My daughter and I are planning to cycle the Tuscan Region of Italy the summer of 2010. I am interested in seeing the country, the towns and the people not the hotels and resturants. I am requesting any and all information and suggestions regarding the best way to see this region.
I am an expericened cyclist, having cycled the Historic Route 66 the summer of 2008. I particpate in long distance rides here in Alaska. My daughter has not done very long distances yet but she is in good shape and is a good cyclist.
Please send your thoughts and your trip information, I am seeing all the information I can get.
I think you can't go wrong riding through that area. We rode through Tuscany and Umbria back in 1998, and it is one of my favorite trips ever. You can see our impessions here:
My only additional comment is that we found that the food and cooking of Italy was an integral part of our experience. It seemed to us that farming, cooking and eating were all part of the culture.
A friend and I were all set to do a tour there starting tomorrow, all the routes were planned out and everything, but she had to cancel at the last minute, so I had to change my plans too. 5 of us are still cycling in Abruzzo though for 2 weeks. I will let you know how that is. A book I found very helpful is "Bicycle Touring in Tuscany" by David Cleveland. He has 8 tours outlined and they all look terrific.
Alaska sounds wonderful also.
For real classic riding in Tuscany check out:
This group organizes a yearly retro ride over the „strade bianche” (white roads i.e. gravel) of Tuscany. Their routes are well marked and it is off the beaten track, indeed the track may beat you! Like the classic Paris Roubaix known for its pave (cobblestones) only part of the ride is on actual gravel.
In the "marginal scraps" division of your information: I spent two weeks in Tuscany the summer before last. My wife doesn't cycle; she's a painter and found wonderful occupation every day. Meanwhile, I had really splendid experiences cycling around the area, exploring one after the other of the seemingly endless little hill-top villages. We quite deliberately chose a place to stay that would be away from the traffic and crowds of Tuscany's incomparable attractions, so we were not close to anything -- and it was wonderful. Nobody spoke English, restaurants were small, uncrowded, and superb, traffic was low, people were helpful and responded with humor to our floundering Italian.
The location was the very south-western edge of the Tuscan Hills, roughly between Massa Marittima and Roccastrada. We stayed in an apartment at the very top of the picturesque village of Roccatederighi in an apartment, rented from the proprietors of a small bike shop there.
You sound like you want to keep moving on your trip. If so, this area won't occupy you long, since it isn't very big. However, based on my experience I'd recommend staying put for a while; the two weeks found me gradually beginning to comprehend where I was, what the patterns of life were, etc. After all, it's not just geography.
I'll briefly comment on your idea to stay away from restaurants: please, don't do that! If there's one country in the world where you should absolutely visit restaurants, it has to be Italy. This is a very personal view, though ;-)
I cycled Tuscany for 2 weeks with my girlfriend in the summer of 2007, and although it was a wonderful experience, there were a few things that put somewhat of a shadow on this trip.
The problem was basically that, especially in the summer, it's very hard to do it on the cheap. It may or may not be a concern for you, but campgrounds are very expensive (prepare yourself to pay at the very least 30$ per night) and there's no way I would attempt to wild camp in this area. Then, as I said, there's the italian cuisine: how can you resist their lasagne?! Many restaurants are not very expensive compared to other europeans countries, but it's still going to cost a lot more than in the US.
Then there's the fact that it's hot, and rather humid. It was our first "real" bike tour, and we suffered from that. I guess-I hope - we've become tougher over time, and yourself may not find it too unpleasant.
I would definitely do it again, though, but I'd rather go there in May-June or in September. We were in Tuscany in August, and it was a bad idea. Everything costs at least twice as much, and it's crowded...
Also, make sure to cycle the hills of the Chianti! We took the road that goes from Poggibonsi to Florence, which had reasonably low traffic. There are probably lots of other backroads that we missed at the time.
Some other must-see places, though very touristic, are the town of San Gimigniano; the citadel of Monteriggioni, north of Siena; Siena itself; Lucca; and, of course, Florence, which has to be the most beautiful city I have ever visited. Pisa was, in my very humble opinion, an ugly city, but we wanted to see the tower and I would not blame anyone for wanting to do the same. If you happen to go through that city, don't forget to find that little plaza whose name I can't remember next to the Arno river, where there's an awesome ice-cream maker. Try the cherry cheesecake flavor, I can assure you that you won't regret it...! That will be my final word of boring advice: food has to be one of the most important parts of an italian experience, don't stay away from it!
I'm planning on riding through here in May this year. I'm planning to do the L'Eroica roads for part of it - which are dirt/gravel roads around Chianti. Tough riding, but should be "off the beaten track"!
I'm planning on stealth camping, or asking farmers whether I can pitch in their fields... not sure how I'll go with that. I will probably hostel sleep in Florence and Siena.
Keep us posted on your plans!