With the year drawing to a close, we have taken the time to reflect on the past 12 months and what we have to look forward to in the year ahead.
2019 has been a really big and successful year, and we are incredibly grateful to the guests who joined us on tour, helping make it the great year that it was. With 10 Italian cycling tours run over 6 months in Italy, below are our top 5 take outs from 2019 and also the top 5 things that we are greatly anticipating in 2020.
1. Our Giro Tour: rolling out plan B
It was all set to be an amazing Queen Stage of the Giro over Gavia and Mortirolo, but with some enormous snow banks on Gavia and the attempted clearing of the snow causing avalanches, the Giro officials ultimately decided that the climb was not safe and cancelled it from the Giro stage, with the race diverted, but still taking in the challenging Mortirolo. With this news, we reworked our ride route and replanned all of the elements for the day, but still knew we were at the mercy of the weather Gods, with bad conditions predicted.
The morning came and it was clear, and as we rolled down to the base of Mortirolo, we had that feeling that it was going to still be an epic day on our Giro d’Italia cycling tour. We rode up to the pass and then back down to a private agriturismo for lunch where we enjoyed home made pizzoccheri, a local pasta dish, before staking our spots on corner 11 with the Pantani monument in the background and a bottle of grappa to keep us warm. As the race approached us, so did the rain, but that didn’t dampen the group’s spirits. It was an all round sensational day and for us, a really interesting exercise in trusting that it is all going to be ok for our guests, regardless of the conditions thrown at us.
There is always a good Plan B up our sleeve and while we didn’t get to ride Gavia, we did get to climb Mortirolo and be amongst some of the best Giro action of the week. Ultimately it’s about being in and embracing the spirit of the Giro.
2. Happy Customers: people loving what we do
We absolutely love what we do and when we hear that our guests also love what we do and value their experience with us, it’s a great feeling of contentment and confirmation that we are on the right path.
We have people join us on our Italian cycling tours as guests and after 9 days, often leave us as friends. Sharing unique experiences and wonderful conversations with like-minded people, on and off the bike, creates the perfect space for connections, and we really enjoy this element of what we are able to share on tour.
Post tour, we have many guests so generously share their thoughts through testimonials and reviews, which provides the ultimate satisfaction for us. We always feel very grateful for the trust that people place in us to deliver what is often a bucket list experience or once in a lifetime opportunity, so to receive these testimonials and reviews, inspires us to continue to deliver the very best experiences we can in sharing our passion of riding, food and wine in Italy.
3. Puglia: our Southern Italian adventure
Puglia is the only tour that we currently run in the south of Italy. For us, there is something very special about the southern Italian culture and the sense of contentment felt amongst its people, and being immersed daily in their culture and way of life on tour, often prompts us to reflect on our lives, and what’s important. There are many conversations shared around the dinner table in Puglia on the topic of living a more simple, healthy life and what this means – and when you’re enjoying fresh, often home grown produce, in a range of southern Pugliese dishes created by passionate chefs and family restaurateurs, these are very easy conversations to have.
We describe the riding on our Tour of Puglia as an adventure because it is less about conquering the long mountain climbs of the Alps and the Dolomites or the free flowing descents of Tuscany and Piemonte, and more about exploring the maze of quiet backroads that connect the many tiny villages and their people, through an ever changing landscape.
All in all, we love our southern Italian adventure to Puglia and the immersion into a region that provides a unique and very different experience to our northern Italian tours.
4. Our Italian HQ: Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany
With spending 6 months in Italy each year to host our Italy bike tours, it became more apparent as time went on that we needed a base from which to run our business. Gaiole in Chianti, a beautiful town one hour south of Florence in the heart of the Chianti wine country and home to L’Eroica, which is where the tours all began for us in 2014, was shaping up as a possible candidate. So when an opportunity came our way in 2018 to buy a property that had been tightly held in a local Gaiolese family for hundreds of years, we realised this was an opportunity we could not let pass us by.
In early June 2019, we settled the purchase of the property, and over the next 3-4 months, oversaw its renovation and restoration to its original form and style. It was an intense and often challenging experience, as all property renovations are, however when you’re dealing with a 900 year old building and foreign laws, building methods and language differences, it takes the experience to another level.
However, when we woke up to the sounds of L’Eroica on our doorstep in early October, it was an incredibly satisfying experience to not only be at the very heart of an event that defines the town and encapsulates the deep passion of cycling, food and wine in Tuscany, but also to look back at what we had achieved over the past 6 months with the purchase and (almost complete) renovation, in a town that we love and feel very connected to.
5. L’Eroica: the best ever.
This is a big call we know, but we are going to proclaim that L’Eroica 2019 in Gaiole in Chianti was the best that we have ever experienced. The day itself was magical but the week’s lead-up riding and quintessential Tuscan activities that we shared with a fantastic group of friends here to celebrate milestone birthdays, all made the week long experience the most magical edition yet.
On a beautiful Autumn day in bella Toscana, we departed for our ride at 6am with everyone doing either the 135km or 100km rides. As the sun rose over the mist laden Chianti hills and Siena was bathed in golden hues in the background, we knew we were in for a sensational day. It was just a perfect day for riding, with an ever so light breeze and clear skies, beautiful steel bikes, rolling up the steep gravel climbs, stopping to have bowls of beautiful ribollita soup and the occasional glass of Chianti….. pure magic.
When we all regrouped at the finish line, the piazza had turned into one big party and it was was a time to celebrate all that we had experienced that day, and in the week leading up to it.
1. Tuscany: yes, it’s a very special place
For us, Tuscany is the land of beauty and dreams. Riding and traversing its landscape is an experience that we say you need to have for yourself, as there is a magic about it that you only feel when there, truly immersed in it. People have been visiting Tuscany for centuries and it is still a highly sought after destination today, including the many cyclists who enjoy its winding, hilly roads.
Our Tour of Tuscany is very often the first of our tours to sell out and we love that people are sharing our passion for this amazing place to not only ride, but to also experience off the bike. It was here that our non riding partner program was originally born, inspired by the region’s many treasures, and it remains the benchmark for all of our tour non riding programs.
We look forward to sharing this special place every year and the more people we host on our Tour of Tuscany, whether they have been there before or not, the more we learn that it really is a landscape that no postcard can capture and an experience from which you never leave feeling the same. It is one that gets under your skin like no other.
2. New Discoveries: recceing for new tours
In 2021, we’ll be launching two new tours to add to our Italian cycling tours calendar and we can’t wait to spend a lot of time in these destinations in 2020 to pull together what will be two amazing new experiences for guests to enjoy.
Immersing ourselves in the regions when we design tours is a huge part of us uncovering all that sits beneath the surface, understanding what makes the people and places we’re exploring, unique and special. This whole process of discovery is such an exciting part of what we do and love.
We love designing new tours and also constantly tweaking our existing tours to ensure they are the very best they can be, including a collection of diverse, ‘behind the tourist curtain’ experiences.
3. Antique Furnishings, a Bike Workshop and a Pizza Oven
With the renovation almost complete, 2020 will be all about the furnishing of our HQ and the bike workshop and cantina to store Damian’s ‘dream’ vintage bike collection and wines. We can’t wait to explore the antique markets of Arezzo, Cortona, Lucca and the other Tuscan villages that host their monthly markets for what is being billed as the ‘2020 antique market extravaganza’ to purchase furnishings that are fit for a freshly restored Tuscan property. Our aim is to keep the place all very true to style of the Tuscan region, which won’t be hard as we love Tuscany’s interior styling.
We also have a garden that needs some love and attention to restore it to the beautiful Tuscan garden it once was, as we plan to entertain guests here on our Tuscany Cycling Tours. As part of the garden project, Damian is planning to build a traditional pizza oven, which he is very much looking forward to.
4. Giro Triple Treat
We love the mountains with the challenge they represent with their many hairpins and their adrenalin filled descents.
In 2020 we are lucky to have the Giro d’Italia again traverse the Northern Italian Alps around Bormio and our Giro tour will follow the final week, where we are looking forward to a sensational final three days of riding. We will first tackle the tough Passo Mortirolo, then luckily for us, Passo dello Stelvio is included in stage 18, so we will make the pilgrimage to the top of the pass where we will position ourselves to watch the race as it comes up the valley and mountain. Then our penultimate ride will be the ascent of Passo Gavia, our personal favourite.
These are three iconic climbs in their own right and to be able to ride them back to back during the days, while enjoying the Alpine hospitality at night, will make for a superb finish to our Giro 2020 Tour.
5. Pursuing our personal goals
Pursuing our personal goals, alongside our business goals is a big part of what we are looking forward to in 2020.
For Damian, this is about continuing to learn the Italian language and to get to the stage where he can sit the exam to obtain his Italian passport. While learning the language, obtaining the passport and being able to converse with friends, business partners and all the people we encounter during our time in Italy is great, the ultimate test of success for Damian will be when he can successfully complete the purchase of a couple of vintage bikes in Italian at the L’Eroica market.
For Nancy, this is about starting the journey towards writing a book. From a very young age, Nancy has always had a goal to write a book and has always envisioned this being in Italy, so her personal goal for 2020 is about taking one step further with her writing by participating in a writer’s retreat in Tuscany. While the topic of the book has eluded her for some time, or perhaps is ‘evolving’ as her journey is, she is hoping it might be revealed through the retreat experience, and with more time in Italy in 2020.
We’re very much looking forward to a great year of tours in 2020 with our guests, and with a few spots left available, you can still join us on one of our Italian cycling tours.