence for a few hours solely to attend private classes by this artigiano gelatiere.The train ride to Siena takes 90 minutes (timetable at http://www.trenitalia.com). Only the regionali trains allow bikes on board – there’s an area set aside for them at a charge of 3.5 euros per bike.
Once in Siena, your best bet is to head straight for the hotel, park your bike and go out to enjoy the afternoon and evening in a city which is lively and picturesque throughout. Your way to the Piazza del Campo – where they hold the spectacular, hair-raising Palio di Siena horse race – is lined with many charming restaurants. When choosing a menu, remember that you’re going to be pedalling the next day.
The Essence of Chianti
You cycle out of Siena along the SR222 secondary road, also known as the Via Chiantigiana, which starts at Siena’s central train station and crosses the whole region as far as Florence. After an initial climb, you take an early detour along a more solitary road, the SP102. It leads to Corsignano, Vagliagli and Radda in Chianti, the tarred stretches interspersed with sections of typical Tuscan strada bianca, a dazzling, bright, white compacted-earth surface.
Here, you cycle between hills carpeted with vineyards and olive groves, flanked by rows of cypress trees and past various wineries, notably Terra di Seta (1 km before Vagliagli) and Capannelle (on the outskirts of Gaiole in Chianti), where you can join guided tours and tastings of local wines and virgin olive oils.
The village of Radda in Chianti is a good spot for taking a breather and refuelling. From here, you could go for an optional, 17-km detour loop to visit Castello Vertine and Gaiole in Chianti. This small, tranquil village is a centre of pilgrimage for devotees of vintage cycling. The vintage bike festival known as L’Eroica is held every first Sunday in October here, an event which draws over 7,000 cyclists on vintage bikes. If you want to shorten the ride slightly and save yourself the odd climb, from Radda in Chianti head straight for Panzano. There, connoisseurs of quality meat should stop and sit down to a meal at the Officina de la Bistecca – the former Antica Macelleria Cecchini– where you will meet Dario Cecchini, a craft butcher who imbues his creations with passion and know-how. There are several menus – including a vegetarian one – for both lunch and dinner, but the undisputed star dish is Bistecca a la Fiorentina, still cooked and served on the bone. This experience is key to understanding Dario’s pure, contagious love of his trade, meat and land – he descends from eight generations of butchers. He is so enthralled by his craft that he offers guests the chance to be “a butcher for the day”.
Florence In Style
From Panzano, the road leads down to Greve in Chianti, and then continues on to Chiocchio and Strada in Chianti. Here, you leave the SR222 and head for Ferrone and Impruneta along local roads with the aim of entering Florence via its most spectacular, panoramic access – San Miniato Hill.
From Impruneta, the SP70 takes you to Cascine del Riccio where you have to climb a very steep, narrow street up to San Michele a Monteripaldi. Once on the top, you cycle past some stately villas in the direction of Piazzale Michelangelo, at which point the town lies at your feet. This undoubtedly provides the perfect end-of-route picture.
For the finishing touch to your cycling “escapade”, we recommend booking ahead to dine at Essenziale, chef Simone Cipriani’s new restaurant, which wows guests with a minimalist yet friendly and carefree ambience. Here, the traditional Tuscan recipes della nonna have been reworked and reappraised in subtle, delicate and amusing terms. The Conoscersi tasting menu (3 dishes for 35 euros) and La persistenza de la memoria (5 dishes for 55 euros) are a feast of flavours and sensations, as well as a journey into the culinary essence and history of the region. At Essenziale, you will also be taken aback by the lack of any barriers between the kitchen and dining area, while the chef personally serves and describes his creations and reveals his secrets.
- Duration: everyone can split up the route at will, depending on accommodations and the number of days available. To enjoy everything the region has to offer, you should ideally devote 3 or 4 days to the trip.
- Choosing Bikes: if you fly with Vueling, you can take your own bike on the plane, but, as the bike tour is only a two-day ride, it may be more convenient to hire one at your destination. At Florence by Bike they renew their fleet every year and have all kinds of bicycles. Touring bikes are the most suitable for the route we have laid out. If you’re worried about slopes, they also have electric bicycles (90 euros for 2 days), which will allow you to negotiate climbs effortlessly.
- Accommodation: available accommodation in Siena and Florence is in overwhelming supply, but be sure to book in advance to secure rooms in the historic centre. En route, your best bet is to look for small B&Bs or go for agritourism.
Text by Sergio Fernández Tolosa & Amelia Herrero Becker
Images by Con un par de ruedas and Giovanni Rasoti
5 curiosities to discover in Pisa
Pisa is the capital of Tuscany and, in addition to the famous Leaning Tower, features figures such as Galileo Galilei or landmarks such as the Piazza dei Cavalieri. We can also discover some hidden curiosity in the Italian city . Here are 5 tips you should discover: 1. In pisa there is not only one tower nor two, but three leaning towers. The best known one is located in Piazza del Duomo but also the belltower of the church of San Nicola and the third is the bell tower of the church of San Michele degli Scalzi (even though the church is inclined). 2.In Le Scuderie we can eat pizzas but literally one-meter long pizzas and also a good price … ideal for groups and a delicious selection of pastries.
3.The city of Pisa is named after a variety of Romanesque architecturedeveloped when the city was a powerful republic since the second half of the eleventh century to the first of the XIII
4.They say it’s lucky when touching on two intertwined lizards that are in the main door of the Duomo. You will check it out quickly because they are quite worn and more polished than the rest of the door.
5.Pisa hosts one of only 3 high schools in Italy, La Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa which was founded in 1810 by Napoleon and gives a scientific and literary training of high level.
So you feel like visiting Pisa, do you? Book your flights here!
By Isabel Sánchez-Vallejomore info
7 Bars For Tuscan Wine Tasting in Florence
If you are wine lovers, Florence is your destination. And, not only because it is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, with one of the most celebrated DOs in the world and their flagship chianti, but because it is packed with wine bars where you can indulge in culinary specialities paired with a huge variety of great wines that can be ordered by the glass. What a treat and, on a reasonable budget – here you will taste and discover the wine treasures of the region and the country.
La Volpi e l’Uva
This tiny wine bar, owned by three Florentines, is a veritable benchmark, ideal for those wishing to avoid the more popular establishments. At the bar counter or on their magnificent terrace, a stone’s throw from the emblematic Ponte Vecchio, you can savour wine by the glass, with over 45 different signature Italian reds and French whites from small local wineries, most of them biodynamic and organic. A luxury which costs from €4.5 to €9 and includes pairings with tasting dishes from a menu of top-quality specialties from the Florence area –cured meat (mortadella, salami, ham), cheese served on delicious, dry schiacciata bread and crostini (toast). And, if you fall for any particular wine, you’ve hit the jackpot, as La Volpa et L’Uva is also a wine shop. You can take advice from Ricardo, one of the very friendly owners, who will passionately recommend the ideal bottle from over 1,000 signature wines lining the walls.
This huge yet congenial wine bar and restaurant, located next to the San Miniato Gate, is descended upon every day by crowds of loyal regulars. This is a must-visit tasting venue when you’re in Florence. Here you can forget about pizza and pasta; the cuisine is simple but delicious, based on gourmet sandwiches, bruschettas (toasted bread rubbed with garlic and oil), meat, salads, pinchos and cheese-and-cured meat boards. Wine is the undisputed leading light of this restaurant, with a choice of over 500 wines to enjoy by the glass – quite a sizeable figure! You will soon discover the variety of Tuscan wines, as well as the other Italian DOs. And, as if that weren’t enough, they renew their menu about five times a year, and you can also buy takeaway wine by the bottle – a must-have souvenir.
Pitti Gola e Cantina
If you are bold enough to ask for the wine list, you will be amazed, as it can hardly fit on the table. This establishment is essential if you think of yourself as a genuine wine lover as it holds veritable gems in its cellar, including labels that go back to 1950! Prices can sting a little, though (from €6.60 a glass), but it is worthwhile if you want to discover the grands crus of Tuscany and Piedmont in particular, and the rest of the peninsula in general, noteworthy for its traditional wines based on local vinestocks. The staff are young and highly motivated and are bound to recommend some superb tasting. They offer an exquisite menu of Italian delicacies to go with it – pasta, lasagna, select meats… You will also be able to soak up the atmosphere while seated on their terrace, located on the majestic Piazza Pitti.
A small shop in the heart of the San Lorenzo district which carries both Tuscan wines (accounting for half their stock) and Italian varieties in general, with nearly 500 different labels, in addition to liqueurs and sparkling wines. The store has been open for 44 years and has accrued viticultural knowledge from one generation to the next. Tastings can be ordered at the small tasting counter, which thousands of wine lovers have already homed in on. But, there is not much to nibble on, so best to go there on a full stomach. They also have six house wines.
Casa del vino
Nothing seems to have changed in this wine house since it first opened around the year 1900. In fact, seen from the outside, it actually looks more like an antiques shop, with its marble bar counter, glass cabinets and wooden furniture plastered with black-and-white photos and the odd wooden wine crate covered in dust. The establishment has remained in the same family throughout and decribes itself as a tavern where you can have a glass of red wine from Tuscany, Piedmont or Sicily standing up at any time of the day, while getting stuck into some fresh panini and cured meat. They are also known for stocking some of the best champagnes in town.
It has very cosy decor, with a few tables and very young, cool customers. Here, bon vivants can choose from 30 Italian wines served by the glass while munching on some excellent panini or the house menu, made up of meat and pasta dishes crafted from the purest Italian recipe book. Drinks are served generously by a very obliging staff. Average price around €12 for a drink and something to eat, or just €5 if you’ve only turned up for a toast. Via San Niccolò 59R, Monday to Sunday, from 12 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Right next door to the stunning Duomo, Coquinarius is the closest you’ll get to a bistro. The front is a wine bar, with a restaurant at the back. The aroma wafting out of the kitchen is mouth-watering. Here you can savour an in-season menu, featuring bruschettas,meat and fish dishes as the highlights. Special mention goes to the salads, with unusual ingredients yet exquisite; notably, dried tomatoes, aubergines, sunflower seeds, courgette flowers and pear. This elegant wine bar offers a large variety of mostly Italian wines, as well as the odd label from more unique sources – Argentina, Austria, Chile or California. Wine by the glass or bottle.
Book your Vueling to Florence and get ready to taste the wines of Tuscany.
Text and photos by Laia Zieger of Gastronomistas.com