Motorcycle is the only way to see Tuscany. Of course, we would say that a motorcycle is the only way to see Italy, in particular the rolling panorama of rural Tuscany, but it’s true for both practical and romantic reasons. When Enrico Grassi of Hear the Road Motorcycle Tours invited me to join his Tuscany and Umbria: Heart of Italy Tour, I jumped at the opportunity.
However, he had billed it as a romantic tour, so I needed to take my pillion-in-a-billion, Mrs MBW. Mrs MBW didn’t take much convincing, although I did point out the practical reasons for a motorcycle tour.
They include but are not limited to: free and easy parking (you can sometimes even ride right up to an ancient monument and park right there or even in some “pedestrian” piazzas!); avoiding the mayhem of many traffic jams; quickly slipping past cars, tractors and buses on narrow roads; and a lower fuel bill than a car.
In the end, it was the elegant romance of the riding in this scenic countryside that really won her over.
Like most Italians, Enrico speaks with passion about his country and talks in terms of “hearing the road”, hence the name of his Roma-based motorcycle touring company. But he’s right. You really do hear, smell and feel the road in Italy. Riding through the quaint hilltop villages of Tuscany and Umbria you hear the cowbells, the church bells and the tooting of car horns and ringing of bicycle bells in traffic. You also catch the smells of freshly cut hay, coffee aromas drifting from cafes and the whiff of truffles and cheeses. And, of course, you feel the warmth of the Italian summer and the warmth of the people who all grew up riding scooters and motorcycles and quickly strike up lively conversation in stilted English with riders about their bikes and their ride. The Heart of Italy Tour is a week-long feast of sights, sounds and smells that just have to be experienced with friends, partners or riding companions.
It begins with an evening taxi ride into the bustling old center of Roma and a short walking tour of the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and the back alleyways to the Tiber. Enrico is the consummate tour guide with an infectious passion for his people, food and history. This is no follow-the-guide-with-the-flag tour with a written script. Enrico tells his personal tales from the heart as he takes us to a back-alley cafe for aperitivo (make mine Aperol spritz like most of the locals) and a selection of meats, cheeses, pizza and olives. We meander on to a restaurant down by the Tiber for a Roman feast, finished off with
espresso, Limoncello and a gelato.
Day 2 begins with a short ride out of Roma on to the ring road and the Autostrada for about 50km. It’s a transport stage that is thankfully over quickly in the sprinting traffic. Then Enrico exits on to the back country roads that make up the rest of our journey over the next six days, except for the final 50km leg of our return trip to Roma.
Our first day is 263km which seems short by Australian standards, but it takes up a full day’s riding thanks to the many breaks for coffee and lunch, plus the winding nature of the narrow roads. In fact, after hopping off the Autostrada, I can’t recall any straight roads the rest of the journey. Enrico rides here all the time on his BMW R 1200 GS Triple Black and knows every back road in the region. Interestingly, on day five of the tour we stop for coffee in Pienza and ask about a cute hilltop village we see nearby. Enrico tells us it is Radicofani which was our lunch stop on our first day! Even through we have covered hundreds of kilometres, we haven’t really gone all that far as we had been skipping back and forth across the landscape.
Picturesque Tuscany and Umbria
And what a picturesque landscape it is.Seems the Romans built these roads in ancient times to connect villages and move their vast armies around.They didn’t have massive earth-moving equipment then to make straight roads, so the roads follow the contours of the winding ridges and valleys, or zig-zag up and down steep hills.
I’m riding a five-speed Moto-Guzzi V7 II and it seems I’ll never see fifth gear again until the final day on the Autostrada. Instead, I’m mainly working the first three gears hard to negotiate the bends, switchbacks, hairpins and steep grades with a pillion on the back making me and the transverse V-twin labour hard. Rather than work, though, it’s an absolute joy. I could have taken a more powerful bike, choosing from BMWs, Ducatis and even Harleys, but the romance of this retro V-twin is just too tempting. It looks the part, attracts admiring glances from the locals and even has its own Italian temperament, skipping the occasional gear and sometimes momentarily refusing to start when it’s cold … or hot! Despite declaring this to be a relaxed ride, Enrico sets an “Italian pace”. And that means spirited. Yet he says he always allows for dawdlers and the odd photo stop along the way. After all, you can catch up pretty quickly with the frequent stops for sights, cigarettes and coffee! Not that anyone on our trip takes the opportunity to slow down or stop often. We are just enjoying the pace and the slightly blurred landscape tapestry flashing by.
Food and wine
Apart from the challenging roads and the rural scenery which could adorn a postcard or romance novel cover no matter where you aim your camera, the main attraction of Tuscany is its food and wine. Enrico treats us for the welcome and farewell dinners as well as our first evening meals in Siena and Orvieto.
On other occasions we still dine out as a group and ask Enrico to advise us on our meal selections, or, in the end, allow him to select for us. He knows the specialties of the house and the local dish, food, produce or wine for which that particular town is famous. So it’s not pizza or pasta carbonara every night. Instead, it’s a varied gourmet feast. He also selects the best wines, mainly the local Chianti Classico of Tuscany which is organic and doesn’t leave you with a red-wine headache at the start of the next day’s ride.
Read: Chianti wine Tour
Costs and inclusions
The Tuscany and Umbria tour includes transfers, accommodation, breakfasts, four evening meals and even a free Chianti wine-tasting evening. Apart from flights, you pay for the other meals, fuel, tips and entrance fees for historical sights, museums and churches you want to visit. It’s not a cheap tour, but our accommodation in Roma, Siena and Orvieto was four-star. We stayed three days in a hilltop 16th century inn outside Siena that was authentic, romantic and had one of the best views of the magical mediaeval town.
We also didn’t stay in Orvieto, but in the classy Altarocca Wine Resort overlooking the enchanting hilltop village and vineyard-filled valley. From these two bases, we took day-trip loops through the region, which is convenient as you don’t have to pack your bags every morning to move on to the next location.
Enrico arranges a very organized tour, but there is also some latitude to take a rest day to do some of your own sightseeing, dining, shopping or riding. It includes a rundown of each day’s ride and attractions, advice on local restaurants, road rules, tourist tips, some Italian translations, local recipes for you to try when you return home, plus the phone numbers of Enrico, the other guests and your accommodation. This is the level of attention that makes this tour worth every Euro.
Read: Luxury Motorcycle Tour