Anyone, regardless of age, athletic ability or inability, interest or disinterest in wine can appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of such a tour. A few years ago, I moved from Florence back to the U.S. unsure if or when I would return. I had a long check list of things to do and see before my departure. I spent hours planning where I would spend my last dinner, what I would order, what my final gelato flavor would be, and which route I would take for my last Florentine walk. With one day left to enjoy in Italy there was clearly only way to spend it – with my closest friends on the Tuscany Wine and Bike Tour. Here is why…
When people ask me for travel tips or recommendations for fun things to do in Florence one of the first activities that comes to mind is the Tuscany Wine and Bike Tour. Of course some other, more obvious, sites come to mind as well. However, the Tuscany Wine and Bike Tour has proven to be one of few SURE THINGS when it comes to the satisfaction and enjoyment of countless friends, family members, and students I have recommended it to.
The tour departs from Florence at 10am and within 30 minutes you are transported to the lush rolling hills of Chianti. It is just like you have imagined it – vineyards and olive groves as far as you can see with a castle or villa nestled here and there. You arrive at a hilltop village to begin the tour. Keith and Andy (your always energetic, informative, and seriously entertaining guides) show you around the wine cellar of a 12th century castle and invite you to taste the vino and olio produced right there on the family estate. There is a frantoio (olive oil production facility) within the castle as well. For those of you who have never sampled olive oil and are wondering what all the fuss is about, trust me, you will not be disappointed. It is delicious and taken as seriously as wine is by Italians. Up next is the castle’s tower climb. The view and peacefulness of the climb is unparalleled. Unlike other tower climbs, namely in Florence or Rome, the short climb here can be savored without the crowding and chatting of throngs of tourists. I captured some of my favorite photographs (out of thousands) on top of this tower. After getting that great shot of the vineyards or maybe even posing with Keith and Andy (they are easy on the eyes), it is time to head for the bikes (otherwise known as the “ladies”). It had been nearly a number of years since I had last been on a bike when I first went on the tour. Keith and Andy reassured me that everything would be alright and that I would not end up tangled in grapes and olives somewhere on the side of the road. They are as professional and they are fun and ensure that everyone undergoes a quick safety briefing, has a bike adjusted just right, and gets a water bottle and safety helmet. The bikes are honestly really comfortable and feature a rear compartment for your belongings (camera, wallet, sunscreen, etc.). After a final check – is your seat the appropriate height, is your camera stowed away, are you shoelaces tied tight – you are on your way.
The bike tour begins along gorgeous tree-lined avenues and winding country roads dotted with olive groves, villas and vineyards. All of the pedaling and watching rows and rows of grapes and olives help to build up your appetite. The winding path you have been leads you straight to a hidden gem…..a quant family-run ristorante. Lunch is included in the price of the tour, so eat your heart out. You have the pleasure of choosing your main course and dessert from a delicious and varied list, in addition to a mixed salad, bread, coffee, and last, but not least – wine. Take your time savoring each bite and each sip of your well-chosen food and drink and enjoy the centuries old charm of the restaurant. This is Italian dining at its very best – no overpriced bland tourist menu or condescending waiter. Just some good hearty Italian dishes served by warm and welcoming locals.
Time to hop back on your bike and check out some more of those vineyards again. A highlight of the tour is a hilltop stop and photo opportunity that gives you a chance to capture the beauty of the castle where you began from a distance. Back to roads again and a light refreshment follows. You catch your breath, chat it up with some new friends you made along the way, check those shoelaces again, then hit the pavement one more time. The last leg of the tour is spectacular due in part to both the stunning views and the ease of the sloping hill leading you to the finish line. Take your time and check out the wine and gift shop. The wine here is very very good and much less expensive than what you will find in the city center, let alone back home. Stock up on your favorite bottle of vino or olive oil. Your friends will thank you later. With your wise purchases in hand you are transported back to Florence, left with the memories of a truly unforgettable day.