When we started planning a summer trip to Italy, our friends Tim and Julie immediately said: bike tour in wine country! Of
course, it’s an iconic activity for Italy in summer. Don a helmet and hit the countryside. At the beginning of our research, Greve in the Chianti region seemed to be the hot spot to bike and wine. Immediately, I balked. Neil and I love bike tours. We’ve seen parts of Toronto, Chile, Ayutthaya, and Bolivia on bikes. But anytime the mainstream outlets superhype a particular destination, I sit back and shake my head, conjuring thoughts of small towns choked with tourist buses and once quaint trattorias cluttered with diners asking for Chianti. For many people, these tours are the best way to see a large amount of the country within a sliver of time. But we had some time carved out of a whirlwind itinerary, earmarked specifically for a one of a kind tour of an Italian winery.
So I searched.
Not on the main google page for “web”. I searched specifically on blogs, run by actual humans who write about their passions and publish their findings to the world. I found a blog run by a woman completely in love with a little medieval town called Lucca. That’s when things got interesting. I continued looking for pictures and information about this little town, 90 minutes outside of Florence and sharing a stop along the Firenze-Pisa train route.
Tuscany Ride a Bike Tour in Lucca
We met inside the city walls at 9am, greeted by our guide Andrea who organized our bikes, helmets, and Tuscany Ride a Bike water bottles. We had a small group of six people–all smiling like cheshire cats. All of us happy that we’d found a little town that we could keep all to ourselves. Our group had walked through town the night before, mesmerized by candlelit restaurants inside stone buildings. Little plazas dotted the town, flanked by old buildings painted in faded warm colors. By the time we’d tested our bikes and breaks, we were ready for the highlight in Lucca: the tour along the Serchio River.
Of course, our first stop was at a classic Italian water fountain. We filled up our water bottles and peddled through the high city walls into the countryside.
The Tuscan sun is beautiful and spreads a warmth over the countryside that makes a naturally beautiful landscape even more breath-taking. The river cuts through the green fields and men sunbathe at the edge. Couples picnic on little pebble beaches. On our 6 hour tour, we were the only tourists on the trail. Locals zipped by us dressed in tight biker outfits. We’d shout “Lance” to warn each other of these chiseled oncoming bicyclists, and to distinguish them from the many cars, mopeds, and all the farm equipment that we were sharing the countryside with. Large bushels of hay sat on their sides and some local kids waved “ciao” and “How are you?” to us.
Wine Tasting in Lucca
If you’ve been on a wine tour before, then this stop will be familiar to a point. When I’ve been wine tasting on Long Island, New York and the Sonoma Valley in Californina, I’ve always felt very rushed. I lay down my money for a tasting, I get three pours, some questions answered (if I ask them nicely), and the tasting ends with a price list slipped under my nose.
Outside of Lucca and with our guide, it was quite different. We first toured the grounds at Sardi Giustinia Winery, visiting the vineyard and the cellar where the wine is produced. Our host — explained the types of barrels that they use (French and American oak) and pointed out different varieties of grapes. Next we trotted up to the tasting room.
A long table with white-cushioned chairs sat in a long room. Our host presented six signature bottles that they currently produce at the winery: three white, three red. When she asked which we’d like to try, the six of us laughed. “All!’
Without a second of hesitation, she replied, “Of course.”
Then in a civilized manner, we sat around the table as we began with whites and moved through the reds. No rush. No pricelist. Nothing but casual conversation about the history of the winery that was inherited by two brothers from their grandfather. By the last bottle, we were on our feet, taking pictures of memorabilia around the room. We decided to buy two bottles from the winery and had to pick up our jaws from the floor when we saw the cost of each bottle. 4 Euro per bottle! About $5 each.
Lunch at an Italian Agriturismo
After an hour of wine tasting and chatting, what do you do next? Eat, of course. We headed out at a sharp clip, Andrea assuring us that although we didn’t have time to stop for more pictures along the way, we’d have time later… after lunch.
The agriturismo was an organic farm and small-batch winery, run by one man and his wife. During harvest, his neighbors pitch in to bring in the grapes. But the rest of the year, he farms and welcomes small groups to his lunch table. His wife hides from the camera but proudly serves dishes from her kitchen, homemade and from the land outside her door. For Neil and me, this was the second time at an agriturismo, the first being in the amazing countryside of Marche. We loved both immensely.
More wine sat at either end of the table. White was chilled and beading with condensation. The red was dark and ruby red. Andrea joined us for the meal, saying this was a great perk in his job. He heartily dug into the dishes: salami, eggplant, omelets, cheese, zucchini, hand-rolled pasta. As much as I loved each bite, I think he enjoyed it just as much. When the cook came out to check on us, she asked if everything was okay. Andrea twisted his lip and shook his hand, saying “Mm… so-so”
He got a quick shoulder shove in return.
When the first two bottles emptied, another round followed without us having to ask. We were welcome to enjoy ourselves. Eat what we want and drink either type of wine. I told my friends that Italian cooks don’t like leftovers. They are interpreted as if the dish was not good enough to eat. So we sopped up fresh tomato sauce with bread and slid the last portions of zucchini from the platters, washing it all down with smooth Tuscan wine. Hey, who were we to offend.