Tuscany is a land of beauty and dreams. In every direction you turn, there is a view of stunning elegance that delights and calms in the same moment. In an unseasonal burst of late Spring, our recent Tour of Tuscany in June saw us meander through this magical land of continual rolling hills, dotted with stone hamlets, hilltop towns, olive groves, ancient vineyards, and with wild flowers ablaze in full bloom, and in an array of colours and textures.
While the continual rolling hills and quintessential landscapes make it easy for anyone to feel lost in their beauty, while on the bike or trekking across their rocky terrain, these hills are not to be underestimated. They provide a sensational challenge for those who love to climb, and with not a flat piece of land to be found anywhere, the simple rule that for every 20km you ride, you’ll climb 400m is very real, and most of all, incredibly rewarding.
Starting in Chianti and our home town of Gaiole, we went on to explore the neighbouring areas of Radda and Castellina in Chianti, all towns which make up the very heart of the Chianti region. Whether on or off the bike, the landscape continually delights. There were hikes through the forest and up to Castle ruins, and rides along the Strade Bianche, or white roman roads, made famous by L’Eroica and the Strade Bianche Pro Race, which effortlessly find their way into Siena.
Our journey south of Siena to the iconic Val d’Orcia, is one that is impossible to forget. As the landscape changes from the green of the forests and vineyards of Chianti, through the arid and partly eroded hills of the Crete Senesi, and then towards the manicured landscape of the Val d’Orcia, where the majestic Monte Amiata looks over us in the distance, this is one truly stupendous day on the bike.
Our food adventure in Tuscany is just as exciting as the stark changes in the landscape, with diverse flavours and experiences presented throughout each day, ranging from rustic flavours and osteria’s, to delicate dishes served in some of the region’s most refined family run institutions. There were opportunities to taste biological / organic olive oil from Chianti and Montepulciano, an array of Pecorino di Pienza, from the light and fresh to the aged and more intense, to coffee roasted in a wood fired oven, all in addition to delightful pasta dishes, salami infused with fennel seeds, gnochetti with pecorino cream and truffles, and the sweetest tomatoes with basil.
For us, it’s important to eat what’s in season and typical of the area, and it is just as important for us to do the same when it comes to pairing the wines with our food journey. While Sangiovese is the hero of the region, each specific geographic region within Tuscany has their own variety, range of wines and identity. Within a short distance of just 15km, we can have three distinct geographical wine regions, which is superb because it means that every day we are able to take guests on a wine journey where they try something new and different.
We started with a magnificent wine tasting experience at a family run cantina near Gaiole where we tasted the Chianti Classico and the Chianti Classico Riserva, and learned the difference between the two, including what is involved in creating a DOCG wine. The wine adventure continued each day as we moved through the region, with a paired wine and food experience in San Quirico d’Orcia where we enjoyed the Rosso d’Orcia, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. What a great experience this was. For the final evening of our tour, it’s always a fantastic experience to land ourselves in San Gimignano, and in the western heart of Tuscany, to enjoy the delightful Vernaccia di San Gimignano which so magnificently pairs with our tasting plates of pecorino cheese and the sensational saffron infused dishes of the region. For those who still want to enjoy a different style of Sangiovese and a final taste of another of Tuscany’s famous red wines, the Chianti Colle Senesi is always a delicious wine, enjoyed at our final dinner.
Another of the delights of being in Tuscany in the late Spring and Summer is the chance to experience the deep history and traditions kept alive across the many towns and charming villages of the region, as the locals celebrate with their medieval festivals. Our guests on our June cycling tour of Tuscany were thrilled to have been able to witness two of these unique festivals, in San Quirico d’Orcia and then again in San Gimignano. Rich with parades of colourful authentic dress, flag throwers, bands and musicians, these festivals unite the locals who come together to celebrate these important historic representations of their culture and the social canvas upon which their life is still shaped today.