Gravel Culture: Bikepacking the Tuscany Trail (Extended Edition)
Gravel Union On
29 September 2021
We had already booked to cross “the pond” and attend two of the biggest gravel events in the world in Canada and the US, but unfortunately the Covid19 situation meant a last-minute change of plans as we weren’t allowed to travel to the events. This situation left us with holiday time already booked at work and we were looking forward to some adventures, but we had nowhere to go, so we started to look for alternatives. We had heard about a route called "Tuscany Trail" and it sounded idyllic to cycle in Tuscany while enjoining the Italian cuisine, so we took it as the base for our plans. We decided to extend the trail by starting in Liguria and finishing in Rome making it a total of more than 700kms with around 10,000m of climbing on mixed gravel terrain.
We flew from Madrid to Pisa in the early morning. Even though we have been to numerous bike races around the globe, this was the first time we had to put our bike together at the airport and cycle directly from there, disposing of our bike card boxes for recycling. It was a nice feeling! We took the opportunity to have a spin through the streets of Pisa and visit the city before boarding a train that would take us to the start of our route on the Cinque Terre.
Our bikepacking route started in Monterosso al Mare, located in the northern part of the Cinque Terre
region of Liguria. This is a beautiful area. Our route followed the coastline, which meant lots of climbing right at the start of our trip. We visited some of the iconic villages like Riomaggiore, one of the most famous images from this region of Italy. The majority of this part of the route was done by road - the terrain here does not offer suitable gravel tracks but narrow rocky technical singletrack.
We traversed the city of La Spezia and continued close to the sea to reach the Tuscany/Liguria border and the start of the Tuscany Trail. The Tuscany Trail
starts in northern Tuscany and traverses the whole region in a rough U shape taking you from the north to the south. The first part of the route takes you to the interior but finishes on the coast close to the Tuscany/Lazio border. On the route we road through some important cities like Lucca, Florence and Siena - all beautiful and majestic.
There’s something very nice about arriving somewhere on your bike with all your bikepacking gear - a totally different experience from the regular tourist. During the route, as well as the major cities, we also passed through many small villages sitting in beautiful locations like San Gimignano, Sorana, Sovano, Pitigliano and Abbadia San Salvatore. They were like a gift for the senses
There were days where we needed to adjust the route as it was difficult to find a place to sleep. We looked for alternatives adjusting the route on the fly with komoot. We found the original Tuscany Trail had some very tricky parts, with some technical ascents and descents and parts of the route without views that were not adding any value. Sometimes the alternative route which used more open small roads and tracks was more beautiful. Every evening we tasted and enjoyed the fantastic Italian cuisine eating lots of pizza, pasta, parmigiana and tiramisu. The marvellous Italian gelatos on route were a nice aid to recovery and also the good expressos were helping to keep us pedalling.
Riding in the area around Siena was the most beautiful part where the track coincides with part of the Strade Bianche course and parts of L'Eroica. This stretch of the route was the typical Tuscany image - strade bianche and sterrato tracks rolling along the hills, lined with cypress trees on the side, a real pleasure to ride. We were tempted to try and steal some KOMs on the Strade Bianche course, but with all the bikepacking gear we were carrying it was not easy to do
We decided to extend the course and instead of ending in the southern part of Tuscany, we rode on to get to Rome. This added another 170 kms, which were made on small roads and nice tracks mostly along the coast where given the heat we had the opportunity to make stops and have a swim in the Mediterranean.
On our arrival to Rome, we had a touristic bike tour through the city visiting all major monuments and interesting places, again, very cool to be done on your own bike, and we finished our route at no better place than the iconic Colosseum.
Even if our course finished there, the adventure continued as we had to look for cardboard boxes to get our bikes checked in on the plane back and getting all ready to fly back. Once safely back in Madrid I was still wanting to continue with some more gravelling, so I decided to ride back to my hometown (Valladolid - 200 km north of Madrid) also by bikepacking and crossing the beautiful Madrid mountains, but that is another story…..
If you would like to see the route that Jorges and Antonio took, you can check it out here:
All images courtesy of @antonioortizbike