After two weeks of rigorous testing I can confirm that spending your holiday-time with a car, firm mattress and washing machine is vastly more comfortable than cycle touring through the summer heat. We were lucky to spend two weeks in relative luxury with my parents Bruce and Judy who had flown over from New Zealand for a couple of weeks with us. First we were in a rural villa near Regello (not far from Florence), then an apartment in the medieval hilltop village of Pereta (close to Grossetto). Apart from a huge amount of catching up, we managed to take in a range of Tuscan scenery, a fair amount of traditional cuisine and even found time for a day in Rome.
Leaving Florence after two nights of disco music lulling us to sleep at our hill-top campsite Justin and I cycled a final strenuous 30k to villa number one in Tallini to await the parents who had flown over from New Zealand. With Bruce and Judy, we spent the week buying our mushrooms and melons from the local fruit vendor, picking treats from the bakery and picking cherries from the tree in our backyard but also did the sites justice. Michelangelo’s David impressed, there was a lot more to Pisa than the tower, and we saw our fill of tiny hilltop villages some crowded with tourists and others empty of all life.
On our last day in Regello, we joined a local guided walk which promised to be 2 hours long with sausages and music at lunch. In an Italian style we’ve come to expect, the walk took all day and the sausages were accompanied by bread soaked in red wine and sugar, bread with olive oil and tomatoes, copious amounts of red wine, cake and desert wine before the return walk down hill. This was also the day that we thought we lost Judy but she was just awaiting a ride down from Vallombrosa – luckily Bruce and I decided to have a gelato before alerting the authorities to her disappearance!
We locked our bikes up at Regello and lugged our panniers 3 hours south to Grosetto for the second half of our cycling break. We saw a glimpse of Rome including the Vatican and the Coliseum, bathed in hot pools at Saturnia and wandered through Etruscan tombs and walkways dug out of the hills but the biggest highlights of the week were excellent meals.
For my birthday we went for fresh fish at a port town 30 minutes down the coast with seats right on the wharf front. Locally we had an exquisite eight course meal at a restaurant called Maria’s where course after course was put in front of us as an Irish lady at the next table chatted about her New Zealand opera connections, finally inviting us and another English couple for a nightcap at her house just down the road. Another recommended eatery was Pizzeria Cinghiale Bianco just outside the village walls. We were warned that the chef Franco, was a practical joker but we weren’t prepared for him to have the majority of the restaurant in hysterics for most of the night.
We had a great two weeks with Bruce and Judy and cycled away feeling spoilt to have been able to spend so much time with them both. In return we hope we gave them a taste of the reasons why we’ve spent so much time travelling around this part of the world, both in this trip and over the past six years we’ve lived in the UK. We cycled out of Regello with a few tears in eyes – New Zealand is suddenly feeling much much further away.