Other News All

Discovering the delights of a motorcycle ride through Chianti, Italy

First, it solves a panoply of parking and traffic problems as you slide past the tourists crawling through the narrow hill towns hunting for a place to ditch their rental cars.See the most-read stories in Life & Style this hour >>

There’s no bad way to see Italy. I’ve done parts of the country by train, by rental car and on foot, on multiple trips from Florence, Padua and Rome, and it’s never been anything less than terrific.

But seeing it by motorcycle, I discovered in June, is one of the best. Aside from the great roads and riding — there’s a reason Ducati, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta and other motorcycle companies were born here — a two-wheeled excursion delivers unexpected delights.

First, it solves a panoply of parking and traffic problems as you slide past the tourists crawling through the narrow hill towns hunting for a place to ditch their rental cars.

See the most-read stories in Life & Style this hour >>

Touring by bike also gets you out of the air-conditioned car or train and places you in the Italian landscape in a way that adds olfactory pleasures to the journey, as the country-smells of farms, fields and flowers join the city-smells of caffè and pane..

For a quick motorcycle tour of the Chianti region, I chose a 2016 Ducati Multistrada 1200. I’d ridden these able machines in the U.S. and recently used one for a multi-day L.A.-Carmel-L.A. jaunt. I thought the combination of sport bike spunkiness and touring bike cargo capacity would be ideal for a two- or three-day swing around the villas, vineyards and hill towns of Chianti.

I started with a visit to Ducati’s Bologna factory and museum — fascinating for anyone with an interest in motorcycles and a bargain at $11 — then rode the Multi to the farmhouse where my wife, Julie, and I were staying with friends in the Mugello valley north of Florence.

It was hot and muggy — nasty riding weather if, like me, you insist on wearing a helmet, jacket and boots — but I thought it would cool down in a day or two. Instead, it got hotter and muggier, more than 90 at midday, every day, and rising to 98 one afternoon.

Julie balked at the temperature and declined to ride. Left to ride solo and suffering from jet lag that had me awake all night and asleep all afternoon, I decided to do what I do when it’s too hot to ride at home: I hit the road at 6 a.m.

For the next several days I enjoyed some of the best riding I’ve ever experienced. I had the quiet country roads to myself. (The people of the Mugello and Chianti regions do not begin their day before 9 a.m.) Free of traffic, I slipped through the cool air as the sun warmed the fields and the blossoming linden trees and Scotch broom released their heady, honeyed scents. 

A motorcyclist loops around a hairpin turn in the Sambuca Pass northeast of Florence, Italy. A motorcyclist loops around a hairpin turn in the Sambuca Pass northeast of Florence, Italy. Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times A motorcyclist loops around a hairpin turn in the Sambuca Pass northeast of Florence, Italy. A motorcyclist loops around a hairpin turn in the Sambuca Pass northeast of Florence, Italy. (Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times)

In biker heaven along the curving, scenic roads around Chianti, Italy 

I based my riding route on a pair of roads that bisect the Chianti region, following the recommendations of motorcycling friends. Both were said to offer the best in curving climbs, bella vistas and access to attractive hill towns.

I left Florence headed south on SR222, which twists and turns as it climbs into the foothills. Along the way, the narrow two-lane road slows for the hill towns of Strada and Pieve di Panzano.

The traffic was light and the going was good, and road reviews proved accurate. As the day warmed, I skimmed past fields of wheat and corn, groves of olive trees, and farms growing sunflowers and lavender. Oh, and vineyards — this was Chianti. The highway passed hundreds of acres of vineyards, the knotty grapevines dotting the rolling hills like stitches on a tapestry.

Entranced and happily humming along, I rode the Ducati Multistrada 1200  south to the walled hill town of Castellina in Chianti, where I met my car-bound traveling companions for lunch.

We ate a delightful meal at  Le Tre Porte on a pine-shaded patio overlooking terraced vineyards. Then I left them to their rented Fiat Panda and continued south, riding the 222 all the way into Siena, where, having enjoyed the ride, I turned around and repeated the route past Castellina and east on SR429.

This equally twisting two-lane road led me to Radda in Chianti, another walled hill town dominated by the massive San Niccolò church.

Fortified by a strong macchiato, I rode the 429 back toward Castellina, then on past Poggibonsi to an agriturismo (farm stay), Podere La Lucciolaia, near San Gimignano, where I’d booked a room for the night.

Riding through Greve in Chianti on SR 222. Riding through Greve in Chianti on SR 222. Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times Riding through Greve in Chianti on SR 222. Riding through Greve in Chianti on SR 222. (Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times)

Fresh fruit, pasta and wine pair well with a motorcycle tour of Italy 

It’s Italy and it’s summer, so the food, accommodations and sightseeing are splendid. I made side trips from my agriturismo lodging —  these farm tourism sites  now dot the countryside in increasing profusion — riding through north from the Val d’Elsa, inspecting the charming hilltop villages of Certaldo and Montecatini Alto.

Still beating the heat, I cruised through the narrow, winding streets early enough to catch the aroma of cafes and bakeries serving their first customers of the day.

The street markets were brimming with fresh apricots, nectarines, zucchini and their fiori di zucca blossoms. My wife, Julie, and I and our friends ate our fill of regional specialties such as pappardelle con cinghiale — wide pasta noodles in a sauce of wild boar.

We ate more than our fill of gelato, overindulging in the freshly made albicocca — from all those fresh apricots — and a subtle, creamy vanilla-like concoction known as buontalenti. We were told it was named after Bernardo Buontalenti, a 16th-century Florentine architect, engineer and artist better known for the fountains and grottoes he designed for Florence’s Boboli Gardens than for the ice cream flavor he invented.

Though we visited the Boboli, I believe we admired his ice cream even more.

The wine drinkers in our foursome were delighted by the Vernaccia, a local varietal long associated with San Gimignano. (Dante mentions it in his “Purgatorio.”) This crisp, dry white wine proved the favorite of the entire trip.

The sound of one night in Harlem Caption The sound of one night in Harlem

This video covers my rookie night in Harlem, and it was a big one: sidewalk drummers, amateur night at the Apollo, one retro speakeasy and one swinging jazz dive.

 

This video covers my rookie night in Harlem, and it was a big one: sidewalk drummers, amateur night at the Apollo, one retro speakeasy and one swinging jazz dive.

 

A difficult and important visit to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Caption A difficult and important visit to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

A glimpse of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site near Eads, Colo. 

A glimpse of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site near Eads, Colo. 

Taking a motorcycle on Italy’s streets? Brace yourself for seriously bold moves  

A word, please, about Italian drivers. They were weaned on Ferraris, Alfa Romeos and Lamborghinis. They are expert operators, generally, who seem to think every trip to the supermarket is a Formula One event.

On a quiet country road, they’ll come up behind you fast and sit on your bumper before executing a daring pass, seemingly in the face of oncoming traffic. On a multiple-lane road, the “fast” lane is for fast cars only. If you’re in their way, they’ll let you know it with a flicker of high beams, often followed by a flick of the finger.

And the motorcyclists! Street riding is taken seriously in Italy. The riders are all helmeted — it’s the law — and they are also for the most part well-equipped with high-grade leathers and boots. I’ve seen gay blades swanning around Rome on Vespas, wearing shorts and flip-flops or espadrilles, but on the Chianti and Mugello roads I saw mostly well-protected riders, riding professionally.

Lane-splitting is allowed in Italy, and local riders lane-split across the center line. On some of the famous northern passes — the Futa, the Sambucca and the Muraglione — the more aggressive ones pass across the center line on the curves. How they know another biker, coming the opposite way, isn’t doing the same thing at the same time, I don’t know.

I never saw the head-on, two-cycle collision I kept expecting. As I said, these are good riders. I tried to resist the impulse to emulate them.

charles.fleming@latimes.com

Chianti Chianti Los Angeles Times Chianti Chianti (Los Angeles Times)

If you go

THE BEST WAY TO FLORENCE, ITALY

From LAX, From LAX, Air France, Lufthansa, Alitalia, KLM, Swiss and British offer connecting service (change of planes) to Florence. Restricted round-trip airfares from $1,106, including taxes and fees.

TELEPHONES

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 39 ( the country code for Italy) and the local number.

HOW TO RIDE

Rental bikes are available from several Florence-based companies. HP Motorrad offers a variety, including a Ducati Scrambler for $86 a day ($442 for a week) and a Multistrada for $121 a day ($580 for a week). The company also rents a full line of BMWs and, if you really want to stick out, Harley-Davidsons. Visit www.motorbikerentitaly.com/home.html, email rent@hpmotorrad.com or call 02-58102644.

Rental bikes are also available from CIMT (www.cimt.it/rental.htm)

WHERE TO STAY

Podere La Lucciolaia, 30 Localita Casaglia, San Gimignano; 0577-950123, www.agriturismolalucciolaia.it. We stayed in this converted country farmhouse that offered a welcome swimming pool, very welcome air conditioning and substantial free breakfast. Doubles from $110.

WHERE TO EAT

Le Tre Porte, Via Trento e Trieste, 4-6-8, Castellina; 0577-741163, www.treporte.com. The Cinghiale alla cacciatore, at $11, was superb.

Locanda San Domenico, 20 Via del Castello, San Gimignano; 0577-940206. This friendly bistro has a terrific garden terrace with a “vista panoramica” that improves the adequate but unexciting food. Dinner entrees start at about $12.50.

TO LEARN MORE

www.cianti.com

 

Source:   latimes

Comment
Your comment has been forwarded to the administrator for approval. Thank you.
Your comment is approved, thank you.
Name surname
Comments