The word Tuscany conjures up many images, ideas, perceptions and perhaps even flavors. For the American it signifies a quintessentially Italian landscape, food and wine. Ironically, it is the same for an Italian. It is all things that Italy is supposed to be, for Italian and foreigners alike. Brunello, Florence, Michelangelo, Chianti, Under the Tuscan Sun, etc, etc, etc…
I am lucky enough to have had a long association with it. Like the Dolomites, I went there during travels years ago, fell in love with the place, and promptly went right back to spend time living and working in the Chianti Region. There I picked olives, made olive oil, built a vineyard, lost the hard “C” in Italian (Che hosa/hoha hola, etc…) and learned to swear like a true Tuscan, “Maremma……….”
Last week we spontaneously decided to head south for warmer temps, Tuscany was just the spot. For Janine, days of running and lounging in the sun, drinking fine wines and eating good food pulled her. For me, as usual, the bike. Training camp time.
Our first stay was in Chianti as I had a strong desire to ride the roads of the area in which I lived 12 years ago. Little had changed in all this time and in no time at all I felt I had never left. Next up we headed to Pienza, a small village we knew nothing about but which came highly recommended. There, we discovered heaven. The Val d’Orcia is a UNESCO region comprising of the famous Tuscan towns Montalcino and Pienza. Both, perfect medieval villages that are exactly as one imagines a Tuscan medieval village should be.
But the hero of the area is the landscape one looks upon from the villages. Where one typically marvels at nature’s creation, in the Val d’Orcia it is man’s sculpting of the landscape that keeps one staring with a kind of sublime respect for what humans are capable of. Nature, and mans place within it, as art, the landscape as an art piece, and most certainly a masterpiece of simple elegance. Why I had never heard of this area I have no idea, and upon returning home to the north of Italy, discovering that Italian friends know little of it has me further baffled.
When I set out on my first ride from Pienza, I dropped out of the walled village’s gateway and entered the landscape we had spent the evening staring at. It was morning and the sun’s gentle rays were dampened by mist. Within minutes I had extraordinarily strong sensations from the feel of the air, the scenery, the sounds and especially the smells. One minute I was reminded of Alaska, the next the plains of India, then Iceland, Chile, Eastern Washington, northern California, one after another, memories from all these other beautiful places. I realized it was because in Tuscany the landscape takes the best from everything and with a wave of the Tuscan hand’s magic wand combines it all to make what see in the postcards.
If you are a cyclist it goes a step further, not only is it a perfect landscape to enjoy, but the roads are nearly void of cars with the silkiest, smoothest asphalt one can imagine. A 5 hour ride is not nearly enough to satisfy the curiosity of what is around every S-curve or hilltop.
Simply put, go to Tuscany.