Where to start? At the beginning, in the rain near the coast …
I suppose I should clarify a little bit about our trip. As much as we may have liked to take a month or more and do self-supported touring, logistics and time constraints made it impossible at this point. Instead, we opted for a supported tour through VBT – and the entire experience exceeded our expectations ten-fold. I cannot recommend them highly enough; everything was seamless and amazingly well organized, and we had cultural experiences that I doubt we would have been able to plan or arrange on our own. Five gold stars to the amazing folks at VBT!
After leaving Florence, we began our cycling from Agrihotel Elizabetta in Collemezzano. We met with our trip guides/leaders, Andrea and Lucca, both native Italians who fitted us with our bikes and gave us our route maps and cue sheets. Although we never really rode with them, they would prove to be indispensable friends over the course of the trip; always entertaining, helpful and generous beyond description, doing everything for us “behind the scenes”. Our first afternoon was an easy (25 km) warm-up ride in the area around the agrihotel, just so we could adjust bikes as necessary and become familiar with their cue sheets and route directions. The weather was cool with scattered showers, but we felt the rainbow was a very good omen.
Our second day, and first full day of riding, took us down to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea on a blustery morning. We approached the coast walked the bikes across a stretch of shoreline, before entering some beautiful maritime pine forests on our way toward the coastal foothills.
Our route today (68 km/42 mi) was to take us up to the medieval village of Casale Marittimo, a beautiful village dating back to the fifth century B.C. (Etruscan) perched high in the hills, overlooking the beautiful Tuscan landscape filled with olive trees and vineyards. The climb was fairly easy and extremely lovely, even through we encountered a few showers. The vistas were amazing. Luca and Andrea met us just before entering the village with a spectacular picnic lunch of vegetable salads, breads, cheeses and fruit. (I was already beginning to love these two guys… ;))
One of our favorite aspects of our daily route plans was the option to choose from various distances and additional loops. Mark and I opted to ride an additional 10 km loop that basically circled the hilltop near the village – which was really fun, except for a last (thankfully short) stretch of steep climbing. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Probably. 😉
After lunch we rode up and into Casale Marittimo. And were simply blown away. It was incredible – from the narrow cobbled streets and stone buildings, to the geraniums in the window boxes and the tiled roofs. An Italian couple (residents?) approached us as I was taking pictures in the village and kindly and enthusiastically pointed us up toward a little lane where they promised we would have a stunning view for photographs. It would be the first of so many friendly encounters with incredibly hospitable people we would meet.
We (rather reluctantly) left the beautiful village of Casale Marittimo, and headed back down toward the coastal town of Cecina. On the downward slopes, we really began to get the classic Tuscan views – from the silvery-green olive groves, to the tidy rows of grapes, the graceful lines of cypress trees and the warm golden tones of the stone and stucco houses.
As we arrived back near the coast in the town of Cecina, the sun was beginning to break through, and we had our final treat of the day … the G.O.D. (Gelato Of the Day). This stuff is so incredibly delicious … nothing compares. I also think it is official law in this region: if you cycle, you must eat gelato. And I am very happy to be a law-abiding visitor.