In July 2017, newly weds Harry and Maria Bunnell embarked on a two wheeled crusade from Firenze (Florence), Toscana to Roma, Lazio in the ancient slipstream of Johannes Defuc (a Bavarian bishop) who was ordered to Rome in 1111 under the instructions of emperor Henry V.
Defuc, as a connaisseur of wine, sent his servant, Martin, ahead to find lodgings where the wine was of sufficiently high quality to please his palate. His instructions wre to mark the word ‘EST’ (“It is”) at the entrance of every inn where the wine was suitable or even EST est if the wine was of particularly high quality. In Montefiascone his servant found the wine so good that he felt obliged to write the word EST three times!
Here is Harry’s account of their quest for equally fine Italian wine along a similar, yet idyllic cycling route from Florence to Rome…designed courtesy of Bicissimo, stopping of course, to sample some of the finest regional wines su strada…..salute!
….Following a week in the French Alps for the Tour de France, we took a train from Turin to Florence to cycle across three regions and some of Italy’s best wine country – Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.
Big shout out to Simon at bicissimo.com who designed (and supplied us with navigation files and maps) a route that would take us through the hill top towns of Siena and Montepulciano, as well as two of Lazio’s great lakes before arriving in the Eternal City.
DAY 1: FLORENCE – SIENA
We departed our campsite early and joined the route at Piazza Michelangelo south of the city, and quickly found ourselves on quiet, traffic free country lanes. By 9am we were already feeling the heat and stopped early to replenish our bottles in the small market town of Impruneta.
As we were riding in Tuscany we were expecting some challenging ‘rolling’ roads, however the 20% ramps were tough going with heavily laden pannier bags. In hindsight, we probably should have packed less and we transferred half of Marias things into my bags.
It was a pretty hot day so our lunch in Radda was a welcome stop. We had a simple pasta amatriciana and panino, along with a glass of some fine Chianti DOCG and a water refill. After lunch, the route took us onto a section of strade bianche – our first experience of the white gravel roads of Tuscany. Tough going and steep in places, but a real pleasure to ride.
We stopped in San Sano for water before tackling the final hill before Siena at 20km to go. We arrived at our campsite Siena Colleverde at around 4pm with weary legs but feeling good. First day done, 82km of great country lanes with 1,982m of climbing.
DAY 2: SIENA – MONTEPULCIANO
An early start (by Italian standards) after a fairly late night in Siena. We spent a bit of time skirting round the city to join the route, although I would recommend cycling through the cobbled streets of the inner city if possible. We joined the route south of Siena at the city walls, at the point where the Strade Bianche pro race enters the city.
The route profile looked flatter at the start of the day with the big hills coming after lunch. However we soon hit the strade bianche and it was pretty relentless on the gravel roads under the Tuscan sun, which was 30+ degrees by lunchtime.
We stopped in Buonconvento for a much needed coffee and water refill at around 40km, then cracked onto Pienza for lunch, arriving at 2pm in the afternoon. Pienza is a charming Tuscan town, originally called Corsignano, before it was renamed in by local boy Pope Pius II in the 13th century and largely rebuilt in his own vision as the perfect renaissance town.
We found the restaurant Sette di Vino where we had a traditional Tuscan lunch of grilled pecorino, sausages and zucchini. The host was excellent and brought us a sweet wine to try after the pranzo – troppo buono!
After lunch we decided to take the more direct route to Montepulciano, however we later learned that we had missed a fabulous to approach to Totona (where we were staying) from the south. Finished up on 92km of gravel and lanes and 1,879m of climbing. Decent!
The agriturismo La Pievina just outside Montepulciano was excellent, with a stunning view over the Tuscan hills. Rode to the local winery (more gravel!) Montemercurio to pick up a bottle of local red and had the regional pici pasta for dinner whilst watching the sun set from the terrace.
DAY 3: MONTEPULCIANO – LAGO DI BOLSENA
With our biggest day of riding ahead we filled up with a massive breakfast of homemade cake and coffee at La Pievina and hit the road at 8am. It was pretty cloudy and thunder storms were forecasted for lunchtime. At least it meant it was a bit cooler than the previous two days.
After some smooth descending, we hit the first hill and refuelled at Radicofani. We could see the weather was about to break so we pushed on quickly after a coffee, despite the proprietor of the bar assuring us there would be “no rain today!” Looking back after half an hour we could now see the hilltop town we had stopped at shrouded in rain clouds and thunder sounding on the surrounding hills.
The thunder was starting to sound closer and as we hit the plateau of La Palazzina, there was a crack of lightening uncomfortably close. We pedalled the fastest we had all trip and reached the village of San Casciano dei Bagni just as the heavens opened. We spent over an hour in a café eating lunch and sheltering from the rain, then it started to brighten up around 2pm. There were still 40km to go, but the worst of the hills were over.
The route briefly took us into an Umbria, via the hilltop city of Orvieto, famous for its white wine. From there the route took us onto Lake Bolsena, with one final hill on the way. We slowly dispatched the hill, then descended to Bolsena in the late afternoon sun. We stayed at La Fruschetta, a charming agriturismo with a restaurant that cooks home-grown produce – closed on Mondays so we headed to Bolsena and had a pizza on the shore of Lake Bolsena.
Toughest day so far with 112km and 2100m of climbing.
DAY 4: LAGO DI BOLSENA – LAGO DI BRACCIANO
After knocking back some coffee and cake for breakfast we hit the road, managing to miss the start of the route out of Bolsena. We headed direct to Montefiascone, however it wasn’t a pleasant road to ride on, after several trucks passing close by we were happy to get back on track at Bagnaia where we stopped for yet more lovely Italian coffee!
We could see clouds forming with storms predicted for lunchtime, although once again the local bar owner assured us it would not rain today! It was a steep 5km climb out of town, which was aided by a handful of peaches we’d taken from breakfast. Over the top of the climb we descended to Lake Vico where we had an unfortunately naff sandwich – a bit of prosciutto between two dry pieces of bread.
We could feel the first drops of rain and we pushed on, still chewing our sandwiches, climbing up and out of Vico towards the final part of the course. I boldly stated that we would out-ride the rain, then 30 minutes later we were sheltering in a building site as it absolutely nailed it down.
After some time sitting on a bag of tiles the rain cleared and we carried on with the final 30km to Bracciano, with the sun popping out its head to dry the roads. After arriving at Bracciano we carried on around the eastern shore to the town of Anguillara Sabazia and our campsite, Parco del Lago.
It was a day of three lakes, taking in 108km and 1,716m climbing.
DAY 5: LAGO DI BRACCIANO – ROMA
Final day of the trip and relatively easy compared to those that had come before. We left at 9am to head north along the lake before swinging south towards Campagnano di Roma. Had to backtrack as there was a chain-link fence across the route with padlocked gate. We ended up on the Francigena path, a pilgrims’ route from Canterbury to Rome. Not totally ideal for road bikes, we made it through with a bit of scrambling.
At Prima Porta we joined the Tiber cycle path which took us all the way into Rome along the river, past the Vatican and down to our final destination of Trastevere. Siamo arrivati!
76km to complete the total of 470km and 8,500m of climbing. A hilly route by most standards.
Harrys’ final words…
We rode this route on standard road bikes with pannier and bar bags. I rode the strade bianche on 25mm tyres, however if you have clearance for thicker tyres I would recommend going bigger.
Be prepared for all weather conditions. The hot weather in summer means that you need to have water refill points throughout the day, as we were getting through about 8-10 bottles. Check the forecast each day, when it rains in Italy it’s often best to take shelter until it’s passed. Above all, having a solid route plotted too the stress from navigating, finding good coffee and water stops and of course great wine, let us adventure with absolute peace of mind, and enjoy the wonderful surroundings on every stroke of the pedal and crunch of the gravel.
Buon giro a voi!