Hill Towns of Tuscany (May 18, 2007)

We got organized early and headed out for a drive to the west. Our destination was the Il Latini Albergo and Ristorante, where Pat, the boys and I had spent ten days in 2004 as a base for our Tuscany explorations. We came into town from an unfamiliar direction, but by following signs to San Gimignano, I was able to get on the right road leading out of town.

I was delighted to find Chiara Latini behind the counter at the desk, and she quickly remembered me. She had received my email inquiries from a few months back, but only after significant delay, and said she was embarrassed to reply. I introduced her to the crew, and she invited us into the restaurant for cappuccinos, water and biscotti. I renewed acquaintances with two of the waiters I remembered from our trip, and Chiara told me Giovanni would be around in the evening. We made a reservation for dinner, and arrangements for post-ride showers.

Our route led out of town, quickly onto a steep section at the base of a 1200 foot climb up to Gambassi Terme and through town while still moving upwards. From the ridge, we could see the skyline of Volterra across a valley. A nice descent carried us into the valley, back to about our original elevation, and then to the base of the 8 kilometer ascent to Volterra. This 1200 foot climb might have been our longest sustained upward run.

We entered Volterra at the northern end, and quickly located the Roman amphitheater and the 2400-year-old Etruscan arch. Making our way to the main plaza (very Sienese), and the fort and park at the southern end of the town, involved considerable difficulty on the bikes, with Tony taking a very slow speed tumble at a pedestrian intersection atop a short steep section.

While trying to walk our way up a particularly steep section of cobbles, we ducked into a small panini shop to get the first part of lunch. We found the business district at the southern end of town, and acquired accompaniments for the rest of lunch, which we ate on the grass in the Archaeological Park, shadowed by the old fortress, which is now a working prison. Rick purchased some textiles, which had been woven by the woman he bought them from.

We backtracked another 12 miles, first descending, then climbing back up to ridge from Gambassi. At a junction we turned towards San Gimignano, which at this point would be at a lower elevation. Eventually we descended some more, and the towers of San Gimignano came into view below us, and finally we rose slightly to the southern gate of San Gimignano.

61. Panini Shop, Volterra
62. Lunch, Archaeological Park, Volterra
63. Ken, San Gimignano
64. Tony, San Gimignano
65. David and Ken, San Gimignano
66. Tony, Albergo Il Latini
67. Dinner, Ristorante Il Latini
Ken bought a scarf along the narrow main road, while David explored another wine bar. We converged on the main plaza where it was time for a coffee, plus we added some gelato. We paid dearly for the goodies, given the location at the center of the tourist universe.

Out the north end of town, the 13 kilometers of curves through the vineyards were particularly enjoyable after all the climbing. Rob had driven this road several times before, and particularly enjoyed the chance to ride it. 52 miles, 4800 feet. Half the elevation of RAMROD, in a third of the distance.

Back at Il Latini, we were given a room to shower in, and we prepared for dinner, including time spent on the balcony recovering from the ride.

Dinner was the usual Il Latini affair. We were early at 7:30 PM, but by 9 PM, Chiara was squeezing in extra tables. We began with short glasses of panseco, while David examined the wine selection and chatted with another wine connoisseur, this one from Switzerland. We had antipasti, followed by pasta, with most choosing the wonderful pici noodles with sausage. Main courses followed, with Tony having a sea bass, that was skillfully deboned tableside. David told the waiter he had the hands of a surgeon, to complement his already skillful job as a waiter.

Dessert followed, with complimentary vin santo with biscotti, and then open bottles of limoncello and grappa. We said our goodbyes to Chiara and she presented us each with a bottle of the house wine to take home with us.

Giovanni had remained in Firenze at his new restaurant, so perhaps we will have to track him down there in the next few days. It was a long ride home in the dark on the twisty roads, but with the help of his iPod, Rick got us home quickly and safely.