Ahhhh biking in Italy…the national sport, a symbol of hope and pride that dates back to the early days post WWII, and a method of transportation that will forever reign in this great country that boasts so much to see. And what better way to see it all than by feeling the air on your face and the pedals beneath your feet via a bike tour through Tuscany’s wine mecca, Chianti. (http://www.ibikeflorence.com/)
The day began bright and early as twelve anxious Americans piled into a comfortable van en route to the Florencetown bike storage facility. Once we arrived our guide, Joey, greeted us. He was an enthusiastic Australian turned Florentine resident, and clearly no stranger to cycling. Joey took the time to tell us what to expect from the day, go over some safety measures, teach us about the speeds of the bikes, and answer any questions we might have before getting us fitted and geared up. Helmets were handed out and water bottles (a gift from the crew) were filled, and then it began.
Tourist tip: Wear something comfortable – sneakers, workout clothes, and don’t forget your sunblock!
Now, I’ll tell you something…riding a basic bicicletta around Florence is one thing, but this was the type of ride where you really work up an appetite and feel a sense of accomplishment while taking in your surroundings. The first leg of the ride was an uphill battle to a picturesque church with a gated entrance. A first stop not only to snap some photos but also to catch your breath! At least when I looked around at the other riders, I realized I wasn’t alone in my struggle, but Joey assured us that there weren’t any more hills like that. Luckily, he was telling the truth.
The ride was absolutely breathtaking. With each corner we turned I saw more rolling hills and plush countryside; I truly felt like I was escaping for the day. We continued to ride on and took multiple stops so Joey could motivate everyone as well as teach us something along the way. I was incredibly impressed with his knowledge of the Florentine vegetation when he taught us about the famous Cypress trees and Stone Pines (that produce pine nuts) as well as vineyard tips and facts. This wasn’t just a guided ride, rather an educational lesson about the Italian countryside in all its wonder.
Our first break off our bikes was at the darling, Bar Alimentari. Here, Joey introduced us to Cristina behind the bar and offered his expertise on some of the meat and cheeses we could try. It was a great little pit stop to taste the biscuits and take a coffee before getting back on our bikes until reaching our destination. Amongst our group was a family of three — Ken, Colleen, and Jackie – taking a family vacation. I deemed Ken the “Tour Dad”, as he went out of his way to meet everyone on the tour and make sure we all had everything we needed. From biscotti for all at Bar Alimentari, to a bottle of wine at our lunch table…he was amazing. In fact, the whole group was wonderful and really seemed genuinely happy to be on this excursion.
Not long after that we were at our final destination – the hidden wonder that is Principe Corsini at the famous Villa Le Corti. The story of the Corsini family coming to Florence in the 1100’s was nothing short of fascinating. The family acquired the land in the 1500’s and worked hard to preserve careers in religion and banking, so as to protect their land (which originally stretched all the way to Rome) and assets. What exists today is a family run vineyard producing both wine and olive oil, and a long-standing family history that has withstood trials and tribulations of years past. We were taken on a tour of the winery, given detailed information regarding the winemaking process and explanations on the different types of wines produced, and finished the day up with a typical Tuscan three-course lunch. We started with an asparagus flan, moved onto tuna and zucchini fettuccine, followed by the last course – beef ragu. Of course lunch wouldn’t have been complete without tastings of two of their most popular wines…Le Corti and Don Tommaso. Great food, great wine, and wonderful company. Principe Corsini did not disappoint.
Tourist Tip: You can buy wine after lunch so either wear a backpack on your journey or send your bottle back in the tuk tuk or chase van – this way your bottle doesn’t break on the ride back! We were taken through the end of the winery tour then sadly had to saddle ourselves back on the bikes to ride back. Fortunately, going home entailed more down than uphill slopes and we felt like pros navigating the roads. However, Joey stayed with us and made sure everyone was safe and accounted for the whole time. When we made that last turn into the storage depot, I looked around and saw some tired tourists, but smiling faces on all of them. What a great way to see the countryside and earn your lunch (so to speak). Even though the ride probably doesn’t balance out your total caloric intake…at least you can say you worked for it!
Felici tutti in sella! (Happy riding everyone!)