One of my most vivid childhood memories is sneaking out on my big brother's bike when I was about seven. I didn't have my own bike so I either stole away on my older brother's bike, or if that wasn't available, my dad's race bike. All of this to my mother's chagrin. She hid my tsinelas (rubber flip flops) to prevent me from going out riding. Girls, in my mother's opinion, were not supposed to ride bikes. They belong indoors, not out.
I ran out anyway, barefoot. How scorching that hot pavement was at high noon! It was like walking on coals. But I was unstoppable, burnt feet notwithstanding. I probably got a mean-ass whopping afterwards, but that is not what I (choose to) remember. I went on a bike ride and I was happy and free.
This love affair would come full circle close to thirty years later. When I proved unnatural in the snow and on water, I figured I would cut my losses and get on something I actually am good at since I was little - get on the saddle. Exactly one week before leaving for Italy, I got on a good mountain bike (a Specialized 29er, if you care) and rode trails in the canyons in our backyard all week. It was like being reunited with a long lost friend.
A week later, we would find ourselves in a less known part of west Tuscany (yes, in Italy!) called Punta Ala. People almost always associate Tuscany with amazing wine and great food, but unbeknownst to most tourists, it is also a massive playground for those who love the great outdoors. Its undulating hills are perfect for cycling - mountain or road. The weather in May was perfect - sunshine and blue skies, with temps hovering in the 70's. Not too hot, not too cold. From the top of one hill, one could see the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Elba, where Napoleon was exiled in the 1800's.
The best part of this sweet cross-country adventure was ending up at a very beautiful quiet beach, called Cala Violina, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the Italian peninsula. It was deserted when we got there, but according to our guide, Mario, it gets pretty packed in the summer. One can only get to the beach on bike or on foot. Again, Tuscany is not known for its beaches, but at from what we've seen, its coasts are stunners.
Here's a snippet of our little Tuscan mountain biking adventure. We didn't take too much footage and the ones we did, we took from our smartphones.
IF YOU GO
If this stokes even a little bit of your sense of wanderlust and you’re inspired to have a little piece of this adventure for yourself, I recommend PuntAla Cycle Tours without hesitation. Especially being out in the trail in a foreign country where the propensity for things to go awry is magnified, the stress and fear of getting lost and therefore, not having fun, is eliminated when going with a guide who knows the trails. PuntAla Cycle Tours also had pretty great bikes, which is another confidence boost on a foreign trail. The bikes we rode we’re 27.5” (we’re used to 29ers), but even still, they had hydraulic brakes, good shocks, and were lightweight enough.
The cross country trail we did required some experience and skill, with some challenging climbs that I had to walk. But even those I did not mind. I was just thrilled to be out in the wild, on a wonderful day in a tucked away part of Tuscany, doing one of the things I love doing the most. There are also easier and family trails, so I’d go out on a limb and say there’s something for everybody. And for the hardcore riders, there's some very challenging trails also. A Superenduro Pro race actually just barely wrapped up when we went.
PuntAla is easy to get to from either Rome or the central part of Tuscany by car. Instead of blindly following a GPS, I would strongly advise studying an old school map and outlining your route ahead of time.
For rates and information, go to the website of PuntAla Cycle Tours and Mario/Stephanie can be reached at email@example.com. They both speak English so language won't be a barrier if you don't speak Italian.