Cycling in Tuscany, an active and sustainable holiday

Lizet Wesselman - 30/05/2024

Cycling in Tuscany, an active and sustainable holiday

Lizet Wesselman - 30/05/2024

Tuscany is known worldwide for its rolling hills, quaint villages and rich cultural heritage. It is a region popular for road trips or trips on a Vespa scooter. Fantastic ways to explore this region, but both scooters and cars are not that sustainable. Looking for a more sustainable way to explore Tuscany? Then you can get pretty far by train and bus. But a bigger adventure is cycling in Tuscany! So I had to try this out for myself, so I arranged for an electric bike in the village of Montepulciano and set off. Here are my experience and tips for cycling in Tuscany.

Four ways to cycle in Tuscany

You have bikes and bikes, and you have athletic people and athletic people. There is something for everyone! I have a sneaking suspicion that the popularity of cycling in Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) somewhat parallels the rise of electric bikes. Because while cycling in the Netherlands is of course quite doable, it gets really challenging quickly once hills enter the landscape. So think carefully about your level of fitness and what kind of cycling trip best suits it.

Solo day trips: cycling around Tuscany
Day trips are an approachable way to explore Tuscany. Wonderful routes can be cycled from various towns and villages. You simply rent a bicycle for a day and set off. Then you decide how far you go, how hard you make it for yourself (do you follow the road or go up the gravel paths), how long you want to cycle and how many breaks you take. Usually you rent the bike for a day, so as long as you’re back by closing time you’re fine. Ask at the bike store what they recommend for day trips, they obviously know the region well and can recommend different routes within the time frame you want to stick to.

Daytrip with a guide
Do you like this kind of day trip, but prefer to go out with a guide? Someone who knows the way, can point out beautiful spots and a group that encourages you when the route is a bit tough? Then you can do an organized day trip with a group (or with your own family/friends group + guide). There are many fun options for this as well, regularly combined with a local activity as well. Like this fun bike tour by Urban Bikery that takes you to the region around Montepulciano, including a wine tasting. Or this “Bikes & Bites” tour from Lucca.

Self-guided multi-day route through Tuscany
Are you super sporty and used to cycling long routes? Then go for a multi-day cycling tour of Tuscany. The Via Francigena is a popular route, an ancient pilgrimage route that runs from the Alps to Rome, with beautiful stretches through Tuscany. Another beautiful multi-day route is the Strade Bianche, known for its cycling competition, which takes you on unpaved roads through the picturesque countryside.

There are companies all over Tuscany that can help you with such a multi-day cycling trip. Like this fun 8-day itinerary, of which you’ll be on the bike for 5 and get to rest for 3 days.

There are also companies that are located in multiple places, allowing you to cycle from A to B. Many of these organized bike tours include luggage services, where your luggage is transported for you. Whether you need this back by overnight, or want it taken to your final destination, often both are possible. How convenient! You often have the choice between an all-in package with accommodations and a mapped out route, or a simple bike rental with or without luggage service, where you decide on your own route and accommodations.

Looking for sustainable accommodations in Tuscany? Choose agritourisms. Then you will stay on farms or vineyards with the locals. Very cute, and you support a local family with an extra income.

Organized cycling holiday
Do you like cycling in Tuscany but find it challenging to go alone? For example because you don’t know your way around and don’t feel comfortable in traffic in a foreign country, especially as a vulnerable cyclist. This is very understandable! And that’s why there are organized cycling vacations. Set off with a fun group of sports enthusiasts, and a guide who will make sure you reach your next destination. A trip full of fun and support when you’re going through some tough times.

Like this 8 day route through Tuscany & Umbria, on paved roads, with 3 days of rest. The only disadvantage of a group trip is that you have to keep up with the group. So check if the distances are feasible for you, or if it’s better to opt for self-guided tours, where you set your own pace.

Cycling from Montepulciano

I chose option 1 and picked up my bike at Urban Bikery in Montepulciano, and went for a day of cycling in Tuscany. Val d’Orcia, to be exact. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best weather conditions (read: I had to reschedule due to a major storm). This meant I had less time than I had hoped, because I had to catch a bus/train back to Florence in the evening. The weather was still challenging, with strong gusts of wind that nearly blew me off my bike and an orange sky due to Sahara sand (which actually looked quite funny). Canceling was not an option, as I had been looking forward to this too much. So, I dropped my luggage at Urban Bikery and set off. All in all, I couldn’t complete the entire route I wanted to take, but I ended up just wandering around Tuscany, which I can only recommend!

Since Montepulciano is in Val d’Orcia, a region that has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2004 and is therefore extremely popular, you can enjoy plenty of typical Tuscan views. In fact, the town itself already offers a fantastic view of the region (see photo), and you only have to cycle down to find yourself amidst the rolling hills of Tuscany.

The famous Cypress Road
From Montepulciano, it’s 12 kilometers to the famous “Cypress Road,” which takes about an hour to bike. Nearby, there’s a little restaurant called “Dopolavoro La Foce,” where you can grab a bite to eat and/or have a drink before continuing your ride. It’s a very cozy, authentic Italian restaurant with mainly farm-to-table ingredients. It was opened in 1939 for the agricultural workers in the region, and though it has been somewhat modernized since then, it still offers authentic Tuscan dishes. Both during my road trip in September 2021 and my bike trip in March 2024, there were only locals there, so it might not yet be discovered by tourists.

Bagni San Filippo
From the Cypress Road, my plan was to continue cycling to Bagni San Filippo (16-20 km depending on the route), but unfortunately, this was not achievable due to the strong headwind. This is one of the many places in Tuscany where you can find hot springs, with a beautiful white salt wall as a backdrop. You might have seen photos of the wildly popular “Saturnia,” the stunning water terraces located further south. It’s an impressive place well worth a visit! However, it has become extremely crowded with tourists, making it less of a spot to relax in the warm water. Bagni San Filippo is smaller and perhaps less impressive, but therefore not “Insta-famous” and potentially quieter.

Of course, you can go elsewhere too. Urban Bikery has a whole map full of routes for you, with distances and average cycling times. Let them know how much time you have, and they’ll help you plan a fun route. You’ll then receive it as a GPS route, making it easy to follow on your phone.

My experience

I found cycling in Tuscany absolutely fantastic, and it had been on my to-do list for a long time. What a beautiful region it is! But I did notice that I had underestimated the hills of Tuscany, as well as the power of the electric bike. I thought, as a Dutch cyclist, I could handle it easily—how hard could it be? Well, it was hard. The weather wasn’t in my favor, but the hills were truly challenging. According to my route app, I had to climb 400 meters several times. Looking at the first photo, Montepulciano is indeed situated on a substantial hill. It took more effort and time than I had estimated, and I was poorly prepared with far too little power food. I had muscle pain everywhere the next day and stuffed myself with electrolytes, proteins, and magnesium in the evening to feel a bit more alive.

So don’t underestimate it! Be flexible with your schedule. Plan for breaks, take enough water (and possibly electrolytes) and food with you, and take your time. Unless you are an experienced cyclist (outside our flat little country), it might be tougher than you expect.

Not quite up for the challenge? A road trip is also a lot of fun! However, consider using an electric car. And a visit to Montepulciano is a must! It’s also accessible by train and bus. Read more about public transport in Tuscany here.