When I decided to give myself a birthday present there wasn’t much question that there would be some sort of cycling involved. Those days with zero’s attached could be looked at as just another day, but in reality they carry more weight for us. This wouldn’t be my first trip to Europe with bikes involved, but this time around I wasn’t going to be wrenching on cross bikes, or watching my friends play in the mud. This trip was going to be food and fun based entirely, and I wanted to go somewhere that offered great riding, and options for off the bike exploring.
With a little bit of “google” help I settled on a trip offered by Cinghiale Tours in Tuscany and then the anticipation began...
Tuscany is the home of Florence, Sienna, Montalcino and the Strade Bianchi roads used for the Eroica, and the new spring classic named after them. It is a center of old Italian culture, including the Etruscan settlements and their walls and ruins. There is no lack of things to see, do, and explore in the region. Needless to say I was pretty excited for this trip...
Photo Credit: Enrico Caracciolo
Meeting the group there was a huge amount of anticipation. Andy Hampsten and his wife Elaine are the owners of Cinghiale Tours, and Andy should need no introduction to anyone who has been a cycling fan for any length of time. The only American winner of the Giro (1988) and winner of the iconic Alpe du Huez stage at the Tour de France, Andy is a gracious and modest host who makes it all look easy. Shepherding a group of disparate abilities on unknown roads could make for some drama, but the guides are experienced and patient with a wealth of local knowledge.
On this trip we stayed at a renovated villa (it is Italy after all) with an olive grove, swimming pool, and incredible views of the vineyard covered hills. Casa Cornacchi provided an incredibly lovely base for day trips out on the bike, and the food? Well, the food was unbelievable really...it’s amazing just how good fresh tomatoes and some local bread with olive oil (locally pressed) can taste after a 60 mile day on twisting rolling roads.
Photo Credit: Enrico Caracciolo
Yes, the roads...after all, the reason I came was to ride my bike, and there was plenty of that on tap. The “white” roads that lace the area are an option on many days, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to ride them. Their hills are just that bit steeper than on pavement, and they take you to some out of the way places otherwise undiscovered. Andy is always willing to go exploring, and is as you would expect still very classy on the bike. One of my many moments of pure joy was following him down a sinuous descent, and watching the level of skill so effortlessly translated into the pedals and tires of his bike. Even at a high level of speed there was no nervousness, or worry...until he sat up and said he shouldn’t hog the front!! No pressure there!!
I’ve met some great people on these trips, and a common theme is that they usually are on a “once in a lifetime” trip, but Cinghiale seems to have a lot of repeat guests. I think that speaks for itself really, but I can understand the draw. Great food, great places to stay, and great company on the roads. How can you go wrong?