As the saying goes, “to each his own,” but Firenze is by far my favorite city in Italy (I should mention I haven’t yet made it to the Amalfi Coast). Florence, or Firenze in Italian, is the ever-so-beautiful, vibrant and bohemian capital of the Tuscany Region of Italy. It’s fabled Roman past gives it the same magical feel of many cities, but its history as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance is what makes this city so unique. The city is truly alive, but not in the chaotic ways of Rome or the tourist-slammed ways of Venice. The city’s quiet side streets boast amazing cafes and restaurants, but what makes them different than those in other Italian cities is hard to explain. Somehow you feel at home.
I truly believe one of the reasons I fell in love with this city is simply because we skipped the traditional tourist traps. I do somewhat regret missing the Uffizi and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo, but I would never take back our time spent elsewhere. Instead, we simply walked the city and biked through the Tuscan countryside. Walking the back streets of Florence is easy enough on your own, but if you plan to leave city limits on a bike, I highly recommend a tour group. You, like me, may be thinking a tour group equals a cheesy, unauthentic experience – but in this case, we’re wrong. We met our crew from IBikeItaly near the river, before we loaded up and headed to their storage facility on the outskirts of town. I will say a rather monotonous review of how to ride a bike took far too long, but I do realize the company must protect itself. Once we were set, our group of about 10, maybe even less, headed out. The ride wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t recommend it for those who don’t exercise regularly. Of course, the company does have a van accessible in case someone can’t bike the entire route.
Our guide let us go at our own pace which helped avoid the tour group mentality. Instead, he would simply give us a resting point at which to stop and wait for the remainder of the group. One such point was a plaque detailing Leonardo Di Vinci’s failed and deadly attempts to test his flying machine just outside of the quaint town of Fiesole.
A quick stop in Fiesole offered breathtaking views of Florence and part of the Tuscan valley. The chance to explore the town was minimal, but it was a great inclusion on the tour.
Once we mounted our bikes, we peddled deeper into the Tuscan countryside toward one of our final stops – lunch! And, this is what makes a tour worth it. Our small group was given permission to explore a small family winery and olive orchard. There was no tour guide. Instead, our bike guide grabbed boucoup bottles of wine and pulled out fresh apricots along with prosciutto and cheese sandwiches he picked up earlier that day from a Florence farmers market. After one of the most relaxing lunches in years, we pulled ourselves up from the soft grass in front of the villa to wander through the property. We tasted fresh olive oil pressed from olives grown on the property and stored in large, beautiful clay pots. While wandering aimlessly through the olive groves, we came upon the most beautiful and supple cherry tree. After picking and eating fresh cherries, Dan and I wandered back to the main house to purchase a single bottle of Chianti, which we plan to open upon celebrating our 10 year anniversary.
The ride back to Florence was a simple cruise down a long road winding past beautiful castle-like villas and event venues (look out for the floral, food and event planning trucks climbing uphill to begin setting up for evening galas). Once the bikes were checked back in at the storage facility, our guide drove us back to town..all those involved tired, but happy and grateful for the day outside of the city.
The start is a decently challenging climb up to the town of Fizole. We’re told it’s where Florence’s elite once spent their time outside of the city. It’s a quaint town building into the hillside. While I wasn’t one for doting on the actual village, I was wholeheartedly enamored with the view. Below Florence stretches across a valley surrounded by gently rolling hills. It’s nearby where we also stopped to learn about Leonardo DiVinci’s failed attempts at manned flight.