Tuscany! Does the mere thought of those white roads get you buzzing with excitement? But why? What does this region have that others don’t? With the opportunity presenting itself during our group test, we decided to unpick what lies behind the magic with a Jaguar and bikes in tow. Wine, la dolce vita and the most sublime gravel white roads – get ready to be seriously seduced by Tuscany!
Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it. – Leonardo da Vinci
When we pitch up for a group test, the schedule is usually so jam-packed that we are never quite sure if we’ll fit it all in. Fortunately, true to the mantra of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” it always works out, and we end up ticking so much more off the list than we’d have thought humanly possible as the adrenaline high kicks in and the objective gets closer and closer. On days like these, nothing gets in your way. You simply won’t let it. You make spontaneous decisions, things happen unexpectedly, items land at your feet and the seemingly impossible becomes possible.
This is exactly what we encountered in Tuscany during our current group test. We were there to test out this year’s hottest bikes, discussing and dissecting their respective pros and cons. But on and off the bike, the latter often with a wine glass topped up to the brim in hand, the act of ticking things off the list just wasn’t a problem any longer. Time somehow expanded. What had looked like a hectic impossibility on the schedule became roomy and left us with space to breathe. We had space to visit wineries, enjoy the view towards Elba and cruise through Siena’s mythical Piazza del Campo. No stress.
Tasting > Testing
We won’t comment on whether it’s simply a coincidence that our group test happened to take place in one of the world’s top wine-producing regions but assure you our priority was less about enjoying the wine and more about understanding it. Properly getting to know it, like we do with the bikes. Fortunately, knowing the right people helps – down a little alleyway from the central piazza in Massa Marittima, our friend Magdy runs Enoteca Il Bacchino, selling prized wines and regaling clients with his expertise. Yes, we’d appreciate a wine tasting, Magdy! And doesn’t it always taste best when enjoyed in company with some fine cheeses to bring out the wine’s best tones?
Dolce Vita alla Mamma Schmitt
GRAN FONDO pitched up in Tuscany at the Tenuta il Cicalino in Massa Marittima, where, despite the packed schedule, indulging in the typical Italian hospitality was never not going to happen. Mamma Schmitt unified Italian amore with German meticulousness in the kitchen, ensuring the table was laid punctually for lunch at 12.35 every day, with heapings of Italian delicacies on tap. Sustenance doesn’t always have to be Michelin starred. Simplicity is often where it’s at. And as Mamma Schmitt – yes, that’s the same Schmitt DNA as magazine founder Robin – proved, you don’t have to be an Italian nonna to cook up some decent pasta.
Exploring means getting off the beaten track, shunning tourist areas and seeing what lies beyond. Exactly our vibe. We didn’t need to add to the mass of photos of the Leaning Tower of Power this time or crane our necks at the cathedral in Florence. For full Tuscan immersion, you ride the white roads into the hills, along cypress-lined lanes, through olive groves, vineyards, in a seemingly deserted landscape at times, punctuated by ancient village squares, tiny cafes and wily locals with a smile.
So close yet so far away
Piombino – an unpolished industrial town, where medieval elements meet the modern-day. Our reason for being here? The unparalleled view from the terrace of Piazza Bovio over the rocky cliffs towards the island of Elba.
Pizza del Ciclista
Not found on actual pizza menus, infamous amongst roadies and not fit for consumption: the cyclist’s pizza with lashings of Sugo di Pomodoro. This is often served up to bike testers who, despite their skills, can’t always keep it rubber side down. Cheers to that!
Vibes at the vineyard
The fiery red brick of premium wine producer Rocca di Frasinello stands out on one of the many hilltops like a beacon. A contemporary piece of architecture designed by Renzo Piano, it centres around the majestic, almost mythical cantina, reminiscent of a Roman arena. The wine is left to age slowly in oak barrels, picking up the complex flavours of the wood. There’s room for up to 1,100 barrels here, which equates to production of up to 400,000 bottles annually. One of these, the exclusive Baffonero, is what took our fancy. What a day to be alive and, fortunately for us, editor-in-chief Ben chauffeured us with the Jaguar (of course, never drink and drive unless you’re in Taiwan on business and a professional stuntman anyways.
Dolce Vita or a race car? Our Jaguar F-Pace P400
Who doesn’t love having options? A destination that’s too far by bike? Wanting to see the city of Siena, where the drama of Strade Bianche concludes each year and visit the coast for the sunset all in one day? For moments like these, load the bikes onto the bike rack and go straight to “go”. Long transfer stages are a thing of the past. Our support car for Tuscany is the Jaguar F-Pace with 400 hp and enough acceleration to rip us out of our dreamlike dolce vita and into the present. Is it a race car? That doesn’t do this model justice. A car that glides over the bumpy white roads, takes the corners with precision and cruises down Tuscany’s pothole-littered motorways with speed, all the while massaging your aching muscles and treating your ears to a first-class audio experience. Does it leave you wanting anything else? If this British-made car was a road bike, we’re sure it would be in contention for top honours in our group test.
Tuscan truths, golden memories
On another hilltop stands Tenuta Poggetti, the Poggetti Estate and historic home of the Moris family, where the fertile soil lends itself to vines, olive trees, and forests of pine and mandarin trees. From the wild boar enclosure, the view stretches as far as the coast across a swathe of cypress-lined avenues that hint at the power in this region – allegedly, the length of a cypress tree lane is directly correlated with a family’s wealth. As we enjoy a glass of wine by an open fire at the Tenuta, talk turns to the group test again. We take the saying quite literally and look for the truth at the bottom of our wine glasses. What did we find out?
Two truths cannot contradict one another. – Galileo Galilei
The first truth is this: doing a group test is demanding. Building the bikes. Testing them. Discussing them in detail. Group tests involve long days, spent with lactate accumulating in your legs as you put the pedal to the metal to find their strengths and weaknesses. When it gets dark, you spend the evenings analysing the data and discussing everything all over again. Intense but exhausting, eye-opening and at times explosive. Being a GRAN FONDO editor can be back-breaking, demanding almost limitless passion, skills and teamwork. The second truth is this: our European group tests almost always take place in the most beautiful scenery. Despite the intense workload, there’s always a desire to explore, pull back the curtains on somewhere new and drink a coffee with the locals. These truths couldn’t exist without one another. Together, they’re mutually beneficial. They’re where work and the dolce vita converge.
That’s the way it often is with apparent contradictions. The more packed your schedule, the more you achieve. No play without work, but without play, it’s even harder to work. We love riding our bikes but sometimes you need a car to reach the most beautiful riding routes. Everything goes and we can take out what we need from each truth, when we need it – call it “combinism” if you will. Be inspired by this story and think about this: a bike or a car is only as good as what you experience with it, whether it’s Tuscany, Taichung or Southern Germany!
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Words: Photos: Robin Schmitt