All right, I realize I'm not about to unleash a revolutionary statement here, but the fact is, Tuscany has some amazing bike routes. Even if you haven't been there, I bet you've seen postcards. The real thing looks just like that! No--even better! Sure, the roads can be narrow, but the drivers are used to cohabitating with bicyclists. You could take off from nearly any house in any town and easily find a gorgeous 30+ mile ride. And the sloping hills take you through so many different regions in Tuscany! In the north, the Chianti region is filled with artfully manicured grapevines as far as the eye can see. You'll find brilliantly red and delicate poppies in the spring, big smiling sunflowers during the summer and juicy grapes in the fall. The Crete Senesi (Sienese Clay) to the south displays the remains of the Tuscan seabed from millions of years ago. The gray clay peeks through the soil in huge mounds, and you can see clearly for miles. Continuing south, the Val d'Orcia (the Orcia River Valley) offers its cypress-lined, patchwork quilt of colorful land to the photographer's lens. I mean, this place is stunning!
It didn't take much time in Tuscany for me to realize this part of the world is a cyclist's haven.
There are ample biking routes to choose from, but there's easily one ridge in Tuscany I prefer to ride above all others. Both the Backroads Tuscany Casual and Premiere Inn Biking trips cross my favorite ridge--on the same day! This is fun for the leaders, because we get to see our co-leader pals (even though they're probably waiting around a curve to spray us with water) and meet their group of guests. Usually one group of riders is on the way up while the other is on the way down, shouting encouragement such as, "Good luck, haha! So glad we're not climbing this part!" Yes, your thighs are going to burn. And for a second all your thoughts will funnel into the challenge of the climb, but then you'll raise your head and catch a glimpse of the Tuscan landscape.
The vista has suddenly opened up into a 360-degree view. The land has changed. No longer do vineyards surround you, rather the gray clay of the Crete Senesi stands grandly above you. What sea creatures swam around these hills over 2 million years ago? You'll pause at the top of the first crest to look back at Siena behind you, its tall towers clearly marking its place in the distance. Patches of sunflower fields dance across the hills to the west and cypress trees distinctly mark the ridges to the east. Luckily there's van support up ahead with snacks to pull you back into reality. This breathtaking landscape will follow us for the next five miles along relatively gentle slopes until we descend back into the beautiful stone town of Buonconvento. You almost won't even realize how much we climbed to earn the view. Almost.
I don't get to ride along this ridge as much as I'd like, which, to be honest, would be every day. The ridge evolves as the seasons change, starting out bright green in the spring and slowly fading into striking shades of brown. No matter how many times I've seen the view, each time I come upon it my heart starts pumping and my head gets dizzy trying to take in the natural awesomeness around me. As I sit on my bike looking first toward Siena, then across the gray clay and down over the ancient towns in the distance, I can't help but think, "This is why I ride!"