A week in Tuscany

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Joerg, Sep 12, 2007.

  1. kktos

    kktos on a bright side of life

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2005
    Oddometer:
    2,368
    Location:
    in front of Mare Nostrum
    Molto Carina, questa cita !
    Merci, Joerg, je ne connaissais pas "St Gimi".

    Nice town here. Sorry for you about the rain.
    But the good part is that u'll have to come back ;)

    Very entertaining report.
    /thierry
    #21
  2. kejago

    kejago Kev. Haute Savoie, France

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,176
    Location:
    French / Swiss Alps
    :lurk
    #22
  3. MichaelJ

    MichaelJ Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2003
    Oddometer:
    4,331
    Location:
    Sterling, Virginia, USA
    Absolutely stunning images and a great write-up.

    And to think that you hesitated to post it! Shame on you ! :wink: :D
    #23
  4. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    Well, actually I was hesitating because I thought I might submit the story to some motorcycle journal first ... but then, I do not have enough pictures of "bikes in motion" this time, and that's what most of them want to see.
    #24
  5. codys

    codys Lost in the Vizcaino

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,289
    Location:
    Salida,CO,USA
    OMG nice pics!

    Went there in 04 and pretty much all I want to do is go back. Jaw dropping everything!!
    #25
  6. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    After a good night, we woke up to a cloudy sky. We had an excellent breakfast (... yes, yet another one! :thumb), then packed our stuff and cleared the room. In agreement with the reception we still left alll the material at the hotel, though, since we made another attempt to see Volterra at daylight.

    Half of the visit went well in terms of the weather, we even saw some sun (the proof is in the photo below!) ... but then the rain came back, accompanied by stormy wind, and we decided to leave. Back at the hotel we changed into our motorcycle gear, then left for a "scenic riding day" towards Pienza, where we had reserved the next hotel room.

    Volterra, view near Porta all'Arco
    [​IMG]

    Volterra, Duomo: the central nave
    [​IMG]

    Volterra, Duomo: the Medicis were everywhere
    [​IMG]

    Volterra, Duomo: details of one of the chapels
    [​IMG]

    San Galgano
    Finally the weather was with us, since the rain ended and the view cleared. A stopover along the way that, imho, is absolutely worth any detour is San Galgano, a beautiful site: "A chapel at Monte Siepi once was the home of a knight; it was built at the end of the twelfth century to consecrate the home of the young hermit Galgano Guidotti, who died in 1181 and was canonized in 1185. A few steps further, the abbey of San Galgano was erected soon after his death, but somewhere in the 16th century the lead of the roof was dismounted and sold - leading to as collapse of the roof. The walls are still standing, and Galgano's sword is still in the stone where he drove it when he turned away from knightship."

    The calm and piece that hovers over the place, together with the roofless yet intact abbey, make this place ... well, simply hauntingly beautiful.

    San Galgano, the famous drawing on the roof of the chapel
    [​IMG]

    San Galgano, the abbey
    [​IMG]

    San Galgano, some motorcyclist :D
    [​IMG]

    Since weather was dry, we prolonged our stay there a while and turned towards the little restaurant/bar that is held by a young couple and that is situated in the last bend of the road that leads to the chapel. We had a nice lunch accompanied by the local cats, and then - finally ;-) - headed for Pienza.

    San Galgano, lunch break with cats
    [​IMG]

    Lucignano d'Asso, road towards the east
    [​IMG]
    #26
  7. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    Pienza is yet another one of the Tuscany sites that I would classify as a "must see". Indeed it is an artificial city, built by a pope from scratch in a few years, according to a model of ideal living and governing and representing one of the best-planned Renaissance towns. Its location on a hill in the middle of Val d'Orcia gives the site a beautiful, majestic touch. Even the street names reflect the joys of life :velvt:

    [​IMG]

    Our "hotel" basically had only one room that was already occupied, but - as agreed on the phone - we were lead to a cute appartementino in the city where we stayed for the next two nights. A small but nice place, directly situated on the outer wall of the city and with an outstaaanding view over the countryside - sunrise to the left, sunset to the right, and Tuscany landscape straight in front. Which means south.

    There is a downside, though. The "day visitor" does not really recognize it, but when you spent a day or two in these walls it becomes apparent that this beauty is a bit bored by herself. In the evening, the shops and cafés close early, not many people are in the streets (especially no young ones), and once the restaurant is full they will not bother about reserving a table for you an hour later ("the kitchen will close at 9 o'clock"). Thus, if you plan to eat here in the evening, you're better off either reserving a table early ... or you're left with the restaurant at the western end, just outside the city wall, which is a bit "bistrot style" but not bad at all. Do try their ice cream, anyway!

    Pienza: 'Il Giardino Segreto', phoning for our contact
    [​IMG]

    Pienza, Piazza Pio II
    [​IMG]

    Pienza, Piazza Pio II: Palazzo Comunale at night
    [​IMG]

    Total of the day: 143 km. Again, not that much in terms of kilometres, but quite hefty in terms of photos and impressions ... :thumb

    More to come ... tomorrow.
    #27
  8. SheRidesABeemer

    SheRidesABeemer Go Big or Go Home.

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,998
    Location:
    Live Free and Ride, NH
    Fantastico! :clap
    #28
  9. Lobby

    Lobby Viel Spass, Vato!

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2003
    Oddometer:
    30,183
    Location:
    San Antonio, Tx
    :clap
    #29
  10. Renegade6

    Renegade6 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2004
    Oddometer:
    820
    Location:
    Ft. Riley, KS
    Great report.
    #30
  11. Sprocketeer

    Sprocketeer - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2007
    Oddometer:
    112
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Wowee! You've just convinced me to add Italy to my list of countries to visit.

    Great photos, but this one looks a little crooked, no? :lol3
    #31
  12. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    Since we were not in a hotel but an appartementino, we took our breakfast a few meters further, on a small bar located at the outer city wall, offering a magnificent view over the landscape :jkam. After taking a few more pictures of the Duomo and its surroundings, we headed off for a motorcyle round-trip :ricky around Pienza.

    Pienza at Sunrise. Our appartementino is that in the foreground
    [​IMG]

    Towards Asciano: The Crête

    We started towards the north, soon reaching the famous Crête that offers so many of the "typical tuscany views". On most photos this landscape looks sooo mooth and sooo pieceful, yet some of the road's slopes are truly steep, and the wind can blow quite strong here. Indeed I admired the people that take this road with the bicycles...

    On the way to Trequanda
    [​IMG]

    Near Val d'Asso
    [​IMG]

    The Crête, approaching Asciano from the south
    [​IMG]

    Soon we reached out first stop, the Abbazia di Monte Olivetto. Reportedly, the Congregation was founded in 1313 and was recognised by Pope Clement VI in 1344. The building of the monastery began in 1319, and the monastery took the name of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Major) so as to distinguish it from successive foundations (Florence, S.Giminiano, Naples, etc.).

    The buildings have some particular opening hours, and as we arrived there just about lunchtime it was, obviously :bluduh, closed. Thus, we started with a picknick under the trees in the park, then simply strolled through the (huge!) area for a visit. A tower with a drawbridge marks the entrance to the monastery site, while the abbey "as such" is located a few hundred meters further down the hill, towards the southwest: View on Google maps (the arrow indicates the parking). Since the entrance to the building was closed - as I said, the opening hours ... - , we limited the visit to a glance from the outside.

    Abbazia di Monte Olivetto, entry
    [​IMG]

    Abbazia di Monte Olivetto, view back towards the entry
    [​IMG]

    Abbazia di Monte Olivetto
    [​IMG]

    Montalcino

    The next stop was Montalcino - especially since the city is known as the center of the production of the famous Brunello di Montalcino :beer. However, since it was pretty hot we were not really in the mood for wine but more for some ... ice cream! It turned out that you can taste and buy wine virtually on every single street, but there was not a single gelateria open! Since we were rather tired, we went inside the Rocca (i.e. the fortress) and did what every reasonable person should do in the summer heat: Siesta :snore

    Montalcino
    [​IMG]

    Montalcino, Rocca ('fortress')
    [​IMG]

    ... comfortably installed!
    [​IMG]

    More to follow ... after the siesta :lol3
    #32
  13. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    After that good rest, both of us were feeling much better :thumb, and we went back to the bike. We wanted to visit Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, and the road led us out of Montalcino and towards the south-west, where a small sign almost on top of a hill directed us to the left. The following dust road :clap crosses a nice landscape, and after Villa Tolli we indeed found the road that, according to the map from Kümmerli & Frey, should direct us to the Abbey.

    The coarse direction was correct, and I already had the position of the abbey visible on my GPSr :evil. However, after a few curves we came onto a truck that blocked the road, and there were three men occupied with repairing the surface. Well, we walked around the truck and kindly asked if it was possible to pass. They looked a bit astonished and asked where we wanted to go, and when we said "Sant'Antimo" they shook their heads, waved their hands and explained (well, we're in Italy, so it was a lot of using hand and feet plus a lot of talking, of course :lol2) that this road was ab-so-lu-te-ly not rideable ... they were doing the repairs just because it was in such a bad state.

    Hmmmm.

    Martina translated to me (she was doing all the Italian conversation on the trip, since unfortunately I do not understand much of that beautiful language). One of the three workers overheard us talking in German to each other, and came over to us and ... started to talk in the broadest Bavarian (!) accent. It turned out that he had been living and working in Germany (no: in Bavaria) for many years, and he explained that if we went a few hundred meters back, then in the village near the fountain to the left and along the grass path on the hill and then onto the natural road into the valley etc. etc. etc. ... the way around the "obstacle". We chatted a bit, had a good laugh with him about the completely unexpected Bavarian accent here in Tuscany, and headed off the way they had indicated. The path was a little bit rough; some more or less deep and steep downhill tracks with solidified mud and ruts required a careful riding style. I would not exactly recommend this part of the track when it's raining, but since it was dry it was perfectly feasible.

    On a dust road near Villa a Tolli
    [​IMG]

    After a few minutes we arrived at the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo. Founded around the year 750, the site was prosperous for quite a while, but its decline started during the 14th century, and it was officially closed in 1462. It was not before 1978 (!) that a few monks came back to this site to live there, and today the abbey is a rather "basic", but well-maintained and charming place. Definitively worth the visit!

    Approaching Abbazia di Sant'Antimo
    [​IMG]

    Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, the nave
    [​IMG]

    Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, ooold olive tree
    [​IMG]

    Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, detail
    [​IMG]

    Martina and the GS in front of Abbazia di Sant'Antimo
    [​IMG]
    #33
  14. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    The way from Sant'Antimo towards Bagno Vignoni led us along Castoglione d'Orcia, with its impressive Rocca d'Orcia. Bagno Vignoni is located just "at the other side" of the valley that is overlooked by this fortress:

    [​IMG]

    It was well past 16 h, and Martina was really looking forward to get into the public bath that I had read so much about: One characteristic piece of Bagno Vigoni is a thermal water basin right in the main square of the village. Yet ... we soon had to find out that there is no way to access this "pool" directly: The only access would be via the thermal bath, which in turn is not a public bath but a medical institution, with the corresponding access times and big prices. Frustrating.

    Bagno Vignoni: the central basin
    [​IMG]

    Bagno Vignoni, but no bathing!
    [​IMG]

    We had a cappuccino, and Martina found some new hope by asking: Some publicly accessible bath should be at the southern end of the village. It turned out that this pool belongs to a hotel, and the entrance fee for the remaining hour before they would close for the day would be rather expensive, too. Grmbl. Now, I had read so much about natural thermal springs, and seen photos of happy people sitting in warm water in natural chalk basins ... where were they?

    When we just left the village again, a part of the mystery was solved: There were many people sitting just outside the city walls, with their feet in some kind of channel. This is where the hot water was diverted after use! We joyfully joined the people there, put our hot feet in the water and enjoyed the refreshment (yes, albeit the water is warm it is clearly a refreshment). From a nearby discussion we learned that this water had been much warmer in the past, and that the commercial (ab)use was increasing - not really in agreement with the desires of the locals.

    These channels lead to some roman installations at the very the edge of the rock, and when we followed the flow of the water we noticed that there were children playing in a huge natural water basin right at the foot of the hill. This was the place that we had been looking for!

    We got dressed again and rode to that place (which is, by the way, not indicated in any particular way; you just have to know that it is there). It turned out that the water was almost cold (from flowing over the rocks), but the mere gesture of walking around in this soft water (very rich in calcium sulfate; the bottom of the basin was covered with its soft mud) in the mild sunlight of a late summer afternoon has a very relaxing effect!

    Bagno Vignoni, a cold but very nice 'pool'
    [​IMG]

    Bagno Vignoni, a cold but very nice 'pool'
    [​IMG]
    #34
  15. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    It was around 18 h when we finally headed back towards Pienza, taking some more of the easy-to-ride dust roads. The light near sunset is just beautiful:

    Approaching Pienza from the south
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Sunset in Pienza
    [​IMG]

    We arrived at our place, has a shower and a rest, and then headed for the restaurant :dg.

    Total of the day: 115 km. How many sensations can you squeeze into 1/3 of a gas tank :rayof ?
    #35
  16. FreeRT

    FreeRT Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2006
    Oddometer:
    32
    Location:
    Italy - Pisa
    Welcome in my region ... :clap:clap:clap
    #36
  17. dooby

    dooby aka Frgich

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,252
    Location:
    Europe-Croatia-Zagreb-Lobagola B&B
    Love that medieval & reneissance architecture :clap:clap:clap
    Great pictures and writeup Joerg :thumb
    #37
  18. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    From Pienza to Pitecchio

    This time we got up early. So early that yesterday's breakfast bar was not yet open.

    We strolled along the central road to find a place for breakfast, and indeed found it a few steps from our house. Both coffee and croissants turned out to be not only better but even cheaper that in the bar that was on the wall. Apparently we had found the place where the villagers take their breakfast :D

    We packed our luggage, then carried it to the motorcycle. Since the GS had to stay outside of the city walls, I am always a bit worried of parking her unguarded, but nothing bad ever happened during the whole trip.

    From Pienza we moved :ricky towards the north, not exactly on the same roads we took yesterday but nevertheless passing via Abbazio di Monte Olivetto, and through Asciano again. From there, we ran along the Corniche that leads towards the north, and that offers "the typical Tuscany views". Further north, the SS222 turned out to be perfect for "riding the twisties" ... and indeed there were lots of hayballs and tires installed on the corners?! It turned out that the road was just being prepared for some mountain race that was apparently taking place on the coming weekend.

    Near Quercegrossa, the region is getting greener again
    [​IMG]

    Break on the SS222, near Tregole
    [​IMG]

    Olive trees and chianti, between Romita and Lucignano
    [​IMG]

    The house where Leonardo da Vinci was born

    We avoided Siena completely by taking the city highway around the south-west of the city, then headed to the north. This region is famous for its Chianti vineyards, and indeed the little roads led us to Vinci.

    Yes, the Vinci. The one in "Leonardo da Vinci". A short stop at the central place and a look into our guide book told us that there are at least two museums that are dedicated to the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. Since the day was hot (and our holidays a bit short :cry ... did I mention this already?), we were not really in the mood for extensive museum visits, and instead we went on. A few km north of Vinci we took the road that lead to Leonardo's birthplace, an old farm house in the green hills. We stopped for a break, and while the little museum on that site is not particularly impressing, the house itself as well as its surroundings are beautiful and calm.

    The house where Leonardo da Vinci was born
    [​IMG]

    Villa Vannini, an oasis of calm

    Moving further to the north on secondary roads, we approached Pistoia. We had planned to get to our next hotel, situated slightly north of Pistoia, rapidly, then go back to Pistoia again and do some shopping. Well ... this was the plan.

    It was a bit tricky to find the hotel, but the indication in the Michelin guide as well as the signs at the roadside helped indeed. The final section of the road before arrival at the hotel runs through a bright yet dense green forest, giving a first glance of the green oasis that awaited us. Indeed Villa Vannini is situated on the flank of the mountain. It is an old, completely renovated guesthouse, surrounded by a beautiful park with huge, old trees and enjoying the tranquillity of a toscan countryside. One particularity is that the building was renovated with a lot of love for the little details. As an example, the eight bedrooms are equipped with ancient furniture, and there is neither TV nor telephone in the room. The main room near the restaurant welcomes you like your own living room, the bar works as self-service with a notepad, and the motorcycle was allowed to park right near the main entrance. Add to the the charming welcome, the giant garden terrace and the cat - and it was obvious that we would no longer consider going back to Pistoia that day!

    We spent a very relaxed afternoon in the garden, writing the last postcards, reading, playing with the cat, or just dozing. After that came a delicious, very well-prepared tuscany menu :dg with the appropriate bottle of wine :beer, and off we were to sleep.

    Villa Vannini
    [​IMG]

    Villa Vannini: the house cat
    [​IMG]

    Total of the day: 189 km.
    #38
  19. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    67,011
    :clap :clap

    Thank for the feast for the eyes!! Simply gorgeous!!

    :lurk
    #39
  20. Joerg

    Joerg Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Oddometer:
    1,359
    Location:
    Lausanne, Switzerland
    From Pitecchio to the west

    After the truly relaxed evening, a quiet night and an excellent (I will have to revise my prejudice against Italian breakfast :D) breakfast, it was time to leave. We packed our luggage, said goodbye to the cat (and the ladies of the house) and hit the road. We had planned a quick visit to the Grotta del Vento and the marble caves in Carrara, then we would take the highway and head home.

    Well, this was at least the plan ... sounds familiar? :lol3

    Villa Vannini, the breakfast is ready
    [​IMG]

    Leaving Villa Vannini
    [​IMG]

    The day started slowly ... already the minuscule road that leads from Piteccio to the north (towards Pontepetri) turned out to be extremely narrow, and it took quite some time to arrive at the next stop. Campo Tizzoro not only has a post office (for the postcards :D), but also the baker shop right on the other side of the road provided us with perfect Cantucci :dg.

    The road towards Piteccio
    [​IMG]

    Bridge in Piteccio
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento
    Via San Marcello we joined the SS12, which leads in many curves down to Bagni du Lucca. Shortly afterwards, we turned to the north towards Gallicano, and from there on a small road to the Grotta del Vento. It is a spectacular cave that is open to visits (of 1, 2 or 3 hours), and we took the opportunity for a guided 1-h visit that was worth every minute of it! I simply let the pictures talk here ... and no, the names of the stone "figures" are not my invention :lol2

    Near Chieva, towards Grotta del Vento
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento, Martina and our guide
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento, Spaghetti
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento, Lasagne
    [​IMG]

    Grotta del Vento, stairs down to the deeper regions of the cave (our tour ended here)
    [​IMG]

    After a lunch in the nearby restaurant (situated about 500 m below the parking area of the cave, and a nice place - not a "tourist trap" at all!), we were in the saddle again. The map from Kümmerli & Frey indicates a road from the Grotta del Vento towards the west (which was acvtually one oif the reasons why we came to the Grotta), but we had to learn that this is a recurring error in this map that is present for decades now: Indeed we had to ride the 12 km back to Gallicano, and from there to Castelnuovo.
    #40