Saturday, October 5, 2019

7 Days in Tuscany - by bicycle

October, 2018, a month that will be forever etched in the memory banks of Nineteen (19) cyclists from the USA, for better or worse - I hope for better. One year and 5 months prior to this date the first ever epic St. Vrain Chain Gang cycling club "SVCG" European escapade took place - London to Brussels, this second epic adventure to Tuscany, Italy was just as awesome!.

All Nineteen (19) riders (one coming via Morocco) arrived into different regions of Italy at staggered days/weeks prior to the bike tour, yet descended into Florence with military precision on October 5th and 6th, 2018. The next 8 days would turn strangers into friends, strengthen friendships, bring out great camaraderie, challenge and inspire, and most of all create memories that would last a lifetime.

Day 1: Florence to Panzano
23.4 miles, 2795' Elev Gain, 16% grades

The bicycle tour started/ended at a wonderful little Florence bicycle shop called Florence by Bike - from here we rented hybrid bikes fully equipped with panniers, helmets, tools and spare tubes - (word of warning, Italian inner tubes have some funky "Dunlop" style valve that make attaching a regular road bike pump too a challenge).
Day 1 was always going to be a big test, none of the group (including myself who had planned all the routes) had ever ridden in Tuscany before, and the rolling terrain and steepness of the hills would quickly test us all. The 23 mile route was a steady climb from Florence all the way to Panzano, it took us the best part of the whole day, but everyone was still smiling at the final destination.

Quick breather after the first major climb

Lunch stop in Impruneta

The final tough hill to Panzano

We based ourselves for 4 nights at Il Palagio Di Panzano, the most amazing farm/vineyard "Agriturismo" accommodation I have ever been to, and likely ever will stay at, the views were jaw-dropping.
The beauty of staying in one location/accommodation for a few days (rather than moving on after one night), is you get more time to get a real feel for the area, and riders have the option of resting rather then riding on any of the spare days.

Il Palagio Di Panzano

Our group took over most of the farm building

Days 2 & 3: Panzano & Chianti region
18 miles, 2776' Elev Gain, 22% grades
32 miles, 4366' Elev Gain, 17% grades

We had planned 3 Full days free while staying in Panzano, and I had designed several loop rides that took in the main sights of the area: Greve, Volpaia, Radda and Castellina, These "loops" included some of the famed Strade Bianche roads (white dirt roads), small rural villages, and lunch and shopping stops. Most of the riders opted to ride on days 2 & 3, a few opted to hang out at Il Palagio and relax instead (the honeymoon couple - cough, cough), and few less hardened (or less crazy) cyclists.

Typical views of vineyards around most corners on days 2 and 3

Strade Bianche roads around Panzano

Stunning Volpaia

James and Cathe enjoying the cracking views

Some hidden gems along the rural roads

Day 4: Panzano
0 miles, 0' Elev Gain, 0% grades

After 3 days in a row of riding up and down the constantly changing Chianti terrain, most riders were glad of a rest day in Panzano. The morning was free to explore the small quaint town, and the early afternoon was to be spent having a guided tour of Il Palagio Di Panzano, with lunch and wine tasting included.
The tour of the Il Palagio's organic vineyard was very interesting and detailed, and  to cap it off the 4 course lunch was an experience none of us will forget - exquisite freshly prepared Tuscan food, and excellent company.

Panzano home to great wine

Fantastic tour by our host at Il Palagio Di Panzano

Organic Wine being matured

Fabulous Lunchtime feast

Day 5: Panzano to Siena
22 miles, 2195' Elev Gain, 14% grades

I think everyone was quite sad to leave Il Palagio Di Panzano, but as they say "all good things must come to an end". Day 5 would take us all "downhill" to the beautiful city of Siena, just for a one night stay. After 3 days of cycling with no Panniers, having the weight back on the bikes was a shock, luckily this route had more downhill than uphill, and the weather was cooler.

The symbol of Chianti - the Rooster

Stop outside of Siena to fix a puncture

The famed centre plaza of Siena

Siena skyline

Day 6: Siena to San Gimignano
24 miles, 2064' Elev Gain, 15% grades

Day 6 was the first day, and the only day we rode back to back days fully loaded, but both Day 5 and Day 6 were relatively short stints in the saddle. On route to San Gimignano we only had one planned stop, and that was at the hilltop fort town of Monteriggioni, a small but beautiful little walled town.

Monteriggioni outer walls

The terrain was fairly gentle on route to San Gimignano, with pleasant views across farmland for much of the journey.

More gentle terrain on route to San Gimignano

There is always a hill though not too far away in Chianti, and I think most of Day 6's climbing came in the last few miles when the route switched from pavement to gravel. The final grunt up said hill to San Gimignano had a real sting to it, but the view from the road took some of the pain away!.

San Gimignano as viewed from the approach road

Day 7 & 8: San Gimignano to Florence
33 miles, 3209' Elev Gain, 20% grades

We had opted for 2 nights in San Gimignano at the superbly located Hotel Cisterna, with Day 7 being an optional loop ride day. San Gimignano is like being inside a Hollywood fairy-tale movie set; beautiful colours surround you, towers loom overhead, and hidden passages can be found if you wander. This stunningly beautiful town persuaded most riders to use Day 7 to "sight see" instead of ride.

Amazing views from San Gimignano

Spectacular towers

Besides the tourists, still has a some local corners

View from one of the towers

Day 8 arrived far to quickly for all aboard this amazing adventure, but alas it was time to ride as a group of 18 (1 rider split off to ride southern Italy) for the final time in Italy, perhaps forever. The route back to Florence was the longest ride of the tour, with the most amount of climbing, but with an early start, we made it back in good time.

Prepping the bikes for the final time

Some tough hills on route back to Florence

Florence skyline
Boy where has the year gone!, I had a very busy 2019 (Sold and packed up a house, moved from the USA back to UK) and slacked on writing this travel blog. However, the passing of time has not made the memories of this trip any less vivid, if anything looking back now, brings a bigger smile to my face.

This particular bicycle tour had far more unknowns than any prior group tours I had organized (more complex logistics, completely unknown area, finding accommodation for 19 people, 50:50 mix of male & female riders etc etc) - however despite the hurdles, the entire trip ran like clockwork, and I think far exceeded everyone's expectations.

Compared to prior tours, this tour was a little more relaxed: there were optional ride days, shorter routes, a little more time to "sight-see" and stop on route. This approach worked very well, especially with the mix of riders we had, and I would certainly opt for a similar format again if there ever was another tour of this type - Never Say Never!.

Essential info
Florence by bike
Il Palagio di Panzano
Hotel Minerva
Hotel Cisterna

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