Day 2 - San Gimignano to Pienza. 141 km
The day dawned clear and cool after a night of rain. The weather forecasters told us it was going to be mildly cooler than yesterdays slaughterfest through the heat. Pleasing to hear that.
Setting off from the hotel just outside of San Gimignano at 7.07 am and after enjoying a downhill ride along tarmac road we were soon thrown onto the Via Francigena walking track. Given the rain overnight the track was a mess of mud and slippery rocks. We hadn't travelled further than 5km when we were confronted by a stream. The sensible amongst us (none) would have dismounted and pushed our bikes through the water. However a rider in front of us had somehow managed to navigate himself safely to the other side by riding his bicycle. Buoyed by his success I went first only to stall mid stream. Fortunately I was unclipped from my pedals, and after quickly planting a foot in the water, dismounted and pushed the bike across the second half of the stream. Nick W-W not so lucky. He too stalled mid stream only to find himself unable to dislodge his feet from his pedal clips. Over he went landing heavily on submerged rocks and giving himself a good drenching in the process. Not an auspicious start to the day. The bruising he endured was impressive and according to him quite painful.
We were also determined not to fall into the same trap as yesterday and pass up opportunities to fuel ourselves with solids whenever we could. We had decreed that the first cafe we came across would be breakfast. This occurred around 25 km and much like yesterday it consisted of brioches and coffee. The forested walking track was so technical in places that we were forced to dismount at times and even cycling downhill was fraught with peril due to the nature of the track after the rain. Lo behold those who were behind us. A couple more thousand cyclists churning up this track wouldn't make it a fun place to cycle later in the day. It wasn't that much fun at 9 am to be fair.
Breakfast day 2. Not a whole lot different to breakfast on Day 1. I would've killed for a couple of poached eggs on avocado and sourdough toast with lashings of bacon all washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice. Alas. Brioche and coffee it was. Again. Oh and a few banana's too. Result !
Eventually the route spat us back onto the white compact gravel of the Strada Bianche roads and we passed through the impossibly beautiful hilltop castle of Monteriggioni. The entry to the castle being so steep that it was the second time on the ride we had to dismount our bikes and push them due to the gradient of the slope. At least it wasn't as hot as Saturday. ''Very warm'' would about cover it best.
On approach to Monteriggioni. The slope being so steep that even the great and normally indomitable climber known as Nick W-W was forced to dismount and push. That photo definitely doesn't do the gradient of slope any justice.
The route was a mix of both walking tracks and Strada Bianche type gravel tracks.
50km into the day we found ourselves in the heart of Siena. Another impossibly beautiful town set upon a steep hill that took some calorie burning to reach. Learning from our lesson of yesterday we took an early pre-lunch bite to eat and set up camp at a small cafe on the approach to the main Palazzo. Some riders around us were already calling it quits and making their way home. Including an American seated next to us who said he was only leaving the ride because had to be back in Zurich for work on Tuesday. Of course he did.
Two cycling mugs in the heart of Siena at its famed palazzo.
The scenery around Siena is simply stunning and after leaving the city centre much of the route was on hard compacted white gravel or what appeared to be very hard white mud. Rolling hills gave us quintessential Tuscan views of sunburnt grass fields adorned with rolled up hay bales and cypress tree lined driveways leading to Tuscan villa's perched atop small hillocks. Oh, and an impossibly blue sky. The afternoon ride then became a mixture of both gravel roads and the Via Francigena walking track. At some point the climb up one of the short hills was so steep and rock strewn that I managed to strain my right knee as I struggled to turn the crankshaft. It was an issue that flared up the further we rode into the afternoon and by late afternoon it was severely hampering my ability to drive my legs with full power. Instead I was relying increasingly on my left leg and standing up in my pedals resting on the handlebars with my hands to take the pressure off the right leg. By days end I had a very tired left leg and a lovely blister on the palm of each hand from the pressure of the weight I had been exerting on them. 750 km in Spain last year without an issue. 300 km into Italy and now this. You never can tell what's around the corner. It's how you manage what you're confronted with that determines the outcome. Reaching for the anti inflammatory (Neurofen) was one part of the solution. So too was arriving in Pienza where we had booked a hotel for the evening.
White compacted mud. A joy to ride on when it's dry. I shudder to think how slippery that would be in the wet. The cooling breeze made a difference too. However the steepness and sheer number of the hills to be climbed was unrelenting
Impossibly beautiful Tuscan views of villas perched atop hills and cypress tree lined driveways.
Soon after leaving Siena we passed through Asciano and the views here weren't a disappointment.
Rolling hills and `Strada Bianche' type tracks made for relatively quick going. At least for Nick W-W that is.
The marking waypoints of the Via Francigena walking track have come a long way in these parts since I was trying to follow them 5 years ago.
Another beautiful hilltop village/town and only 15 km from home for the day which was Pienza.
Yup. One beautiful piece of scenery was quickly followed by another.
Arriving at the hotel caked in mud and with the mechanical parts of our bikes straining under the dirt we had picked up on the Via Francigena throughout the day we asked the hotel proprietor (Lucca) for a garden hose. Ostensibly to wash the bikes. Throwing myself in front of the hose also seemed appealing and it took some will power not to. Lucca seemed keen to makes sure our bikes were given the full five star treatment and after we had both washed our respective bikes he wandered off to fetch an industrial sized leaf blower which he then proceeded to use to dry our bikes. Quite an astonishing piece of service. Hotel Rutiliano. If you are ever headed Pienza way. Cannot fault the service nor location. The breakfast the next day wasn't too bad either. Lucca also managed to secure us a table at his family restaurant in the centre of town for dinner and the walk there and back through the town centre was a delight. Pienza being in the heartland of the meat production area of Italy meant there was no shortage of options for a meat lover like myself. Nick W-W being a vegetarian not so much. The town was intended as a retreat from Rome and it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centres. I can vouch for the views from its streets as they look down on all sides over stunning Tuscan landscapes.
Having your bike blow dried is taking hospitality to another level. Hotel Rutiliano if you are ever headed to Pienza. Cannot recommend Lucca and his service levels highly enough.
The walk to dinner afforded us some staggering views.
Look away Mum. Dinner in the heartland of the meat production area of Italy can only mean one thing. Tagliata with truffle.
All washed down with a local bottle of red to die for. It only cost EUR 15 too. We checked what it retails for in the UK.
£19 . That makes it around EUR 22. Cheaper to buy in a restaurant in Italy than it is to buy retail in the UK. Go figure how much taxes the UK government imposes on wine imports from the Euro area.
Late arrivals headed straight for the restaurant before bothering to check in. Sensible people.