Written by Eileen Holland
The gently rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves of Umbria offer the perfect cycling backdrop. Exploring off the beaten tourist track, medieval hill towns, farms of wheat and sunflowers and spectacular views at the top of rewarding inclines, riders will experience the best Italian traditions of good local foods, good local wines, colourful local and religious culture and arts, and warm hospitality.
Umbria's central town, Todi, with its medieval buildings and authentic piazza is an excellent choice for a base, at the top of a hill it‘s easy to roll down and ride out every morning. From there you can take day trips along flat tracks to wine town, Torgiano, a better choice for riders looking for a base surrounded by level terrain, and Assisi with its famous art and pink tinged architecture.
Assisi is a popular tourist destination, so it's a busy place to stay, but nice on a day trip, the highlights would have to be the Basilica of St. Francis and the detail in the contrasting Roman and Pagan architecture.
Nearby Spello is a smaller version of Assisi, also built of stone tinged with pink from the iron in the soil. It's only about eight miles away but is overlooked by most visitors, yet still has lovely architecture and a beautiful church with a fresco by famous renaissance artist, Pinturicchio.
Also worth visiting is Bevagna, a small traditional agricultural town with a well preserved dry moat and wall.
Make sure you try the local specialty rolled pasta, umbricelli, traditionally prepared with truffles and olive oil and if you come during October you'll be there for the Chocolate Festival centred around Perugia, the Italian chocolate capital.
If you haven't been to Umbria before, it’s located right next to Tuscany, so the landscape is similar, but because it's more verdant much of the country is a miss matched patchwork of farms growing mostly wheat, sunflowers, grapes and olives. Towns are still very rustic, think warm, pale stone buildings and cobblestone streets and with less tourism local lifestyles are focused on agriculture and tradition.
Newer riders needn't be intimidated by the softly rolling hills and valleys, a good standard of fitness and confidence in the saddle are enough to enjoy this area on a bike and despite Todi's situation off the tourist bus route there are still varied accommodation options from small family run "agriturismos" or farm stays, to four star hotels.
October is a good time to come for the Chocolate Festival, but apart from that between May and June, and September, you have the most pleasant weather conditions. Bring a bike lock for when you want to leave your bike to explore the beautiful local churches or towns.
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The landscape of southern Tuscany varies from steep valleys and volcanic slopes dotted with spa towns to forests, lush vineyards and olive groves along the wide river banks. Seeing it by bike ensures you see as much as possible.
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