Things slow down in Italy. Not to a crawl, but to a delightful saunter. It’s a place where you soak in your surroundings, savour your espresso and linger a little longer at dinner.
And it’s a pace that makes cycling the perfect way to see the beautiful Tuscan countryside. From the rolling hills, each with a tiny town full of charm you wouldn’t even know to visit on your own, to the endless array of delicious local cuisine, this region is a cyclist’s dream.
It’s why I jumped at the chance to join Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Tuscany trip.
Reasons to cycle around Tuscany
It’s no secret that Tuscany is home to beautiful scenery – it’s been written about ad nauseum. So why am I adding to said nauseum? Because it’s worth the hype.
“How can you not be an artist when you live in a place like this?” Our Guide Silvia, ever a cheerful cyclist who grew up near the Alps – itself an area renowned for its beauty – seemed taken aback by the sights as we looked down at Vinci.
The beauty of Tuscany is so much more than those vineyards and olive groves. Head just a few kilometres farther and you’re likely to find yourself following a slow-moving stream or racing downhill along a shaded mountain road. Just as you’ll cycle through an endless array of marble factories, stacked high with white slabs, and even over the sand to reach the Ligurian Sea.
All these sights rush past you in a car or on the train, lost behind a window, but on a bike, you’re free to take them all in. Sipping them slowly and intentionally, just as you would one of the region’s famed wines.
As Canadians, our reputation as friendly folk precedes us. However, after this trip, I wonder how Italians haven’t become the preeminent examples of friendliness.
This is a place where someone you’ve met once will teach you to drive manual, where their father taught them. Where a host will insist you take home multiple jars of their homemade preserves. Where a man who spent time in your home country decades ago will gleefully show off his faded newspaper clippings. Where someone will literally sell you the shirt off their back, but only if you have exact change, because they couldn’t possibly take more.
These are not theoretical events. Each one happened to me in only a couple of weeks in Italy. Where? In real Italy. In those small towns, away from the tourist attractions, where people actually live.
This is another reason why cycling is the best way to see Tuscany. Hidden among its beautiful scenery are people who are warm, charming and utterly impossible not to love. Being on a bike lets you reach them because that little town might not have a train station, but it definitely has someone who’ll be thrilled to see you roll-up.
Did you think I was going to talk about Tuscany without bringing up the food? I couldn’t possibly; I’m literally still craving every fresh tomato that crossed my path.
Let’s start with one important fact: I’m a firm believer that carbs are your friend. You love them, you need them, don’t deny them, and if you’re cycling, all the better; those burnt calories need to be replaced.
The list of what to look forward to is endless and those regional specialties are worth diving into.
A few notable standouts that will linger long after you’re back on the bike:
– Pappa al Pomodoro, a hearty stew of tomatoes and bread, bursting with flavour
– Lampredotto, the famed Florentine sandwich of slow-cooked tripe
– Cherries and peaches, so intensely in season they nearly replace morning coffee
– Gelato, of any variety, velvety beyond belief and begging to be eaten quickly
– Finally, follow your guides to a true feast in Barga. Mackerel drenched in rosemary oil. Polenta draped with cheese and truffles. Quiche after savoury quiche. And a divine selection of cakes.
Whatever you do, don’t let all that food distract you from your glass. I don’t just mean wine. Italy has mastered the art of satisfying beverages for those long cycling days.
With cafés found no matter how small the town, there’s always a picturesque place to pause, fill your water bottle, and recharge. Once you’ve downed all your water, make time for an espresso. Those local cafes take pride in their work and you’ll never find a bad pull.
Coffee not your thing? Not to worry. Look for tiny bottles of Sanbitter, Chinotto, or any one of the country’s delightful bitter sodas. Bitter, yes, and perfect to cut your thirst on hot sweaty days.
Need a sweeter option? Your ride will take you to Fronte della Rocca, a cake and chocolate shop serving up hot chocolate thick enough to eat with a spoon since 1885. We never would have found it on our own and now we’ll never forget it.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get cycling!
Read more about the top reasons to cycle in Tuscany
Tempted to cycle through beautiful Tuscany? Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Tuscany trip is just what you need.
Looking for other biking options? Check out Intrepid’s full range of cycling trips.
(All images courtesy of Anne Cayer, and all taken on Intrepid’s Cycle Tuscany trip.)