Pisa and Florence, the starting and finishing points of this trip are two of Tuscany's most famous names, lauded for their art and architecture; but in between this route winds though smaller, though no less beautiful or historic villages, getting cyclists off the main roads and onto Italy's scenic ancient ways.
The Tuscan countryside is famous for its burnt umber and sun-kissed colours and its undulating topography – most of the medieval towns sit on hilltops, viewing the olive groves and vineyards surrounding them – so this itinerary opts for not having to carry all your luggage on every leg. First Pisa and its surrounds are explored, then Lucca, then Vinci, before hopping the train to Florence. There are several potential routes between each town and each local sight, so this itinerary can be used both for relaxing rolls and more challenging cycling adventures.
Start your northern Tuscany rolling adventure in Pisa, most famously known for its leaning tower, but also the long-time home of Galileo (who used the tower to drop pebbles to test his theories of gravity) has more to it than one tower. Pisa is best seen at a walk rather than a cycle: a stroll around the Piazza del Duomo and the historic quarters could lead to the 12th century San Pietro a Grado or perhaps to Lord Byron’s former residence, Palazzo Toscanelli. Around the Tower itself, the magnificent Duomo and Bapistry make up an architectural trinity unequalled in Italy.
Leave your luggage in Pisa and head off into the pretty surrounding countryside. If you're feeling fresh take a spin UP the Monte Serra, which has an incline that looks to average at about 40 degrees, via the Certosa di Pisa Museum and monastery . If you stop in at the Piazza dei Cavalieri, which is Pisa's second most famous square, and another architectural treasure, on your way back the route is around 40kms, depending on where you're staying. It also involves riding though some lovely countryside without having to carry your luggage.
9kms east of Pisa is the pretty commune of Calci and once you've cycled through the centre of town you'll start to catch glimpses of the peaks of Monti Pisani whose rolling aprons and winding valleys separate the provinces of Pisa and Lucca. Once over the humps, cycle on towards Lucca, yet another charming medieval city with UNESCO World Heritage status – for both its medieval architecture and Renaissance era city walls, surrounded by rich fields heavy with local produce. Renew your strength in one of Lucca's charming restaurants – one of the ones with a reputation for creative concoctions.
Lucca is a good town to cycle round, and the surrounds are pretty. Potential highlights around town include Lucca Cathedral, the Guinigi Tower and the Villa Reale di Marlia, which was once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte's sister and is famous for its beautiful gardens complete with a garden theatre.
Some of the surrounding highlights within cycling distance is Torre del Lago, another pretty town, this time on the side of Massaciuccoli Lake, and site of composer Puccini's house and an annual festival celebrating his work. Puccini was born in Lucca and the house he was born in has been opened into a museum: Casa di Puccini, if you can spare a morning off the bike for that sort of thing.
After the potential for a shorter riding day on Day Four, Day Five covers 48kms: from Lucca to Vinci. Leave Lucca bound 21kms ride away to Altopascio, an important rest point on the pilgrims trail between France and Rome. After Altopascio the route skirts the edges of the photogenic marshes of Fuecchio, also great for twitching (birdwatching), before pulling in to Vinci, of Leonardo da to spend the evening.
Vinci is most famous for its most famous son: Leonardo da Vinci who was born just outside the town on the 15th of April 1452. Despite the spotlight Leonardo brought down upon the town, it still looks much the same as it did in his day, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. But the many visitors who come to see where Leonardo was born and the museum dedicated to his life, times and genius must be catered for and though the town still looks medieval, it's been fitted out with a more modern interior.
The Leonardo da Vinci Museum uses the Conti Guidi castle building to display many of his drawings and constructions based on them – the clock, tank and flying machine are some of the most familiar - and it's just a 3km ride to his birthplace between Vinci and Anchiano.
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