Biking in Northern Italy
Try this on for a week's worth of rolling . . .
Pisa and the Arno River (25 miles). Pisa is an extraordinary city even if you think that the star attractions on the Campo dei Miracoli are overrated and overtouristed. Take a little time to explore this lively university town. (For more about it, see the description of the Tuscan/Ligurian coast.)
When it's time to go, turn east and up the Arno River. Yes, the Arno River. The same one that runs through Florence. This time you will stop just 20 miles shy of it; but don't worry, you'll be back.
The roads around Pisa are not a thrill, but it won't take too long before you are beyond the roar. Try the avenue north of the Arno River, much better than the one to the south.
The Elsa Valley to San Gimignano and Siena (50 miles). The Elsa is classic Tuscany. Follow the gurgling river and you will wind through cypress stands, groves of olive trees, and within sight of majestic villas. You could, of course, choose to climb into the rustic hills around you, braving the remote inner areas of boundless charm. At Certaldo, sunset-years home and death place of Boccaccio, author of the Decameron, take to the hills for the eight-mile climb to San Gimignano. Rich in Gothic architecture, it is a delicate medieval town perhaps best known for its 14 (of originally 72) characteristic towers. Back down in the valley, head through heavily ramparted Monteriggioni on your way to Siena, the true jewel of Tuscany.
Siena . There is no city in Italy quite like Siena. There is, in fact, no city in Europe quite like Siena. The old city, built in concentric circles around the Piazza del Campo, a gorgeous, angled, scallop-shape square, is unspoiled 12th- to16th-century splendor. Just strolling through town is like stepping back hundreds of years. Think about braving the masses during Corsa del Palio, a twice-a-summer festival when the city erupts in celebration around fiercely competitive, intramural horse races dating back hundreds of years. Regardless of when you come, make sure to visit the fresco-decorated 14th-century Palazzo Pubblico, the 12th- and 13th-century Italian Gothic cathedral, the university area, and so much more.
Siena-Florence (40 miles). This is the wine country. Chianti Classico to be more exact. There's a straight road, S222, which covers the distance, up and down ridges, through vineyards and great little towns, curving around abbeys and villas, taking in the famous sweeping Tuscan views framed on the postcards you get every summer. But there are also the back roads. Try the little lanes gliding alongside the Arbia, Pesa, and Greve Rivers. And definitely dabble in some of the local elixir. There's nothing like wine out of the bottle just a few feet from where the original grapes were grown.
When it's all over, you are in the incomparable city of Florence, home of the Italian vernacular that became modern Italian, the local coin (the florin) that became a world monetary standard, the laws of perspective in art, The Uffizi Museum, the Ponte Vecchio, Michelangelo's David and the Slaves, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo, and countless other men of letters, art, and architecture who launched what became known as the Renaissance. Need we say more?
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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