Italy by CycleRichard Oliver
However, the "magnum opus" of our rides was an all-day trek with "I Bike Tuscany" (IBT) starting south of Florence, and biking some 40 kilometers thru the idyllic and iconic Chianti countryside to Siena. We lucked out and had the ride all to ourselves, guided by the fascinating Marco Vignoli, IBT owner, and former Italian bike racer now turned bike artist. Naturally, all these exquisite rides included stops for wine tastings, spritz and gelato!
As they say, "all roads lead to Rome" and off we went to the Eternal City. We did a small-group ride called "Rome in a Day" which took in all the incredible "usual suspects" -- Coliseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Vatican, et al. Rome is also known as the city built on seven hills, so we opted to again do this ride with e-bikes, not realizing the hills of Rome are more like low knolls!
This was indeed our most adventurous ride, as we shared the packed roads with minion-like hordes of Fiats and Vespas, alternating with dodging pedestrians as we traversed wide piazzas. Emmanuel, our trustworthy guide, just said, "Si, it is dangerous, but pay no attention to the cars -- just follow me." And, somewhat surprisingly -- it worked. Each time we came to an intersection, we formed into a "wolf pack" and pressed on -- and the traffic would stop for us!
After departing "Roma," we engaged a rental car for a 6-day trek through the enthralling Tuscan countryside. Most delightful were the charismatic natural hot springs of Saturnia, and the many ancient hill-top fortified towns surrounded by legions of olive trees and grape vineyards. We especially delighted in biking the medieval walled-city of Lucca on veranda-wide bike lanes. A special, treasured evening was biking to an extraordinary Puccini opera concert in a 600 year-old church, which included an entrancing "Nessun Dorma" aria.
Thus ended the biking part of our Italian sojourn, as our last four days were spent in Cinque Terre -- a most magical and endearing array of five seaside villages along the Italian Riviera -- but which offers no venue for bikes among the steep hillsides and narrow streets.
Our Italian holiday made for a lifetime of captivating memories. We were indeed blessed with comfortably cool and sunny weather, mingled with an occasional refreshing rain shower. But most delightful of all, equal to the biking, were the many absolutely warm and boisterously gracious Italians we encountered. We hated to ultimately have to say, "Arrivederci"!