Is pedaling away from the madness the perfect sustainable Tuscany trip?

I’m convinced, no trip to Florence should be complete without taking the opportunity to travel through the Tuscan countryside by bicycle. Whether you are someone who prefers to ride all day through the vineyards and olive groves or would rather spend more time drinking at one of the hundreds of Chianti wineries. Escaping on two wheels is the best way to take a break from the flocks of tourists that mob

Florence every summer. Riding off the beaten path gives you the chance to eat among locals, discover a 300-year old church still in use and meet a small-scale olive oil producer. These visitors get the the chance to see that Italy is alive and well—surviving alongside the tourism factories in Venice, Florence and Rome.

Sustainable tourism Tuscany trip

Skip the line for your panino by riding out into Chianti

A handful of local companies has begun to emerge that cater to those interested in seeing Italy at a slower pace. The Slow Travel movement—like Slow Food—has deep roots in the land of pizza and the Giro d’Italia. These well-planned, self-guided bike tour packages offer the perfect balance for adventurous travelers who are cautious but interested: just enough written guidance to avoid wandering blind through hilly Tuscany, but without leaving you feeling like cattle being herded around on a crowded city bike tour. With your rental bike, detailed map and knowledge of a few hidden water holes, you are ready to set off into the sunshine.

The market for these tours is still small and the companies that organize these itineraries only offer a handful of routes to choose from making the process exclusive and unique. Tours can run between 4 and 15 days and often include lodging, gps or paper maps–even meals on certain days—but without the guide and group of strangers. Knowing in which small villages you will be able to find a filling lunch on Sundays (when many businesses are closed) and which dirt path will lead to a local waterfall or water spigot just off the trail is invaluable. There is just one thing to consider before you go, the prices for most of these trips can easily exceed 1000 euros per person. This steep price can deter many travelers looking to spread their budget on a 10-day holiday.

With more than 16 million visitors each year, Florence struggles to contain the side effects of being popular. Both travelers and destinations must consider the impact of tourism on the culture, the burden to the environment and especially the effect on the locals that share none of the tourism dollars. Adopting sustainable tourism is a way to protect these destinations for future generations. But in many ways, green travel is like green energy—it becomes effective when it garners enough participation to ease the burden of conventional tourism. A few hundred tourists choosing to explore Tuscany by bike rather than renting a car each year doesn’t have the impact Florence needs. Just like solar and wind energy a decade ago, demand for these alternative travel choices are affected by the outsized cost in comparison to other travel modes. As a result of the relatively high prices, self-guided bicycle tour packages still have low recognition and low demand. When most travelers are researching and planning their trips online, companies with only a couple reviews lose out.

Quiet cafe stop in Tuscany Sustainable tourism

Take as many quiet cafe stops when you set the pace

Drawing attention to the opportunity to fuel up on espresso and panino while riding through rolling Tuscan hills shouldn’t be difficult. But transforming this niche travel opportunity into a more popular alternative may not happen until it is accessible to everyone. I will be watching for some of these companies to begin offering trips that have a lower barrier to entry. Imagine how popular these would be if there were options that cost less, only last two or three days and include train travel to escape the city without intimidating city riding. It will be interesting to keep an eye out to see how these companies fare in such an overcrowded tourism market.

Keegan Burns
for Sustainable Tourism World

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