Take it E-asy in Tuscany: Recharge your batteries on an e-bike break12/05/2020
Take it E-asy in Tuscany: Recharge your batteries on a fabulous e-bike break through Italy’s exquisite rolling countryside and historic towns
- The Daily Mail’s Martin Symington and his wife went on an e-cycling holiday to Tuscany
- He stayed at hotels in historic towns and rural agriturismo farmhouses, spending mostly two nights in each
- A highlight was a visit to Siena for a spot of high culture where he enjoyed a night at Hotel Santa Caterina
What is it about Tuscany that makes me go weak at the knees? Rolling hills ablaze with sunflowers, perhaps. Or maybe memories of the afternoon sun shimmering through silvery olive trees.
I also recall my youthful calf muscles aching while I panted up to medieval hilltop villages in the heat on my road bike.
Day one of this cycling holiday, however, and I don’t even break a sweat. Rather, I am pedalling with only a little effort up a steep, zig-zagging track towards San Gimignano’s glowing skyline. Because this time my bike is fitted with a nifty addition — an electric motor.
Golden glow: The Daily Mail’s Martin Symington and his wife went on an e-cycling holiday to Tuscany
Martin (above) became an ‘instant enthusiast’ of his e-bike
My wife and I both recently turned 60, so we reckoned we were ripe for our first e-cycling holiday. We become instant enthusiasts, easily understanding why this mode of transport is becoming ever more popular.
You have to make some effort — the almost-silent motor only kicks in while you are pedalling — but with four levels of ‘assist’ from which to choose, the exertion is reduced enough for us to savour the surroundings.
Our trip is with Inntravel, a firm which specialises in walking and cycling holidays, and it has chosen and booked for us an assortment of hotels in historic towns and rural agriturismo farmhouses — four different places in all, so mostly two nights in each.
Better still, it has arranged for our luggage to be transferred between them. We simply leave the bags at reception before we pedal off, and there it is when we reach our next stay.
At the end of each day, we unclip the batteries from our bikes and plug them into the wall to re-charge overnight.
We had arranged our own flights to Pisa, but Inntravel takes the strain from there, booking us connecting trains to historic but unsung Colle di Val d’Elsa, near Siena.
The electric bikes are ready and waiting in the lobby of our 17th-century palazzo in the walled old town. Excellent rigs they are, too: sturdy ‘hybrids’ (somewhere between road and mountain bikes) kitted with panniers for all we need during the day. There is even a see-through pouch on the handlebars for the painstakingly detailed route notes which we were sent in advance.
Over the coming days our rides vary from short and sweet, to a little more taxing and sweet.
Sometimes our route notes offer longer or shorter options, and digressions. For instance, there is a mysterious deviation along a darkened woodland track to the gothic Eremo di San Leonardo al Lago.
Veering off-piste to taste the Chianti Classico at Scorgiano Azienda Agraria, is rather jollier, but does slow down our afternoon. Mostly our rides stitch together back roads and dusty white strade bianche — the unpaved tracks of gravelly limestone that reach across the Tuscan countryside.
Other road users include farmers and their livestock, and hikers on the Via Francigena — once a pilgrimage path from France to Rome, now Italy’s most celebrated long-distance walking trail.
There are plenty of other cyclists, too. One day, while ploughing up a steep hill, we are overtaken by a pack of pros in dazzling Lycra, their thighs pumping like pistons. A snort of derision is directed towards my electrically assisted progress. I couldn’t care less.
We pause for lunches in sleepy village squares, picnicking on malty tasting toscano bread and sheepy pecorino cheese.
High culture: Martin’s itinerary included a visit to Siena where he enjoyed a night at Hotel Santa Caterina
For two nights we stay at Relais Borgo di Toiano, a grandiose manor recently rescued from near dereliction. Tuscans have a feel for panoramas and this guest house is set in a sea of vines hanging with deep-red Sangiovese grapes.
It is these that produce Brunello di Montalcino, that exclusive and expensive darling of Italian wines. We treat ourselves to a bottle and find that the flavours mirror the enchantment of this spot.
The itinerary gives us one night in Siena, for a spot of high culture. The madly uplifting architectural treasures around the sloping Piazza del Campo are unforgettable.
However, our favourite is Hotel Santa Caterina, an A Room With A View-like little three-star next to the Porta Romana, one of the medieval gates to the historic centre.
We breakfast in the garden to views over orchards and olive groves, and can’t wait to get back on the bikes and cycle south into the darkened oak forests of the Crete Senesi hills.
Bellissimo: Martin and his wife spent their final two nights in the beautiful medieval walled town of Buonconvento
Our final two nights are at one more agriturismo, this one on a hill above Buonconvento — another unsung peach of a medieval town with a rectangle of massive, watchtower-studded stone walls enclosing a tight-knit kernel of pink-tinged palazzos and frescoed churches.
Why do such marvels — including Colle di Val d’Elsa, where we started —barely make it into the guidebooks, we wonder?
But we can’t help feeling glad that they don’t, as we dip salted ciabatta into delicious home-pressed olive oil while listening to the incomprehensible local dialect in a laidback cafe. For dessert, we wander down the cobbled alley to the gelateria.
Buonconvento is on a branch rail line, so it is from here that we catch a train back to Pisa, where on our final evening we dine on pici, the local hand-rolled pasta, with wild fungi foraged from the forests. While we eat, the surrounding hills fade on their dimmer switch from peach to copper.
Watching Tuscany unfurl from the saddle of an electric bike has allowed us to get up close with this unrivalled region.
And our batteries are re-charged in every sense.
Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk, 01653 617000) offers a seven-night Tuscany On Two Wheels self-guided e-cycling holiday from £1,085 per person, including b&b, two dinners and e-bike hire. Flights are extra. A week’s valet parking at Heathrow airport costs from £70.49 with ilovemeetandgreet.com.
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