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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.

Bicycling on the Via Francigena - sustainable tourism in Tuscany - Stouw

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.

Bicycling on the Via Francigena - sustainable tourism in Tuscany

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.

Bicycling on the Via Francigena - sustainable tourism in Tuscany

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.

Bicycling on the Via Francigena - sustainable tourism in Tuscany

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