Last month had an Italian theme for me. I started June on a cycling holiday in Italy and completed it by riding in the Eroica Britannia, the UK event based on the Italian Eroica heritage bike ride.
Forget the beach at Benidorm or the ‘All inclusive’ in Cuba- try a cycling holiday! We chose Tuscany for our holiday because the beautiful countryside appealed and we love Italian food and wine!
We booked with Gustocycling.com who recommended a stay at the “Palazzo a Merse”, a few miles from the city of Sienna. Our accommodation was perfect- a sympathetically converted Tuscan farmhouse providing B and B with comfortable rustic bedrooms and en-suite facilities. One night we dined with the family and every morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the garden whilst our host, Andrea, helped us plan our route for the day. He had written a tour guide “Cycling in the Merse Valley” and had an intimate knowledge of the area. As well as suggesting routes he also recommended fabulous restaurants and great places to sample local produce and escape the heat of the day.
Bikes were provided as part of the package. They were good quality hybrids, similar to our best selling Specialized Crosstrail. They came complete with helmets, pumps, locks and spares – which fortunately we didn’t need.
Our cycling routes were circular and approximately 50 miles each. Part of our route was on the ‘special’ white roads (strada bianchi) which are unmade roads of limestone chippings, cutting through shaded woods, alongside rivers and skirting fields of vines, cherries, olives and wheat.
Tuscany is not without hills but for every up there follows a down – the routes can be as challenging as you wish. The hills varied from gentle undulations to some long challenging climbs but the quality of our bikes proved invaluable as the gears and front suspension eased the work and made the impossible within our capabilities!
It was a pleasure to meander through the little villages and small towns, stopping for a cappuccino or ice cream, even trying out our limited Italian vocabulary.
We enjoyed several magnificent lunches with local wine from some of the many vineyards we had cruised past. The olive oil we drenched our focaccia bread in was sourced from the olive groves we had traversed earlier in the morning. The joy of cycling through such areas is partly the proximity to nature -watching little lizards darting amongst the rocks, hearing birds chirping in the low branches and spying the odd sparkling snake disappearing into the long grasses.
Passing through the sleepy towns is an opportunity to look in the windows of the bread and cake shops, spy on the old man drinking beer under the olive tree and even catch the local hanging out his washing in the car-park!
Every evening it was a pleasure to return to our wonderful accommodation the gardens were beautiful and the swimming pool a welcome luxury.
Returning from Italy with my legs feeling strong I joined some friends to ride the Eroica Britannia, a festival and heritage bike ride centred around Bakewell in Derbyshire. The event is based on the Italian Eroica and all cyclists had to ride bikes pre-dating 1987. The festival atmosphere was superb and even included afternoon tea on the lawns of Chatsworth House. The event was being staged for the second time in the UK; it attracted over 3500 cyclists and seems set to be a regular event. Look out for it next year, or use it as an opportunity to sell that old bike in the back of the garage – suddenly pre 1987 bikes are in big demand.
By Richard Crawford (The Bike Shop Leeds Ltd) and Dr. Elizabeth Martin (GP and budding writer!)