Earlier this month, after weeks of scorching temperatures in the city, I decided I needed an escape to the countryside. I didn’t have a full weekend, but I was motivated to ride through Chianti on the Via Francigena. I wanted a ride that was approachable; a ride that was cheap, simple and rewarding.
On Sunday, the weather was forecast to be a whopping 40° C by mid-day. I packed as much water and snacks as I could fit on my bike and headed to the station to start my ride. By the time I finally arrived at the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, the next train headed for Poggibonsi was scheduled for 11:10. I would ride 40 kilometers after disembarking in Poggibonsi and then hop of the return train out of Certaldo station. I would be doing simple point to point journey tracing a 1500 year-old road while relying on TrenItalia for the rest of mileage.
The Via Francigena runs from Canterbury, England through France, Switzerland and Northern Italy ending in Rome. It represents a historical pilgrimage route that would have taken months to complete by foot. Since being designated as a Culture Route by the European Council in 1994, it has been used by recreational hikers, bikers, and runners—some even choosing to travel the entire route. On a 40° summer day, the section running through Chianti was all but abandoned, with only the occasional short-sighted bicyclist suffering in the heat.
The trail was designed to be easy to follow with trail markings and waypoints at every fork—theoretically you don’t need a map to follow the route which would satisfy my qualification of the ride being simple. In practice, along the sections I rode, signs were often missing at ambiguous trail intersections that required modern pilgrims to hazard a guess or check the GPS on one’s phone.
The trail itself was usually packed dirt or crushed rock with occasionally asphalt connections. Nothing too technical for most casual bicyclists, and quite scenic! I rode for 15 kilometers before reaching San Gimignano for lunch. If you have never been to San Gimignano, it is a stunningly beautiful hilltop town overlooking some of the best vineyards in Tuscany. Just don’t plan on visiting between April and October; the summer season is an absolute circus in the tiny town with parked cars lining the roads in every direction. After a quick lunch in the sun, I had to be on my way to preserve my sanity.
Five minutes outside of town, the trail begins again and I’m again riding towards England wishing for a bit of British weather. Since I can’t make it to the English Channel today, I’m forced to look for another way to cool off this afternoon. I’ve chosen an outdoor spa (read: pool) called Terme della Via Francigena in Gambassi Terme. Unfortunately, there are no cool drinks to be found when I finally arrive so I spend a few hours splashing around in the pool before hoping back on the bike for the 8 kilometer downhill ride to the train station.
Total cost: 12 euro of train tickets, 10 euro lunch, 8 euro pool entrance
Difficulty: 3/10 under normal conditions—bring a map or phone, water, sunscreen and a camera
Anything else to bring? Don’t forget a couple 1€ coins for coffee along the way