L'Eroica vintage bike race in Chianti

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

L'Eroica vintage bike race in Chianti

Posted by Sean Caulfield on Wednesday, 29 October 2014

For the last six years I, along with many other cycling enthusiasts from around the world, have made the yearly pilgrimage to Gaiole in Chianti for L’Eroica vintage bike ride. Held on the first Sunday in October, L’Eroica is like a step back in time to before the modern age of tarmacked roads, hi vis jackets and hybrid bikes with fancy suspension.

The rule here is that only bikes made before 1987 that fit a specific set of criteria are allowed to compete. The event has been running since 1997 and has really exploded in popularity over the last few years, drawing in cyclists from across the globe. This year saw nearly 5000 cyclists register to take part and national coverage in some of Italy’s biggest newspapers, including Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport. Decked out in my vintage cycling finest, I headed down to Gaiole with my local cycling club and my trusty Bianchi ready for a bike ride like no other.

As soon as you arrive in Gaiole you know something special is going on. The day before the big ride, the little Tuscan town is taken over by stands full of vintages bike parts, clothes and memorabilia, as well as people offering repairs and tune-ups. For owners of these classic bikes, it’s an invaluable opportunity to source parts and access specialists you might otherwise struggle to find.

This being Italy, there are also, of course, a whole host of people selling a range of delicious local food. From pizza wagons and chefs cooking up a wide range of fresh meat dishes right in front of you, to the local restaurants that bulge out onto the terraces, anyone looking to fuel up before getting on their bike is spoiled for choice. One stand out was a pop-up restaurant, set up by local volunteers, that I’m told served hungry cycling fans with somewhere in the region of 1200 sausages and 600 t-bone steaks!

The atmosphere is incredible, with thousands of riders taking part and even more spectators, many of them dressed in vintage clothing, all packed into a little town that Forbes magazine once ranked number one on its list of Europe’s most idyllic places to live. One of the great things about L’Eroica is that it’s not a race so people take a lot of time to enjoy the scenery, food and comradery on offer. While the cycling is still hard work, it’s an event that firmly puts fun first and has a really friendly, inclusive feel to it.

On the day of the ride, participants can pick from one of four different courses, the shortest of which is 38km and the longest (the full run) a robust 209km! In between there are 75km and 135km courses which are great for people like me who are keen cyclists but not quite at the pro athlete level! The rides take place along some of the old gravel tracks which were the original roads linking the various towns of the Chianti region together. These roads follow very direct routes, resulting in some pretty steep hills in places, which means anyone choosing to complete the full run needs legs of steel and the stamina of an Olympian.

I stick to the 135km track, which I’ve ridden for the past six years now, and offers a good mix of challenging cycling and beautiful countryside while leaving plenty of time to stop off along the way at various points. There were around sixty of us from my local club this year, although we split up into smaller groups going round, making for a really fun ride where everyone felt comfortable cycling at their own level.

L’Eroica is intended to recall the classic bike races of the past, so even though it’s not a race each rider is issued with a card, which they carry in their pocket and can get stamped and signed at each of the designated stop-off point on the way around, recording the time they passed through. This is how they used to manage races back in the days before computers and electronic check-points!

There’s more to the check points than just getting your card stamped, however. Each stop has people serving a variety of foodstuffs, ranging from salami, small sandwiches, boiled eggs and sweet biscuits to classic Tuscan dishes. My favourite is the ribollita, a traditional Tuscan bread soup cooked in a cast iron pot on a tripod over an open fire.  Of course, you have to be careful not to eat too much, or it’s not so easy getting up the hills afterwards! They also serve Vin Santo, the popular Tuscan dessert wine, but again, it’s best not to over-indulge unless you want to be wobbling all over the road to the next check point!

The countryside you pass through is as amazing and beautiful as you would expect. The various courses takes you from open, arable areas to more closed-in vineyards and olive groves and it’s a really wonderful way to experience the stunning Tuscan landscape. The colours of the vintage woollen shirts we all wear made an amazing contrast against the beautiful scenery offering loads of opportunities for keen photographers. It’s almost impossible not to stop every so often and soak it all in. Especially when you get to watch a whole range of weird and wonderful bikes going past, not least the brave soul who took on one of the tracks on a penny farthing!

All of the routes end where they begin, in Gaiole. There’s a real festival air around the central square where all of the courses finish. Every rider has to make their way through the middle of the square which is lined by spectators cheering and applauding as they cross the finish line and collect the congratulatory bottle of wine every participant gets for finishing. No matter which course you tackle or how long it takes you to get round, for that one moment every rider gets to feel like a champion.

The party atmosphere carries on until nightfall with plenty of wine and beer being drunk. By that point most riders, me included, are so tired it’s all you can manage to stumble off to bed. The next day is clear up day, where the village is returned to normal and it’s all over for another year. With L’Eroica growing in size and recognition each year, there’s no question that L’Eroica 2015 will be just as spectacular as this year’s event and I certainly intend to be back! Maybe next time I’ll even tackle the full run…or maybe not.

Tuscany has a long and proud association with cycling, not least for being the birthplace of the legendary Gino Bartali who won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d’Italia three times in the 30s and 40s. The region’s beautiful countryside and mix of challenging hilly terrain and flatter, more accessible routes makes Tuscany a favourite destination for cyclists of all abilities. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Tuscany provides the setting for this growing event.

We have a number of villas available in Gaiole in Chianti and the surrounding area, perfect for anyone intending to take part in L’Eroica either as a cyclist or spectator. We can also help you register for the event if you need some assistance. Alternatively, the L’Eroica course is open to cyclists all year round and is well signed, plus we can arrange guided tours on request.

To find out about other great events in Tuscany that you can get involved in, check out our sports and activities page. For more information about the luxury Tuscan villas we offer or how we can help you have the perfect Tuscan break, call us on +44 121 286 7782 or send us an email.
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A Day Trip to Stunning Siena

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Day Trip to Stunning Siena

Siena is a wonderful city settled in the heart of Tuscany. World renowned for its biannual Palio (a fast-paced horse race), Siena is steeped in history and makes the perfect location for a day trip or two if staying in a villa nearby. Somewhat quieter than neighbouring Florence, a day in Siena can be a relaxing excursion for any Tuscan holidaymaker.
If staying in one of our Tuscany villas, and are thinking about visiting the walled city of Siena, then why not take a look at some of our favourite places in the city to help you plan your trip.

Watch Passers-by and Tourists Stroll in the Piazza del Campo
Siena’s Piazza del Campo is a-buzz with action during the famously quick 90 second Palios, but once the excitement dies down and the horse racing is over, the piazza becomes the perfect space to sit back, relax, and watch the world go by.
The sloped piazza is incredibly popular with tourists and students during the warm summer days and evenings, with popular bars, cafes, and restaurants surrounding the edge. For beautiful view of the Palazzo Publico and Torre del Mangia, and to catch a glimpse of everyday Sienese life, take a seat at one of the outside tables of the many cafes, or perch near the top of the shell-shaped piazza. Those who aren’t afraid of heights may even want to take a trip up the Torre del Mangia for panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Siena Cathedral
The stunning Duomo is a must see for visitors to Siena, even if it is simply to admire the bold stripes of the exterior. Those who step inside, will see that the striping continues and that it is a hub of wonderful artworks from the likes of Donatello, Michelangelo and a pulpit designed by Giovanni Pisano. Take a look inside the Piccolomini Library to view some amazing frescoes by Pinturicchio that depict the life of Pope Pius II, and a dramatically vibrant painted ceiling.  

Learn about the Contrade
A large part of Sienese culture revolves around the ancient rivalry between the 17 Contrada, which visitors to the city can learn about by visiting the Museum of Contrada. The museum holds artefacts from each Contrada, including flags, Palio outfits, and trophies.
The ancient rivalry that revolves around the Palios has become relaxed over the years, but those in Siena in the lead up to, or just after the Palios (2nd July and 16th August) can expect to see flag displays, parades, and marches as Contrades build hype or celebrate their wins.  

If you’re planning a trip to Italy, then why not take a look at our selection of Tuscan villas, and see if there is one that suits your needs. For more information about the services that we offer, or a particular villa, then why not get in touch with a member of our team by visiting our contact us page.

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Five Great Holiday Reads Set in Beautiful Italy

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Five Great Holiday Reads Set in Beautiful Italy
Image source: mygoodbookshelf.wordpress.com
It can be inspiring to read a novel or story set in the country in which you are holidaying, so we’ve picked a selection of our favourite novels set in Italy! Pick one, or a couple, and relax in the warm Tuscan climate with one of these good books.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
A story that begins with despair and ends in hope, Eat, Pray, Love tells of Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal journey after the breakdown of her marriage. Although only the first section (Eat) is set in Italy, it is still a worthy holiday read. Feel inspired by Elizabeth’s journey through heartbreak and food in the Italian third of her autobiography, religious in the Indian section, and fall in love with the tales of her time in Bali, Indonesia.
Reading this book will make you eager to find your own adventure in Tuscany and Italy, and may even see you jetting off elsewhere in the near future.

A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
A classic romance tale depicting the inner struggles of a young Edwardian woman, A Room With A View takes readers to early 20th century Florence. Protagonist Lucy Honeychurch takes a trip to Italy with her older cousin Charlotte and it is there that she meets George Emerson when his father offers to swap rooms so that the women have a view of the Arno River. Facing a changing society, Lucy is has to choose between true love and an appropriate marriage of convenience.
Relaxing with this book by your Tuscan villa’s pool will have you excited to get exploring the spectacular streets of Florence.

The Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato
In this historic novel, we are taken back in time to Tuscany’s golden age. Set in 18th century Renaissance Siena, the story revolves around the internationally famous Sienese Palio and the rivalries of the city’s Contrades. Pia Tolomei, a Siena native, falls in love with a Palio rider from a rival Contrade but is being forced into an arranged marriage.
This tale will show you the intricate culture of the Tuscan city of Siena, whose history is still very much alive in its biannual Palio.

 I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis
This novel is a fictional depiction of the life of the lady in the world’s most famous painting. Visit 15th century Florence and view the impact that the murder of Giuliano de’ Medici has on the city in this riveting tale. The story then moves forward a decade, and we see an unhappy city and heroine Lisa di Antonio Gherardini coping with love and loss.

Inspired by the life of the mystic woman in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, this story set against the backdrop of a troubled Florence highlights the artistic flourishes and strength of the Tuscan city.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
In this 1950s psychological thriller we meet Tom Ripley, a young man struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Given the chance to travel to Italy, Ripley and readers become embroiled in a story of murders and stolen identities. Partially set in Mongibello and Sanremo, the story unfolds against a beautiful backdrop as we read about the lives of the wealthy.
As part of a series collectively known as the Ripliad, readers will no doubt look forward to reading the four subsequent novels.

We hope that this selection of novels set in Italy have got you inspired for what book to take with you as your holiday read!
If you are interested in Tuscany villa rental for your Italian holiday, then please check out our website, or get in touch via our contact us page.
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