Montepolciano to Cortana 47.4 km 408.3 km so far

Yesterday, after a tough day of hills and gravel we gave the bike a rest and explored the town of Montepolciano, another medieval hill town. We met a number of other cyclists, shared stories of the road and compared notes on equipment and tour operators. We feel like we are sort of part of a community.

A Montepolciano street view.

Today we set off again. Our day was shorter and more moderate with a big downhill at the beginning and most of the climbing right at the end as we made our way into yet another historic walled city on a hill. 

Tobacco harvester dumping its load. It’s amazing how this machine can cut the bottom leaves of the plant and not damage the rest of it.

Most of our day was spent in the relatively flat valley. While a lot of the fields were in wheat or sunflowers, which were already harvested, we did stop and watch a machine stripping the bottom leaves off of tobacco plants, and got to see a farmer plowing. The plowed fields here look really messy, with clods of dirt bigger than my head all over the place. The farmer we saw today was pulling a two furrow, rollover, plow with a 100hp+ tractor, putting the plow down nearly 18 inches. The soil is deep here and we are not seeing a lot of stones coming up, but the soil is really clumpy. 

The view from the Montepolciano wall just down the street from our hotel.

We’re getting close to the end of the ride. Just two days left.


Massa Marittima to Monteciano: 40.5 km…275.7 km so far

Other than the downhill from Massa Marittima and the climb to Monteciano, today’s ride was relatively simple. We’re still riding through vineyards and olive groves, but there is also a lot of wild country, more than I would have expected. Cutting firewood seems to be important in this area with loads behind tractors, and on trucks, going through the plaza as we had an afternoon tea. 

The square in Monteciano

This area closes down in the afternoon. The grocery, pharmacy, and all the other businesses, other than cafes, are closed from two to four thirty. From where we were sitting, waiting for the grocery store to open, we watched a lot of folks trying the door of the Coop grocery store, going away disappointed. This place is off the beaten track and has not adjusted itself to cater to tourists. While there is a group of English speakers here for a wedding, most of the people at the cafe are locals. Four old men sit at one table, two of them noisily solving the problems of the world with wide gesticulations, while the other two nod off to sleep. Beside us, another local table fills up with a younger group for an afternoon glass of wine and enthusiastic conversation. Kids ride bikes down the hills ( and down the steps of the church) and dogs get an afternoon walk. Life seems good…

We’re travelling without our pannier bags now. It makes a big difference!!!

We Meet Gravel…Monteciano to Montepolciano 85.2 km….360.9km so far

We had been warned about today…

Way back in Siena, the representative from the tour company had a bit of a sceptical look on his face when he met with us to go over the directions and plans for our trip. He was particularly concerned about this day.

“You’ll need to start out early he” he said, “there is much climbing, and some of the trip is on gravel roads.”

He went on to tell us that since the whole area as been designated as a UNESCO heritage site, and since gravel roads were part of the area’s heritage, no new paving was being done. 

“They are very good gravel roads, very hard. Your bike might get dusty” 

Rolling gravel through the fields

We set out from Monteciano, where we had stayed in an almost empty hotel, with some trepidation. It had rained overnight and it was very cool. We started with a long steep hill, which was pretty much the theme for the day, snaking its way up and down through heavy forest. Going up one hill we met a pair of wild boar piglets rooting at the side of the road. We didn’t stop for pictures not knowing how momma boar might respond if she was nearby. 

Then the gravel started. The road was really a lot like our driveway on Donnybrook Line after a rainstorm. It was eroded, had loose sections and was intermittently cobbled in the center. I’m thinking the cobbled bits might have been what made these roads important to the heritage of the area. In some places you could see that the cobbled piece was about six feet wide with defined straight sides. At some point in time, with the advent of cars and trucks, the cobbled track was widened by adding gravel to each side. Over time, the cobbles were either buried, or removed in most places. These are rough cobbles, impossible to ride on. 

This grader really messed up the road. We walked about a kilometer.

Adding the gravel portion to our route today did have some advantages. There was very little traffic to worry about and the views from on top of the hills and along the ridge lines were outstanding. Compared to most tourists, our experience of Tuscany is very unique. 

We made it though, contrary to the scepticism of our tour director, all 85 km (should have been less but we got a little lost once) We climbed over 1800 meters. We did end up walking up a couple of 16% grades and at one point walked most of a kilometer where a grader was redoing the road. 

The day ended with another uphill climb to another medieval walled town with spectacular views from our hotel room balcony.

The view through an arch, near our hotel, in Montepolciano


Biobola to Massa Marittima (60.8 km) 235.2 so far

We’re on the road again. Today’s ride was a wonderful one that started with a downhill to the ferry ( thanks to a ride up the hill from the hotel handyman) and ended with a steep climb into the medieval town of Massa Marittima. 

Here we are 5km from our destination, right at the top of the hill.

If some roving band of bandits, or even an army, wanted to make trouble for this place, they would really have their work cut out for them. The village is over 300 meters above the surrounding countryside. The walk up to the walls would make you tired and then facing twenty foot high walls, with double gates, would likely make you be satisfied to eat some grapes and maybe some olives from the surrounding fields on your way to a less formidable opponent. 

It looks like it worked, because the old buildings, churches and houses are very well preserved. 

Today is Sunday, we visited a church. A basilica actually. Construction started nearly 900 years ago.

A Quiet Day by the Mediteranian: 0 km Total:174.4

The bike (I know, she should have a name) resting for the day. We’ve said anyone who can ride her out of here can have her. Unlikely that there will be any takers.

We’re not riding today. Our self guided tour does have a couple of options for loop rides on the island of Elba, but we felt like we had a pretty good picture of the island during our ride from the ferry and the hill out of here is really daunting. There are lots of steep, tree cover hills, and here in Biobola, a very beautiful beach. The village is mostly small resorts with rows and rows of loungers and umbrellas next to the water (20 euros for two lounges and an umbrella). We’ve enjoyed the beach, even though the day is a little too cool for swimming, read books, had a little nap.

Tomorrow we’ll ride again….

Feet in the water of an almost deserted beach.

Day 4: San Gimigmano to Marina Di Bibbona (76.3 km)

You might remember that in yesterday’s post, I suggested  today should be somewhat flatter since, even though we had to climb higher (over 1100 meters) it would be spread over a longer distance. Once on the road, we found out that this was not true. Yesterday’s climb was pretty well distributed ( until the last 3 km) over the 42 km route. Most of today’s was in the first 40 km. It was a tough day. We had to walk a couple (or three or four) times.

J in front of the Volterra Castle after a meal of Gatorade and cookies

On the positive side though, we got away from the crowds of tourists. Our route took us on some very quiet roads, all of which had reasonable pavement. We seem to have left the grape vines, but we are still riding through olive groves. Much of the farmland we have seen today was in wheat or canola and has now been worked for the fall with a deep subsoiling chisel plow. It wasn’t until we got to the Mediteranian at the end of the day, that we actually saw some flat fields. Most of them, until now have been impossibly hilly. 

You can see the castle way in the distance. We’ve come down into the valley and climbed up the other side. Down was fast….

Tonight, we are on the ocean. We watched the sun set into the water. According to our routes, tomorrow should be an easier day.

Day 3 Siena to San Gimignano (43 km)

This evening we are sitting at the top of the world in the medieval town of San Gimignano. Someone told us that in Tuscany a lot of the towns are built on the tops of hills. This one is no exception with a three kilometer climb finishing our day. 

We are learning quickly that Tuscany is hilly. Our distance today was short, but we climbed almost 700 meters. Tomorrow will be longer with something over 1000 meters to climb. The inclines will not be as steep as they were today. On past trips the “granny gear” (I know that name is mean to grannies) was virtually never used. We were in it more that once today. We never had to walk the bike though. 

We are in the most amazing spot. Our room opens out on a terrace with a view that goes on for miles. Below us, grapes are being picked and little olive groves dot the landscape. We’ve got local wine (only 4 Euros), some local wild boar sausage, local olive oil, and bread from the bakery down the street for our supper overlooking the valley.

Life is good.