While on a reconnaissance trip to Alta Maremma during the World Championships in Tuscany, after a weeks quiet riding in the spectacular Metallifieri hills myself and assistant lead guide Dominic decided to venture further afield on the last day. We were in striking distance of Monte Amiata, the highest point in Tuscany at 1,750m and only one of two places for Florentines to ski in Tuscany (the other being Abetone on the Emiglia-Romana border appearing frequently in the Giro). Even though we didn’t have much left in the tank after a solid weeks riding in the warm September sun, it felt rude to miss out being so close and is now featured in our self-guided packages.
Seggiano at the foot of Monte Amiata (an extinct volcano), is a one and a bit hours drive south-east of Massa Marittima. The ascent from Seggiano is the classic way up, a 19km climb and 1,284m elevation at 6.7% average. Although there are several roads to Vetta Amiata, the highest reachable point by vehicle, it is the most consistent ascent to the top. Abbiada San Salvatore is the next main ascent, although slightly shorter at 13km it has a similar average gradient. A longer more irregular ascent starts from Ponte da Riga lasts for 28km, making for an interesting couple of hours (or more) in the saddle.
Unpacking the bikes in Seggiano (in the small town square with free off-street parking) was witnessed by the usual contigent of older ‘signori’ sat outside the local cafe, nonchalantly appraising proceedings with the semi-boredom of having seen the likes of us lycra tourists hundreds of times before. The road up to the Vetta Amiata turning rudely starts ascending instantaneously, and there’s not really much flat warm up around here, the SS323 undulates heavily taking valuable climbing energy away from the main event. Turning off the SS323 towards Pescina the gradient was a noticeable effort at over 9% average, and 7 days of riding in Tuscany had finally taken its toll. Reaching Pescina after 5km was a welcome break, providing a short stretch of almost flat riding. By this point temperatures were still in the low twenties although we were now over 700m elevation. The road was narrow and a bit gritty, although few vehicles passed us making it a very pleasant and quiet climb. After Pescina, the road tucks under the trees for the rest of the ascent, so is devoid of any views from the mountain, but made focusing on the climb the priority, and a sensation of ‘stationary’ cycling similar to driving through a long tunnel, creates the illusion of the trees moving past us.
For late September the forest was awash with contrasting hues of red and brown leaves on the steep banked forest floor against the straight silver lines of the tall trees surrounding us in all directions. At 1000m, the air had noticeably cooled, although we were both well warmed up by now, putting in a good regular tempo on a 6% gradient. Not knowing how long was left of the climb we made sure we were going to leave our mark on Monte Amiata and ramped up proceedings. The road was exceptionally regular for the next 300m vertical ascent with only a couple of easy junctions to navigate, it was a great pleasure to push out a constant effort for so long and not feel uncomfortable.
Knowing the last 200 metres ascent were upon us, we gave it a bit more as the road shallowed out, which turned into a bit of a mistake not having climbed anything over 700 metres in the last week, the air was noticeably thinner for some reason, perhaps due to the thermals surrrounding this stand alone mountain. The road seemed to keep going forever still, as we spiralled upwards to the summit in full sweat, breathing pretty hard. I couldn’t maintain the pace and Dom wasn’t far behind. Even out of the saddle and resigned to the fact that our efforts would be rewarded with a warm cappuccio’ at the top. We were relieved to reached the ski-station, Vetta Amiata before the ‘Man with the Hammer’ paid us a visit. Although our recovery was prolonged taking quite a while to get our breath back in teh thin air. After a quick photo, there were only a couple of ‘refugio’ bars to choose from, both very well stocked. The apple strudel was a must, and was good as that found anywhere in Sud-Tirol.
Our waiter/ bar owner was happy to give us the low-down on the men’s World Champs time-trial results while we munched on our rewards, although it was comical trying to work out who had won, as he had forgotten Tony Martins name. It was hard to to imagine that the whole area would be covered in three or four metres of snow before the end of December. Even so, the community of Vetta Amiata worked all year round.
Sitting outside in the sun soon came to an end as we watched the clouds roll in quite quickly and our sweaty jerseys were starting to turn rather chilly. Donning our gilets it was time to bide farewell to the bar owner and walkers, and make the descent back to Seggiano. Like any high altitude descent, the combination of cold and trembling made navigating the tight turns a bit more interesting, the sun finally re-appeared and we were back at the car in a flash, less than 3 hours later. To be honest it not the best of descents, as the road is tight and slightly rough in patches.
However, the climb is definitely worth it, if not just for coffee and strudel and some chat. Getting to one of the start towns by car doesn’t make Monte Amiata the most accessible climb. Memorable? Definitely! Monte Amiata is the highest point in Tuscany and will always be, for a few more millenia at least……box ticked.