|Week of April 9-15, 1998
Moderate mountain biking in Methow Valley
Renting a bike in Italy
Sea-kayaking trips for beginners
Choosing a locale for a multi-sport family reunion
Renting a bike in Italy
Question: My girlfriend and I are taking a ten-day vacation to Italy in May. We're going to Rome, Florence and Venice but wanted to get off the beaten path, if only for a day or two. Since we're both avid cyclists, we thought about biking from one point in Tuscany (for example, Siena) to Florence, allowing us to see some of the smaller villages along the way. Do you know of any shops or agencies that allow you to rent bicycles in one town and return them in another? We were thinking that there may be a major store/agency in Siena or Rome (our arrival city) that also had a store/facility in Florence. Any suggestions?
Adventure Adviser: Your thought to enjoy some of the smaller villages by bicycle is a good one; however, unless you have experience navigating through the outskirts of Italy's bigger towns and cities, I'd suggest you stick to the countryside. Riding into Florence, for instance, is a harrowing experience, a bit like riding into Boston via the Southeast Expressway, although the signage is worse, the route more circuitous, and you're sharing the road with noisy and smelly vespas, Italian scooters. Even some of the biggish smaller towns, like Siena and Perugia, can be a real navigational challenge on a bike. One note of encouragement: Italian drivers are, for the most part, incredibly kind to cyclists-- even more so than to other drivers or pedestrians!
That said, I think your best option is to do a loop ride within Umbria or Tuscany. You could, for example, train from Rome to Perugia (about a two-hour trip), store your luggage at the station, and arrange a bike rental through the well-managed Punto Bici (39-075-500-2685). (Ciclismo Classico, the excellent Boston-based bike tour operator, works in conjunction with Punto Bici, known as the area's best bike agency and shop). Punto Bici's friendly staff can offer itinerary suggestions and assist with some of the travel logistics (for a fee). Nice rides in Umbria include the high road from Todi to Orvieto, or a loop ride from Montefalco to either Spello or Spoleto. Since bringing bikes on Italian trains is no big deal, you won't have a problem returning to Perugia at the end of your adventure.
In Tuscany, try renting through Centrobici in Siena (Viale Toselli 106, 0577-282550). Although you could start your ride in Siena and head to San Gimignano via tiny, walled Monteriggione, the traffic is a bit of a nuisance, and it takes a while to reach the more scenic environs. A better idea would be to catch the bus, or arrange for a shuttle through Centrobici, and start your ride on Siena's outskirts. A great loop through the classic Tuscan landscape of olive groves, vineyards and cypress trees (and red poppies in spring) might include Castellina-in-Chianti, Radda and Gaiole. A hillier option is a loop ride from San Gimignano to the Etruscan-rich town of Voltarra. Better yet, head into the white chalk hills of southern Tuscany and do a loop from Pienza to Montepulciano. Monte San Savino, Gargonza and Lucignano are other nice villages to hit in that area.
A third option: loads of bike touring companies pass through this area, and a number of ex-guides have set-up camp in Tuscany and lead small, custom-designed tours. They have infinite knowledge of the area and may be open to arranging a two-day trip for you. If that sounds interesting, contact Brett Naisby at 0577-738255.
Getting your hands on some good maps is key to your planning. The green Touring Club Italiano maps show excellent detail for plotting rides. Try the Globe Corner Bookstore on 28 Church Street in Harvard Square.