Living in the Alps is wonderful, with superb riding in stunning scenery, however there are a few drawbacks. One is that with long mountain winters a great deal of building work has to take place in a condensed period of time during the summer, with work usually starting at 7am. This summer the chalet next door to us decided to demolish their existing house and rebuild a new one from scratch- needless to say our planned few weeks of relaxing on the terrace has been somewhat spoiled.

Another problem is the climb home that can seem endless at the end of a long ride and even more of a psychological barrier at times, a factor that leads those of us who live at the top to drive down with the bike every now and again just for a break! It was then a most welcome suggestion from the wifey to head south to Italy for a break from the mountains.

We had a few criteria for the week: somewhere to stay that was dog friendly; a good base to explore the sights of Tuscany and obviously access to some good bike rides. We have not been disappointed.

There are so many joys to exploring a new area by bike rather than on foot or in the car. The first is that the speed of traveling is fast enough to see a variety of scenery, but not so fast that you can’t absorb it. The second leads from this in that it becomes more natural to stop and admire a great view rather than being unable to find a convenient spot to park the car. Finally, exploring by bike leads you away from the beaten paths of others and into the more natural country: is there anything better than taking a turning on a whim to find yourself at somewhere like ‘Il Borro’ a restored medieval village run as an exclusive resort by an Italian shoe designer’s family?

The riding in Tuscany is wonderful mainly due to the great variety of terrain. The area we’ve been riding around is between Firenze and Arezzo in the Arno valley (famous for being the back drop in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa)- flanked by good hills with climbs and containing wonderful back roads. We did just about the biggest climb possible on day one (the irony is not lost on me after the complaints in the second paragraph…) followed by rides in wonderful rolling hills (puncheur’s paradise) that wind their way through olive plantations and vineyards . The road surfaces are generally good, although there are several bad stretches that reminded me of Surrey lanes, and of course if you fancy it you can head onto the infamous ‘strada bianchi’ for a bit of rough.

The drivers are actually OK, the problems we’ve had here have been at high speed in the car on the Autostrada where anything seems to go, otherwise motorists seem to be considerate towards cyclists- especially the local team cars I keep seeing who are eying me up as they pass!

For anyone looking for a setting that offers great scenery and weather, superb food and wine and some of the best riding in Europe I can heartily recommend Tuscany. I’m sure we’ll be back.

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