Why You Need To Ride Around Tuscany
"I've never been much of a cyclist, but it's hard to say no to an open road." - Unknown
A few days ago I found myself reminiscing about our very first 'Northern Italy & Switzerland' trip this past summer, and I couldn't help but bring myself back to the winding roads of Tuscany. Now, I've come across a bunch of companies in the past that do cycling tours through the rolling hills of Tuscany, but there is nothing like doing it yourself to clear your mind, head, and allow you to fully relax.
And it's kind of ironic that we've included it into our Northern Italy tour, but there's a damn good reason for it, and it's because it's memorable as hell.
Now, I've lived in Italy previously for two years (Florence) and so has Tony, for three, but he's the only one that's ever taken the time to catch a quick bus out of Florence and explore the charming area of Chianti.
I remember living in Florence and hearing girls talk about touring the vineyards out there, and truth be told, I thought it was an activity primarily for females, or reserved for cliche love story movies and romance novels, but boy, I could not have been more wrong.
Taking a step back, our Northern Italy tour has a lot included...from exploring cities like Milan, Venice, and Florence, to hiking places like the Dolomites, Cinque Terre, to off the beaten path activities like cycling around Florence, it's a very busy trip - but we've strategically placed this 'cycling' day towards the end, and it's because it's one of the most relaxing, endearing, and enlightening activities you can do in a day.
And here's why.
Greve in Chianti is a small town located outside of Florence, Italy via bus and is a charming region filled with a plethora of vineyards, shops, restaurants and as about as quaint as you can imagine.
When Tony told me he wanted to go and check out Greve in Chianti to see if we should include it in the tour, I kind of scoffed. 'What do you mean, dude? I'd rather hang in Florence for the day'
He ended up convincing me pretty quick that we should just go and check it out, and I've got to say I'm glad we did. The weather was pretty warm in April, and despite waking up with a gnarly hangover one sizzling morning, we trucked our way to the Central Bus Terminal (near Santa Maria Firenze, the main train station) and purchased our tickets. They have buses that leave to Greve every 30 minutes or so, and it is a very quick and easy ride.
To make the 'scouting' short, we made our way to a small (and the only) vespa & bicycle rental shop called, Officina Ramuzzi, where two gentleman named Marco and Philip (who are hilarious by the way), hooked us up with some vespa's and a map. It was really your typical Italian scene....small town, small shop, two guys smoking, speaking multiple languages, fixing things at the same time as giving us directions of where to go on the map...I was really beginning to question what kind of day this would turn out to be.
Alas, as it turned out, riding my own vespa alongside one of my best friends in the world throughout all of Chianti was one of the best days of my life.
Even with the gnarly hangover I had, as soon as we took off from the rental shop, the warm sun, crisp air, silence of the area, and surrounding views made me feel like an entirely new person.
Again, I had my doubts about 'zipping through the hills of Tuscany,' but I couldn't be more wrong about how awesome of a day this was. Greve in Chianti itself, is a very small town with a main square, a few shops, restaurants, and more, but the true beauty of the area lays throughout the hills of the area.
And let me tell you, the best part of taking off in an area like this, is that you can't go wrong, no matter where you go. Every road, every hill, every direction leads you into a whole new gorgeous, scenic area, where there is always a vineyard close by. And the typical Italian countryside lifestyle you might imagine?
It's everywhere. You're bathing in it, literally. No one is in a rush, everyone is welcoming, the quality of the products are exemplary, service is top-notch, and it's never packed wherever you end up. In some ways, it feels like a whole new country, and everthing around you left you with a smile on your face.
There was one town in particular we stopped at called, Radda in Chianti, that was a small town on a hill that had plenty of scenic views, amazing shopping, and even better dining. Seriously, I had a beef stew here that was so fresh, I ordered it a second time immediately after finishing it.
Long story short, the entire day had panoramic views like this everywhere you went. It was vineyard after vineyard under 80 degree blue skies and beyond that, everyone was super nice, welcoming and the wine was beyond superb. It was the perfect kind of scouting trip, and after leaving Greve in Chianti that day, I knew we had to make it part of our Northern Italy tour. (keep reading below)
FLASH FORWARD TO AUGUST 2017 WITH 15 PEOPLE IN CHIANTI
We had quite the lively crew on our first ever Northern Italy tour, and when we got to Greve in Chianti at Officina Ramuzzi, the smoking, multi-language speaking, mechanic-fixing Italian guys we chatted with a few months ago were busy bees as usual, and didn't have 15 vespas to rent us, so we took motorized bikes.
This time, fortunately we weren't as hungover, but there was still a bit of trepidation in the air....some people were excited, others didn't quite know what we were getting into, but either way, we all took off together with our maps in hand, and our sights set on the vineyards of Greven of Chianti.
As we were all peddling up hill, some people turned off to olive oil shops, restaurants, while others kept going. I sort of knew immediately the group wouldn't all stick together - and that was completely ok. Trying to corral a group of athletes with different abilities and keep them on track (and together) for the whole day would have been a nightmare, so I continued to cruise on, eventually winding up at a vineyard where I met some of the crew from earlier in the morning.
The cool thing about this day in August 2017, was that we had set up a time to meet back up at the bike rental place, and people could explore as much, or as little as they wanted to. After I left the first vineyard at about 10:07 AM, I strapped in my headphones, put on some music and just began cruising around from town to town. Several of which, I hadn't explored before, but I kept going and going and going. I didn't look at my map, and really just stayed on the one major road the guys at Ramuzzi had told me to that would eventually loop back around. I didn't know how long it would take, but I kept getting lost in the epic, sweeping views of the surrounding countryside that it didn't even matter.
I just kept peddling along roads like this for hours.
Every once in a while, I would stop and take some photos, pause my music and really just take where I was, in for a second. So much of our lives as focused on the, "Go, go, go," of things, that I really can't even put into words how everyone in their lives needs to go somewhere special like Chianti and take some time to do absolutely nothing.
It was crucial for me to look at the rolling hills, speak to locals, and grab a bite to eat while sitting on church steps, entirely by myself. Somehow, it was rewarding, relaxing, and soul-satisfying on a level that I've never truly experienced. I couldn't tell you what time it was, nor did I want to even look, or check my social media for that matter, all that mattered was just rejuvenating my entire being by being on the open road, breathing the fresh hillside air, and cruising down the winding roads of whatever small Tuscan town I was in at that moment.
At one point, I even stopped at a vineyard and played with 'Max,' - a German Shepherd at a nearby farm. He was a bit of an old boy, but I asked his owners if I could take him out and I scratched his ears for a good bit while also sharing some of my lunch with him. I think he was pretty thankful for the company, but then again, so was I.
At one point, I knew it was getting later in the day, and I began my mission to try and find my way back where I peddled for about 45 minutes before stumbling on Marc, Aimee, Marie & Chelsea - who were also trying to get back to Greve. We pulled out the map, found a back access road, and began our journey onto the next village that bordered Greve.
We stopped at a hilltop to take a photo, probably minutes before Aimee unfortunately fell OFF her bike and injured her hand. We had to actually call Marco of Officina Ramuzzi to come and get her to bandage her up back at the office, it was really unfortunate and I'm glad Aimee was ultimately ok, but kind of a scary moment and a lesson learned. We were pretty close to Greve at that point, but if we were somewhere further out, didn't have a phone, and didn't know how to get back, what would we have done?
I actually biked to a neighbors house and tried speaking to him in Italian to let him know someone needed assistance, but he was having none of it and returned inside...kind of a shame, but just goes to show you, be prepared, know where you are, and especially be careful!
Long story short, the group had an AWESOME day riding their bikes around (except for that last bit about Aimee), soaking in amazing views, tasting wine, and simply relaxing in one of the world's most amazing countrysides. Still to this day, I reminisce about just cruising along some of those roads and know that someone, somewhere, is doing the exact same thing.
And it kinda makes me a little bit jealous. I guess I just can't wait to get back here and do it all over again.
See ya next time, Italy.
Maybe join us on the next tour?