Tuscany is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and after having spent a few days cycling in the heart of its countryside from Lucca to Siena, it’s easy to see why. Here are the highlights from my Via Francigena cycling trip in Tuscany.
The towns and villages along the way are seriously impressive, most of them perched on hilltops with spectacular views on the surrounding countryside. I had seen plenty of pictures of the region but nothing can compare to the real thing. Our cycle took us through the rolling countryside from Lucca to Siena crossing olive-groves, vineyards and woodlands. Be sure to take your camera with you each day when you are walking or cycling as they views are amazing.
The Via Francigena trail is mostly off road and is ideal for anyone looking for a quiet, picturesque route. Bear in mind that if you choose to cycle, the route is quite challenging as the area is very hilly and you should be prepared to push the bike for certain stages.
The beautiful medieval town was one of my favourite stops along the route. A Unesco World Heritage site, the walled town is well-known for its 14 towers which are visible for miles around in the surrounding countryside. It is believed that this town was the inspiration for Shakespeares’s Romeo and Juliet.
My cycling companions and I were particularly impressed with the friendliness of the people we met along the way, and in particular in the smaller villages and hamlets along the route. The locals always had a big smile for us when they saw us passing through and some kind words to wish us luck on our journey. Unfortunately my Italian leaves a lot to be desired but I’m determined that I’ll be able to hold more of a conversation the next time I visit this place.
Food and wine
I could not write a blog about my favourite aspects of the trip without mentioning the amazing food and wine we sampled along the way. At every turn we were spoiled for choice with cold meats, breads, pastas, olives, ice-creams, pizzas etc. We didn’t even feel one bit guilty tucking into all these delicious dishes as we felt we had earned it after all the cycling!
Simple, fresh ingredients which are well-prepared are the essence of Tuscan cooking and there’s no doubt that this area is a food-lovers paradise. If you happen to be in the area during the autumn, this is the perfect time to sample (or even hunt) one of the region’s best known delicacies, the truffle. Although truffles can be found all year round, the end of September signals the arrival of the Tartufo Bianco, the most famous white truffle, and there are numerous festivals to celebrate it’s arrival. On our trip, we sampled some of the black variety sliced finely and served over fresh ravioli – buonissimo!
Our trip finished in Siena and what an amazing place to spend a last night in Tuscany! The small pedestrian streets are lined with beautiful shops and restaurants and the city has a young and bustling vibe as it’s one of the main University cities in the area. At every corner you turn there are fine examples of Gothic architecture, but none more impressive than the city cathedral, the Duomo. This cathedral, which dates back to the 13th century, is embellished with stripes of black and white marble and is as impressive inside as it is outside.
The central square, Piazza del Campo, is lined with some lovely restaurants and bars and is a great spot to watch the world go by. This sloping piazza is particularly famous for its twice yearly horse race, the Palio, held on July 2nd and August 16th. One side of the Piazza is dominated by the town hall and its bell tower which is the second highest in Italy. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can climb he 505 steps to the top and enjoy some breath-taking view of the city. Before leaving Siena, be sure to allow some time to browse the many artisan food shops the city has to offer and sample some of the local delicacies. Siena is well-known for its Panforte, a traditional Italian dessert containing fruit, nuts, honey and spices and it’s best served with coffee or dessert wine.
If you would like further information on the Via Francigena or to book your next walking or cycling tour please contact our Travel Specialists.