The plan, as it unfolded a couple of months back, was three weeks in Tuscany: one for research, one for field work (read: supporting bike routes and wrenching bikes), and one for riding tremendous and dramatic scenery. Anticipation built, maps were purchased. Gelato started appearing in my dreams and, before I knew it, I had arrived.
The first week unfolded with lovely weather, and the second. But by the time the last week of my trip rolled around, we had less than favorable weather and so, many days, my riding companions and I spent watching the sky for blue breaks in the clouds. This could be considered a bit of a nightmare but, I have to say that any day (or any fraction thereof) spent on a bike in this part of the world feels like stealing from the pot of proverbial pot of joy; steep, immediate climbs, rolling valleys, beautiful views, and of course — excellent food to celebrate and fuel with.
Some days, I’d wake up to blue skies and could fit in a ride before the day began in earnest; enjoying the sweeping views of hilltop towns as the sun came climbing up from behind them. Other mornings, the fog hung close to the house and we’d have to bundle up to pedal through the valley, wiping condensation from our glasses, feeling the nip of the morning on our fingertips and longing for warm cappuccino and brioche as we wound our way through patches of settled fog. When the weekends arrived, I happily spent all day on my bike, making big loops through the vineyards and tiny towns hunting for the next water fountain so I could fill my waterbottles and enjoy a piadina that I had shoved in my pocket before heading out.
I had two kinds of favorite rides on this trip; those where we would say funculo to the weather and begin a game of hopscotch between the tremendous, gratifying, breath-stealing climbs in the immediate backyard attempting to roll out from underneath the grey cloud cover, and those where I’d set my sites on something to eat and I’d ride whatever the distance and terrain to enjoy it.
Most days, this meant I would hop on my bike just to get an ice cream cone, in this town or that tiny town, at this or that renown gelateria, leaning my bike up against the newsstand upon arrival where an adorable shop keeper happily kept an eye on my steed while I wandered the piazza with my cone cradled in bike gloved hands, returning it to me safely in exchange for a smile and a pinch of my sunburned cheek. Admittedly, if you can ride your way into Florence you could create a whole leisurely tour of the city to get gelato here, here, and here. For a challenge, try to roll home after a cone from all three!
If you’re of bikey disposition and headed to Tuscany , the truth is that all you need are your steed, a sturdy and complete patch kit for the strade bianche, and a map (or a GPS….though there are certainly locations where service will be spotty) and an appetite. If you have all day and the sun is shining, saddle up and start heading out in any direction that suits you; you’ll find your way the moment that you attempt to start finding your way. Don’t even think about attempting to print out step by step directions to get from here to there as we might in the U.S. — you won’t be able to follow them unless you know the numbers of all of the roads by heart….which most locals don’t even know.
One of the most lovely and maddening parts about navigating Tuscany is the bit about the roads: routes through the Tuscany countryside are not logical or even marked. Many don’t have names, nor are all entirely passable by vehicles (much less bikes) without well prepared tires and wheels. But this makes the adventure all the more desireable; all one must know to find their way is the “general” direction of which they are going. Then, as you ride, you make little choices about the next directions that you seek. No need to decide at the outset – you can bop and weave through towns as you go. This said, its very difficult to make a wrong turn since there will almost always be a road ahead or a roundabout that will take you, directly or circuitously, to your destination and it all becomes part of the journey. For each ascent, there is inevitably a descent. And there is always another town, with a water fountain, a bar, and a cafe and a gelateria, right down the road.
To look forward to the riding is to look forward to the eating — more than just gelato on your bike that is – and I say with great confidence that you could tackle eating in Tuscany with the same happy-go-lucky approach you would planning a bike ride; you are highly unlikely to be disappointed if you make things up as you go along. Now, there is a quotient of folks whom would head to Italy and attempt to limit the amount of pasta, or bread, or gelato that they would consume on their travels. Riders in this part of the world will abandon this plan the moment they dismount for there is something deep, powerful and almost reckless about your hunger after a ride. The most delicious meals I enjoyed were those I sat down to savor once I was off my bicycle for the day; clean, sunburned, quenched by the first sips of wine, and acutely aware of just how fresh each tomato in my homemade caprese was. And then there was the creamy perfection of the handmade pici literally finished in aged pecorino at 13 Gobbi, and this wild boar stew, this prosciutto, that chocolate budino, this honey + pistachio gelato, and everything on the daily menu that Candice and I enjoyed at this hidden gem.
I’m a bit embarrassed that it took me so long to sit down and recall these flavors, sensations and photos from what was absolutely my favorite part of the trip; the ride, eat, repeat part. I’m just starting to prepare for my next trip back in September and realizing that these little nibbles I enjoyed – on the bike, and at the dining table – were just the tip of the iceberg. Even though I fell off the storytelling wagon here, a few of the tenants of Tuscan riding has been following me around each day of this early summer so far; everyday ride a little, eat a little, ride a little and eat again. Smile a lot. Crush the climbs, wear plenty of pink and carbon, and never turn down a glass of wine.
More soon, Tuscany. Ci vediamo presto!