Cycle Touring in Tuscany | Casole d'Elsa Launches Bike Hub
Our man in Italy went to check out a new and innovative bike infrastructure project
Words by Massimo Finocchiaro | Photos by Giordano Cioli & Massimo Finocchiaro
The Italian region of Tuscany has long enjoyed a reputation as something of a cycling Mecca. Its rolling hills, vineyards, olive-groves and pretty pastures make for excellent road biking terrain, and when you add in a little bit of great architecture, history, art, and of course food and wine, it’s no surprise that this region attracts thousands of cyclists of all types - from casual tourists to hardcore mountain bikers - every year.
But if it was excellent before, the investments that one Tuscan town has recently put into cycling infrastructure have made this area even better suited to people looking to go on bike holidays. Casole d’Elsa, a town surrounded by incredible Tuscan landscapes, strategically positioned between Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra and San Galgano, has put in place a whole series of measures to turn itself into something unique - a “Bike Hub".
"It has excellent terrain, great architecture, history, art, and of course food and wine, so it’s no surprise that Tuscany attracts thousands of cyclists each year."
The Bike Hub project is designed to cater to all kinds of cyclists, and brings together local bike shops, guides and bike-friendly hotels offering information and itineraries for visitors. As well as looking like something from a Renaissance landscape painting, the terrain around Casole d’Esla offers a variety of paths with different kinds of difficulty levels that can satisfy expert road cyclists, mountain bikers, families with kids or amateur enthusiasts.
Although I put myself very firmly in this final category, I thought the Bike Hub was an idea worth exploring. And so, having been equipped with an excellent bike by the Gippo Bike Shop and paired with a guide from Anima Toscana, I set out to ride one of the Bike Hub’s best routes.
Terre di Casole Tour
Distance: 25 km
Total itinerary time: 3 hours approximately
Highest elevation: 376m
Within just a few kilometres of setting off, we were able to see some of the most beautiful, stereotypical Tuscan landscapes. The kind you’d see in any tourist calendar in the shops in Florence. As we cycled across the hills, many of them largely unchanged since medieval times, it was easy to picture the pilgrims of previous eras also winding their way through them as they travelled from the north of Italy to the Holy City in the south.
As well as the stunning landscapes, the Terre di Casole has a whole lot more to offer to its cycle tourists. There are ancient buildings like La Suvera, property of the Marquis Ricci, which boasts luxurious rooms and a gourmet restaurant for the most refined palates. Another place that is refined and also rustic is Borgo Pignano, a farmhouse set in an eighteenth-century castle, built on an ancient Etruscan residence. The country estate offers all sorts of activities, from painting and cooking courses to horseback riding to yoga sessions, as well - of course - as cycling. They also have their own organic farm and a biodynamic vegetable garden.
But my favourite activity of all - one that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Tuscany - was one that took place in the groves around the castle estate. Truffle hunting. We met Alessio Bernini, president of the local truffle hunters’ association, and his dog Pato just outside the castle. “There’s a saying in Italy," he told us: “You lie like a truffle hunter". This is because no-one who’s found a good spot to hunt for truffles will ever share that knowledge - the small fungi which grow underground are simply too good (not to mention valuable) to let anyone else in on the secret.
Pato, his dog, takes the business of hunting truffles as seriously as his master - he’s restless and straining at the leash. When he’s finally let go he’s off like a shot, snuffling round every corner of the forest and diving into the undergrowth. Finally he starts barking and scrabbling frantically with his paws - and there they are, the almost mystical mushrooms. Much like this region itself and its cycleways, it takes a bit of digging to get to them, but once you know where to look, you’ll find genuine treasures in the Tuscan hills.