Biking (and eating) through France and Italy

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of August 6-12, 1998
Biking (and eating) through France and Italy
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Biking (and eating) through France and Italy
Question: I am looking for a combination cycling/dining experience in either Italy or France for September or October this fall. Any ideas?

San Francisco, California

Tuscany is the quintessential cycling and eating destination
Adventure Adviser: Not a hard challenge in Italy and France, particularly if you’ve got cash to burn. Since cycling is enjoyable virtually everywhere in both countries, I’d start your planning stomach first. Though French and Italian food is undeniably good country-wide, some regions are more culinary stand-outs than others.

Starting with France, Burgundy has long been a gastronomic gem, with stellar wines and rich cuisine. You can pedal through flower-filled fields and medieval villages by day then feast on foie gras at night. Come fall, the grape-rich Cote d’Or is particularly scenic for cycling. The chateaux-filled Loire Valley is another good choice. In addition to feasting on five-course meals, you can ride past ancient castles stopping to tour wine caves en route. For a third option in France, I’d suggest cruising the back roads of sun-splashed Provence. Riding by fields of lavender and wild rosemary will whet your appetite for the region’s fine cuisine, which has a more Mediterranean slant than most typical French food.

As for Italy, it’s hard to beat Tuscany for the quintessential cycling and eating destination. Signature scenery includes endless rows of cypress trees, groves of silver olive trees, villas awash in sunflowers and, in fall, golden vineyards. The riding is hilly and challenging, so you can mangia guilt-free and enjoy local delicacies like bruschetta, cinghiale (wild boar) and pumpkin and sage ravioli, washed down with some brunello or chianti. Southern Tuscany, of pecorino-cheese fame, is another worthy and less-discovered spot. And further south is verdant Umbria, with more varied riding terrain, lots of medieval villages and an equally as good but slightly heartier cuisine. Autumn is tartufi (truffles) season, so you can end a day’s ride with a plate of homemade linguini topped with shavings of this pungent and prized funghi.

For your upcoming trip, I’d suggest going with a first-rate outfitter that has perfected the cycling/fine dining combo experience. That way, you can rest assured that researchers have already found the most memorable Michelin-starred restaurants and uncovered the best rides for you. Plus, it’s always nice to eat with company. You can’t go wrong with either Backroads (1-800-GO-ACTIVE), just down the road from you in Berkeley, or Toronto-based Butterfield & Robinson (1-800-678-1147). Both companies have satiated many a happy rider on their luxurious cycling tours through Burgundy, the Loire, Provence, Tuscany and Umbria. There are numerous departures this fall, and a typical trip — ranging from six to nine days — will cost you between $2395 to $4825, including lodging and most meals but not airfare. Call for more information, or visit their respective web sites.

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