This week, Lonely Planet released its list of the 10 best places for a cycling holiday in 2020 and rated Siena, Tuscany as #1. While the rating is not a huge surprise for us, given we selected Siena as our home region in Italy for its amazing cycling and lifestyle, and also run four bike tours here currently, it does confirm that the secret is out on this most beautiful area of Tuscany, and the vision of it as a ‘huge cycling park’, is now a reality.
Lonely Planet’s description of Siena, as you can see below, talks to the beautiful Strade Bianche and the city of Siena itself, both magnificent jewels of Tuscany, and thankfully for us, confirms what we already know and deliver to many guests on our Tuscany Cycling Tours each year.
“In the cycling world, Siena is famous for the Strade Bianche, an early-season race that twists and turns over the surrounding region’s hilly, white gravel roads, before arriving at the finish on the Piazza del Campo. Riding those same roads at an easier clip is about as fun as cycling gets. It’s like being on a cypress-lined rollercoaster through vineyards and olive groves. You will want a bike with wider tyres, so you can enjoy the views and worry less about keeping the rubber on the dirt. After exploring the countryside, enjoy a hearty Tuscan meal and a few glasses of Brunello.”
On our four Tuscany Cycling Tours each year, including our L’Eroica cycling tour 2020, which is run specifically around the L’Eroica event itself, guests enjoy a very unique experience of both the Strade Bianche and the Piazza del Campo….and of course, the ‘hearty Tuscan meals and few glasses of Brunello’ as key elements of the food, wine and cultural experience of our tours.
Here we share our top 3 secrets to deepen the understanding of the features highlighted by Lonely Planet in rating Siena, Tuscany as #1 destination for cyclists in 2020.
When we first rode L’Eroica and the Strade Bianche of Tuscany in 2014, we knew we had arrived to a very special place – not only because of the ride and all that goes with the event itself, but because of the magical landscape and views in this most magnificent part of Tuscany. One of Damian’s standout memories from that first ride was the view of Siena emerging in the distance at sunrise. It still is a memory etched in his mind.
With the riding on our Tuscany cycling tours 2020, we always talk about the beautiful climbs and amazing free flowing descents, and how, around every corner is another picture perfect postcard vista. However, while we and our many guests who have joined us already will advocate that the riding is pure magic, it is fantastic to see Lonely Planet describe it as a ‘cypress lined rollercoaster through vineyards and olive groves.’ This is the perfect description of what it is and while it does involve hard work and a lot of climbing, the rewards are just so high. One of our favourite day’s riding on tour is when we transition from the lush green hills of Chianti to the barren, open rolling hills of the Crete Senesi, with a coffee stop in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, and lunch in the beautiful town of Asciano.
This is one perfect day on the bike, and as we often share stories with guests post ride on our Tours of Tuscany and L’Eroica Bike Tours, one thing that is agreed is that each day for 8 days in Tuscany, really does feel like the perfect day, on and off the bike.
The Hearty Tuscan Meal
Tuscany’s rustic, organic cuisine is well known to all of us, and nothing beats the hearty Tuscan meals we experience on our bike tours. Whether cooked by us or our villa hosts for our beautiful nights dining in, or the sumptuous meals created by the many and varied osteria’s and restaurants we choose, the food is always a highlight.
While the Bistecca Fiorentina or the typical Tuscan Grigliata and the many accompanying contorni are amongst our favourite meals, our absolute favourite is Pici con Ragu…and even better is if it’s Ragu di Cinghiale, or wild boar. This is one delicious pasta.
So last year, we decided to take a private cooking lesson with our very own Patrizia who makes the best ragu going around. In it, we learned some very simple but critical techniques for how to make the perfect Tuscan ragu, and the main learning was about time. It takes 3-4 hours and must be cooked very, very slowly, with only one ingredient at a time. If you want to hear anymore or experience it for yourself, you’ll have to join us in Tuscany as what happens on tour, stays on tour.
The Brunello di Montalcino Wine.
Made from the Sangiovese grape which dominates the wines and vineyards of Tuscany and thought to have been used by the ancient Etruscans to make their wines, the Brunello di Montalcino is made from what is considered to be the ‘quality branch’ of Sangiovese, the Sangiovese Grosso. In terms of consistent high quality, Brunello is referred to as being the greatest expression of the pure Sangiovese grape – albeit with some notable exceptions coming from Chianti Classico Riserva and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – both also high quality Sangiovese based wines of Tuscany. However, as we always say to guests on our Tuscany bike tours, it is all about your own personal taste. So we offer a tasting of all the famous wines of the areas of Tuscany that we traverse, and you make your decision about the best one for you.
As an example, we love the house wines in a couple of the family osteria’s we choose to take guests. This is because we learned that the production of Brunello di Montalcino is capped each year to ensure its quality and price always remains always. So what do the growers do with any excess they have produced? They bottle it up and sell it to their favourite little restaurants and osteria’s as ‘house wine’. So, if you know where to go and what to ask for in the right areas surrounding Siena, Tuscany, you’ll get to enjoy the beauty of a Brunello for the price of a house wine. They’re the small secrets you get to experience on tour.
If you’d like to join us in Tuscany in 2020, it’s not too late. We have a couple of spots available on our Tour of Tuscany 2020 in July and we are taking bookings for our Tuscany and L’Eroica Cycling Tours in 2021.