10 Tuscan Treasures
Why is Tuscany first on the list for so many? How many times have you heard past travelers returning from the region spill out “I just looove Tuscany!” It might have something to do with the overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes, the genuine Tuscan people, stunning wine routes (paved and gravel) the perfect mix of salty meats, fresh, seasonal veggies, robust Sangiovese wines and a whole range of amazing tasty bits and treasures that speak to many.
We’re not alone in this love affair.
So! After living here myself for more than a decade and considering Tuscany is the birthplace of Ciclismo Classico, we’ve got a running (mixed) tally of delightful Tuscan-stamped people, places and experiences that explain why several of our alums often take a bike tour in La Toscana–over and over again.
Undoubtedly there are more than 10 treasures in Tuscany. But, here’s one place we shine like no other so let’s just start with ten. After all, Ciclismo Classico began offering its first bike tours here 30 years ago. These are the treasures we treasure. So I’m taking a moment here to share a few things you may or may not know about our most beloved home-base, La Toscana.
One: Ciclismo Classico Began Right Here In Tuscany!
It all started here. We know Tuscany THE best, by default.
La Lorena, Lauren Hefferon, Founder of Ciclismo Classico reflects on her early days in Italy: “The highlight of my time in Florence was being a part of a large cycling club that would join other cycling clubs in the area on the weekends for a massive (and super fast) bicycle ride. Each weekend, the rides would follow a gorgeous route into the hills of Tuscany. Within a year of my three-year stay in Florence, I had learned all of the most gorgeous roads!”
It all started with a passion and a curiosity for Italy. In search of her Italian roots and gorgeous roads to ride, Lauren Hefferon’s year-long Rotary scholarship to Italy evolved into a three-year cultural immersion, which included hanging out at Mario Conti’s bike shop in Florence (and learning the local dialect), racing for his team while discovering Tuscany through her new network of fun-loving Italian cycling friends. Lauren founded Ciclismo Classico in 1988, realizing a dream of combining her passion for cycling with her love for Italy. And, in fact, this love affair all started in Tuscany.
Two: Everyone’s Favorite Subject (yes, food!)
Tuscan food and wine. The customary recipes of Tuscany are simple, highlighting the quality of each ingredient found at the local market each week often resulting in an easy preparation. The cuisine is so ingrained into the heritage of the region, the local government compiled a “Tuscan Food Pyramid,” as a geographic representation of what are considered the 70 most important products seen on the Tuscan table. The table highlights the importance of ingredients like cheese, legumes, vegetables, and fruits, as well as white meats and wine.
We’ve got all kinds of organic talk going on here. Biologico (organic). Biodinamico (bio-dynamic). Synergetic or permaculture gardening. Zero-kilometer, and so on. If you’re living the healthy, active lifestyle and interested in what the Tuscan people are doing organically speaking–the conversation is endless.
Three: The Sport of Ciclismo Is A Tuscan Tradition
Tuscany is the place, as many agree, to cycle in Italy. Tuscany has a long tradition in cycling. Indeed, legends like Bartali, Cipollini and Bettini trained right here in this territory. I personally had the experience with my youngest son raced for a few years (ages 9-10) on a local team and it was at that point that I understood–first hand–just how serious the Tuscans are about cycling.
The region is quite large with 23,000 square kilometers and there are distinctly different areas to explore in a bike tour. There are coastal, rural, hilltop and urban areas. Our various multi-day bike tours in the region offer both novice and seasoned cyclists an authentic “welcome home” experience of the region. You will find hills; about 66% of Tuscany is composed of hills and another 25% mountains – as the region is part of the Apennine range.
Four: An Ancient Civilization Called Etruria
Etruscans abound. Who? You may or may not have heard about this robust pre-Roman population of people (and where women played a very strong role in society!). But the Etruscans may well be the most fascinating prehistoric people you’ve never even thought about. Their fascinatingly advanced culture laid a foundation for the Ancient Romans, and ultimately for all of Western Civilization. They also warned Julius Caesar about the Ides of March and give their name to the region of Tuscany.
But, despite all of this, the Etruscans left virtually nothing tangible behind — shrouding their distant civilization in mystery. A few a-mazing museums in Tuscany display what does survive, including delicate artwork (like the hauntingly beautiful statue called The Evening Shadow, or L’Ombra della Sera) and evocative funerary urns in Volterra. Or the famous Etruscan bronze lamp in Cortona’s MAEC. The “showy” Etruscans with big personalities lounging at an eternal banquet for the gods! Come to Tuscany and you’ll get heaps of this good stuff. Even elaborate road-side tombs to check out on your rides!
Five: Renaissance Vibes Everywhere
Cradle of the Renaissance. That’s where we are. Immersed in it. Living it joyfully here is Tuscany. On any one of our Tuscan rides, you’ll pass through numerous tiny villages that inevitably have some sweet little gem (a painting, a church, a fountain, a building) dating back to the Renaissance period. It’s an endless treasure hunt!
The Renaissance age in Tuscany coincides with the apogee of Florentine power and with the establishment of the Medici family, whose patronage is responsible for an extraordinary blossoming of culture and the figurative arts. The progress of Humanism, the revaluation of the central figure of man, in thought and praxis, will determine a revolution in the creative, architectural, sculptural and pictorial sides.
The study of the visual proportions and harmonies, the geometric approach towards the classical beauty standard, in response to the prevailing gothic style, lead to a new dimension, forewarning a deep change not only in Italy but throughout Europe.
Six: Our Resident Tuscan & Backstage Bike Expert
Our amazing top-end Bianchi bikes & bike maestro Aldo Papini.
The word maestro in Italian means “teacher” but it also means “master” or “expert.” Aldo is just that.
Aldo Papini, our in-house bike manager and mechanic, has lived in Tuscany all of his life. Twenty years ago, he began working with Ciclismo Classico and today he works closely with the multi-talented Paola Secco (the woman in front of the scene) who oversees every aspect of the tour (check-in/check out of vans, guides–all logistics and details). Aldo looks after bicycle quality, maintenance, and improvements in our bike fleet.
Bianchi. It’s the legendary blue steed that made Fausto Coppi the “champion of champions” and Marco Pantani the king of the hill. It still turns heads around the world. It’s your personal bicycle, your new best friend as you pedal your way to exciting adventures. Stylish, a little racy, and quintessentially Italian, all of our bikes are custom-built for Ciclismo Classico.
For 2020, we have all sorts of goodies and new surprises to share with you, including more E-bikes.
Seven: Welcome To Our “Home”
This is home: Casa Nostra.
With our team on the ground in Tuscany we’ve been able to diversify and offer a range of tours in the region. We’ve been running trips like Assaggio Toscana, Heart of Tuscany, and Tuscany Green for decades. More recently we’ve added some exciting theme trips like Tuscany and L’Eroica (the vintage ride) and Via Francigena (a beautiful pilgrimage route).
We’ve got Tuscany covered!
Eight: Experience A Real Tuscan Agriturismo
Hosting guests in Tuscany is our craft, passion, and livelihood. Il Molinello: Sandro & Elisa.
Sandro Draghi is a property owner and a tour guide. So, his approach is dual. His role puts a new spin on the concept of accoglienza or hospitality. This enchanting farmhouse Agriturismo il Molinello, where he lives with his wife Elisa, on the outskirts of Asciano, Tuscany. He and his entire family (grandparents, wife and children) orchestrate the daily activities of running this delightful, historical place: a restored mill that dates back to the 13th century. During the tour season, while Sandro is out leading trips around Italy and beyond, Elisa holds down the fort–among a million other things this talented woman does. Guests who have experienced the magic of Sandro’s home, il Molinello, have described is as “a place of beauty but above all, a place were you are surrounded by graciousness.”
Nine: Scores of Tuscan Talent
At the age of 15, Jamie Marie Lazzara decided that she wanted to have a profession that would mix art and music: she was gifted in art and had been playing the violin since she was eight. When she decided to become a violin maker she was told that it wasn’t a profession for women, but that didn’t stop her. She was determined to make her dream a reality. At 19, she traveled to Cremona, Italy to attend the most prestigious violin-making school in the world.
Today, Jamie builds custom instruments as well as period instruments, like citterns, and kit violins, for renowned musicians, local artists, and even for the likes of Barack Obama. Here is an excellent short video about Jamie and her work.
Ten: There’s A Wine Maker In The House
Long time guide and Italy-based manager Massimo De Laurentiis has dug his hands deep into the rich soil of Tuscany, learning the ropes of wine production.
When he is not on the bike, Massimo now spends his days immersed in his Tuscan Soul vineyards just outside of the gorgeous village of Cetona–listed among the 100 most beautiful villages in Italy. The town is located on the wine road that goes from Montepulciano to the south and is characterized by a unique microclimate, thanks to the protective mantle of Mount Cetona.
According to Massimo, the name Tuscan Soul means the air one breathes at his place is typical of Tuscany. Downright soulful.