Tuscany, Italy-VBT

September 15th we started on our VBT Bike Tour along The Tuscan Coast. We met the other riders and the tour leaders at the Hotel Tornabuoni in Florence. There were 14 people on our tour and the two trip leaders, Massimiliano Cenni and Paolo Cossovel. We hopped on the van and drove to Collemezzano to the Agrihotel Elisabetta, where we will be staying for two nights. Our Agriturismo is family run, owner is Luigi Brunetti, who has a passion for farming and wine making. After our warm-up ride, Bob and I rented E-bikes, the group had a guided tour of his wine Cantina, sampling some of Luigi’s varietals. We finished the evening with a sumptuous feast for dinner. Click on thumbnail to view images

The next morning we met the group for breakfast. Paolo went over todays ride and taught us some Italian words to practice. We started our ride from Castellina Marittima on a scenic road high up on the hills of the Cecina Valley, with sweeping views of the coast and Tuscan islands. We visited the medieval town of Casale Marittimo, before enjoying an Italian picnic lunch. This beautiful old medieval town was the first settlement dating to the 5th Century BC during the height of the Etruscan era. We saw the 11th Century castle ruins and the 12th century Sant’Andrea Church, and from there we had a gorgeous view of the valley and fantastic Mediteranean views. In the afternoon we descended toward the sea and rode through the cool and fragrant Cecina pine forest, riding along the sea and back to our Agriturismo, stopping for gelato along the way. Click on thumbnail to view images

We began our day pedaling the Cecina Mare promenade to the Strada del Vino, one of the most beautiful of Italy’s wine roads. We rode along gently rolling hills to the tiny village of Bolgheri at the end of an amazing cypress alley. We enjoyed lunch on our own, some bought wine and gifts while exploring Bolgheri. In the afternoon we rode easy back roads to the Il Tombolo Talasso Resort, in Marina di Castagneto, a deluxe hotel right on the Tyrrhenian Sea. After settling into our room, we walked down to the sea and enjoyed a swim in the pool. Then everyone gathered together later for a brief Italian workshop with Paolo and Massi. Our Italian is not improving. In the evening we all went to a typical Tuscan countryside house, owner is Chicca, who is the founder of Cooking in Tuscany. Chicca presented a one-hour, hands-on cooking class, after which we had the chance to dine on our creations at her table. It was a wonderful Italian meal shared with friends, and I had to buy her cook book, of course. Click on thumbnail to view images

After breakfast, we continued to ride along the historic Strada del Vino, a long and relaxing route, to the family-owned and operated Fonte di Foliano Olive Oil Mill. We met the Di Gaetano family, and as we tasted the samplings of oil, Michael Di Gaetano explained the difference among regions and how varied the flavors can be. Then we enjoyed a lunch prepared by Michael himself, using organic and fragrant vegetables from the farm grounds. Delicious, love Italian cooking! Of course, I bought two bottles of his Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The lunch was unforgettable, the setting on the terrace with a fantastic view was to die for, and we just wanted to enjoy these special moments before leaving on our afternoon ride, full and contented. We rode back to Il Tombolo Resort stopping to visit a typical bike shop Ciclo Sport where we bought bike shirts. In the evening the group ate dinner together in the hotel lobby. Bob was so excited because he got to meet Cadel Evans, from Australia, he won the Tour de France in 2011. Click on thumbnail to view images

Today’s adventurous ride from Sassetta took us along one of the most picturesque routes in Europe. We cycled past cork and pine trees, medieval estates, and fields of sunflowers, ariving at Suvereto, an ancient village whose origins date to the year 1000. Situated on the slopes of hills overlooking the Etruscan countryside, it is a true jewel, rich in history and art, set in a beautiful green valley. We spent a lot of time exploring this town, its remarkable architecture, its ancient walls enclose paved streets lined with stone houses, historic buildings, impressive churches, and shadowy cloisters were a lot to take in, in such a short time. Suvereto’s name comes from the Latin word “suber” meaning cork. There were an abundance of cork trees along the ride. The natural park Parco di Montioni is a wild and quiet, home to many wild boars. After lunch Bob and I opted to do the optional uphill ride by the Mines, Bagno di Gavorrano, a modern town built for miners, who worked in the local iron, copper and silver mines. Then it was a steep downhill to our welcoming country retreat at Agriturismo Montebelli. This Retreat has tennis courts, an outdoor pool, and a small spa and sauna, as well as horseback riding. We enjoyed the pool and saunas before having another fabulous dinner together. Click on thumbnail to view images

Today’s ride, the last stage of our tour, takes us to Castiglione della Pescaia, an old town by the sea defended by a beautiful castle. Castiglione della Pescaia is a seaside resort and fishing town, the first residents were Etruscans and Romans. During the Middle Ages, the city suffered from many pirate attacks, so a fortress was built to defend the city. We walked up to the castle and the old town before walking along the seawall and exploring the town where we ate lunch. The views from the fortress of the islands Elba and Giglio were expansive. Finally we had to leave and ride our last ride back to the Agriturismo Montebelli. We relaxed around the pool and met for our farewell dinner with Paolo and Massi. This was such a fun-filled group of people on our tour, we couldn’t have asked for a better gathering. Then it was off to Rome the next morning by van, where we will leave the next day for the States. Click on thumbnail to view images