The Sienese landscape is well-known around the world. Some of the most notable filmmakers have chosen these lands for their films and the Renaissance began right here in these hills and here, the nature is unspoiled given that it is a protected territory. Along with some cyclist friends, I decided to follow this lesser-known itinerary that travels along some of the most famous white roads.
Given the length of the route on the first day, we decided to leave very early, and I personally recommend spring or autumn to ride these breathtaking roads. From Florence, you can take a direct train equipped with bike transport that arrives just below the historic center of Siena. When we leave, it's early, the air is fresh and clear, and we just have to head where the GPS directs us.
The Siena area, known as the "Terre di Siena", is dotted with hills and once you exit the centre, after just a few kilometers the road becomes narrower. The hills are peppered with centuries-old vineyards and farmhouses built with the light-coloured bricks particular to this area. As soon as we pass the village of Quercegrossa, the real reason for our early start is visible, the dirt road. Known as the white road, it's different from dirt roads in general as the earth is compact, often very light color. With a total absence of stones, it can get very dusty on hot days, but is incredibly compelling to cycle, especially in the early hours of the day.
This does not take away the difficulty of this type of road, which can and indeed does, climb up hills. Even if they are low, it can feel like a great difference in height. However, even though climbing is a therapy for me, we are happy to see the vineyards on the slopes of the hills, the manor houses overlooking the curves and embracing every breeze, finally feeling free. From this point on, we forget about civilisation. We come across very few cars and a small number of towns, travelling for many kilometers before reaching asphalt. I can see the happiness on my friends faces as they whizz through the vineyards and abandoned farmhouses. The route winds through a landscape of olive trees and lush forests, the wheels making a unique sound on this type of road.
A part of the Eroica route also weaves through this stretch. Every year, the professional cyclists of the Strade Bianche (White Roads) pass through. Our bikes aren't heavily loaded, but we did bring our lunch So, after passing Arbia and entering the heart of the Crete Senesi, we take a well-deserved stop for lunch. With the wonderful panorama stretching out in front of us, we can finally rest and savour nature's beauty.
If you happen to be cycling the stretch towards Arbia while it's raining, keep in mind that the clayey soil can be tricky, so I highly recommend knobby wheels and agile handling. From Arbia to Vescona, the itinerary continues along a stretch of the Via Lauretana, the historic pilgrimage path that connects Siena to Cortona through fields of wheat and the silvery landscapes created by the soil.
The simply stunning road continues. By now we are cycling in silence, all taken in by the beauty of the landscape and saving our breath for the climb to come. By the afternoon, we are looking forward to arriving at Radi, the historic stop that is part of the Eroica and our refuge for the night.
The morning air on the second day is very refreshing. Some buy a piece of schiacciata for the trip, others fill up their water bottles and we set off again. Here, the landscape of Crete changes again, however, the dirt road remains. Except for the Grotti climb, this stretch is slightly flatter than the first day. Oak forests, wide expanses of olive trees and many cultivated fields characterize the area. There are very few cars here too and it's very pleasurable to be able to ride without traffic.
The scents vary and the centuries of power in Siena and its countryside are visible in the houses we pass. Each village tells a story, and given that we have a shorter distance to travel on the second day, we have the opportunity to stop and discover them. One of the beauties of cycling in Tuscany is being able to stop and find a grocery store or a bar in almost every town, always stocked with the best local products. In order not to miss anything, we each grab a sandwich, and take another well-earned break.
From here, we find more standard roads, but after hours spent on clay, we are ready rediscover the asphalt and its smoothness. Two rain showers fall but the wind takes them away quickly and we continue towards the city of the Palio. Along the main road, you can still enjoy new landscapes and points of view. We are begining to get tired but the fatigue is compensated by the enormous beauty.
The last stretches before arriving in Siena are enjoyable ascents and descents. As a local told me, "Siena never comes", aptly describing how the hills make you feel like you are never getting close.
Nonetheless, entering Siena is spectacular, passing under San Prospero, climbing the streets and finally arriving, tired and happy. Since there is still some time left before the train, we take an hour to wander the streets of Siena. Pushing our bikes by hand given that pedaling is not allowed in the center, every time you visit Siena it is wonderful to rediscover the city with its incredible history and marble churches.
This also marks the end of our 48 hours, with a lot of dust and vineyards under our belt. On the train home, I look out at the hills and say farewell.