Words and images: Brian Rathjen
Opening image: Chris Knight
After a long winter of waiting we were getting ready to head to Italy, riding with Rob Beach and Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures. Still weeks away we were surprised when a big box appeared at Backroads Central containing two very snazzy duffel bags, emblazoned, not only with the Beach’s logo, but personalized with our names as well.
How cool. Along with the luggage came books, maps, suggestions, hints - just about everything a rider about to set off on a tour could need or want. Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures has been around since 1972 and with their strong reputation for excellence, we know of many riders who will only tour with Beach’s and we wanted to find out why.
With the flight to Europe still a month or so away we felt like we were already on tour as we poured over the books and maps. This was going to be more than excellent.
The beginning of May found us on an Air France A-330, to Paris, and then a connecting flight to Florence, Italy where the tour would begin a few days later. We typically do this to enjoy some time in a new city and to explore what is to be found. In the case of Florence that is a lot.
In addition to a number of fellow Americans on this Italian Idyll Tour, we were once again joined by our friend Chris Knight, from London, whom we first rode with down to Tierra Del Fuego a year back.
Our first few days in Florence, or Firenze as it is properly called in Italy, were spent bouncing into the city proper from the Hotel Aurora, in Fiesole, which lies in the hills above the city. The view from the balcony was superb and it seemed that the Beach’s had picked this hotel strategically to impress the group for the start of the tour.
One cannot come to Florence without experiencing the beauty this city has to offer. The Ufizzi and the Acadameia Museums hold some of the greatest art treasures in the world and seeing Michelangelo’s David in person you understand why he is considered the Master. Simply walking around the Duomo and the churches is something that will inspire or humble you - probably both.
By Sunday evening all the riders who were joining us had flown into Florence, and while the few who did not land early took a walking tour of Florence, Shira and I did our own private look at some Etruscan ruins just across from our hotel. What a magnificent place to have a caffe freddo amongst the ruins.
That evening we joined everyone else for our first real group meal and it gave us a chance to meet the newcomers who would be part of our group for the next few weeks while we explored central Italy.
Most of us had had a few days in and about Florence so after a light breakfast we planned on a day’s ride north into the mountains and gorges of northern Tuscany. We learned that Beach’s often has a free riding day before the tour actually starts. This allows riders a chance to get on the bikes and stretch the cables a bit, get used to Italian drivers, and possibly vet out any riders who might have a hard time during the tour.
Before letting us go jaunting about Rob Beach took the time to explain to those of us new to touring in Italy a little lay of the land and some common sense thoughts on having the best time possible and not getting in trouble or worse. Some would call his style down to Earth, while others might simply call it lightly abrasive. Still, every good tour operator should be able to communicate with his group in an open and friendly way. This also kept us busy while a brief morning shower came to an end.
Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures offers a number of route choices each day of the tour and most of us chose the second of three - which would bring us up north into the mountains and along some spectacular gorges.
Unlike other companies Beach’s has embraced the future and a Garmin GPS was available for the bikes, with all the routes fairly well pre-routed so you could enjoy the scenery without worrying where and when the next town would be coming up. Once we got it going on the right route it saved us a lot of grief, while sometimes offering some of its own. For those of you who use a GPS often you know that nothing is perfect, but a GPS in the mountains of Tuscany was well appreciated by me.
We rode through the Giago di Scarperia, its deep gorge cut thousands of years ago by the blue and green river that raged below. Our loop ran counter clockwise and following the GPS brought us along small, tight roadways that rose and fell amongst olive farms and hills.
That day had brought bouts of rain, but such is riding motorcycles in Europe. Such is riding motorcycles - period.
It mattered not - Italy was incredible and the bikes felt great beneath us. For this trip I was, once again, on a BMW R1200GS (a bike I seem destined to always be on) and Shira the new F650GS. Both bikes were comfortable and perfectly suited for this tour of Tuscany.
By early afternoon we were crossing the Passodi Raticoasa, which at some 950+ meters, rode up into the clouds. Atop the pass we found a small caf� that is frequently filled with motorcycles on any Sunday, but on this rainy Monday was empty but for one young couple on an Aprilia Futura.
As you would think the place was motorcycled-out and pictures and posters of Valentino Rossi abounded. Wish that we would find such places in the United States more often.
We went up and over Passo di Futa and then down along a tree lined road that fell into a long valley. Heading down movement to my right caught my eye and I was stunned to see a half dozen boar tearing across the field. I have never seen a boar in the wild, much less so many at a clip. I have dealt with many a pack of deer rushing across my path, but the idea of such fierce animals and my bike coming together had me at edge. The “Wild Hogs” disappeared into the trees and never reappeared.
The final route into Fiesole was as twisty as any that day and I had to think that Rob Beach and crew might just have ridden through here once or twice before. Yep, pretty sure they did.
By late afternoon we had a good soaking coming down as we rode back to the hotel with “Day One” of the tour a huge success. The sun came out in full glory for wine and cheese on the patio, with the beauty that is Florence shining in the late day sun in the valley below.
This would be our first real day on the road and what a day. Clear blue skies, keen temperatures and about 200 kilometers of stunning Italian roadway awaited us.
We made our way east from Fiesole along some excellent tiny backroads. Where yesterday seemed to be a mountain pass, foggy and cool sort of affair, this day was rolling hills, colorful flowers along with a constant barrage of sweepers and hairpins tossed about the kilometers.
Although Italy has built major roads, which travel through the hills and valleys, Beach’s has discovered many an ancient route that sweeps right through the heart of these valleys, strewn with red poppies, purple wisteria, and yellow buttercups. We rode along rushing rivers and on the sides of peaks, with the roadway clinging to the hills.
In the town of Poppi, perhaps named after the flowers that surround the town, we rode up the hill to the castle that was built back in the 13th century.
In the shadow of a great tree, at the circle below the fortress, we found a small caf� and it was coffees all around and simply chatting about the ride.
It seemed in this part of Tuscany that time has stood still. Riding on we spun north and into the Foreste Casaentinesi; here dark green trees hedged us in on tiny roads. It was almost magical and going slowly was not disagreeable at all as I have rarely seen a place so intriguing. Small wooden bridges crossed babbling streams and the sunlight played with shadows at every turn. It was superb.
We took lunch at a small restaurant in one town and then got our bearings on the GPS before moving along some more excellent roads that Beach’s had laid out. Each new road seemed better than the last - it was like riding the best Ramapo 500 or Backroads Rally Ride - ever. It was that good.
The roads were fairly clear of traffic and most of what we did see was the huge IVECO truck coming at you in the apex of a hairpin. It was best to stay on your side of the road. At one point we were spotted by a fast bird who swooped down to buzz us. The Italian Air Force jet certainly startled us; but by the time we stopped to watch he was long gone.
Along one small mountain pass we rode up to the mountain fortress town called San Leo, which was impressive indeed, and from there we took one of the tightest and tiniest little roadways I have ever ridden, into the final valley of the day, before the steep switchback ride up the mountain to San Marino.
The history of San Marino is surprising as it claims to be the oldest republic in the world; and being founded in 301 A. D. it is hard to argue with this fact. At only 61 square kilometers, this is the third smallest state in Europe, behind the Vatican and Monaco. Our hotel, which was atop Monte Titano, was as nice as they come, with a commanding view of the valley below.
Monte Titano carries the city of San Marino on its back and each of its three summits is fortified with towers and castles. It is a very impressive place. We got settled in our room and with the bikes stashed for the night we went to explore the little nation of San Marino, before a meal with the entire group overlooking the valley below lit by the last rays of the sun.
Breakfast in San Marino was typical of what we had been seeing on the entire tour - a wide selection of hams and cheeses, fresh pastries, bread and fruit, yogurt and great brown eggs. We got an early start and made our way back down off Monte Titano and headed south back into Italy proper.
Along with Chris this day another rider, Ben, rode with us for a while before venturing off for his own adventure. Somewhere around mid-morn we rode off the GPS route and pulled out good old paper maps and plotted our course to the town of Urbino. Here another medieval fortress beckoned and with the need to plot out the rest of the day we went in search of a cappuccino.
Luck would have it that we would run into Rob and a large number of our group there and so for the rest of the day we followed his lead. Beach’s has what they like to call “Rob Roads” These are little pieces of pavement that you would most likely ride by if you were simply riding through Italy. I would say there are probably some “Rob Roads” right in your very neighborhood, but you simply have not ridden down that tiny road to find them.
Lucky for us Beach’s knows where they are hiding.
Infiltrating the larger group we tucked in for the rest of the day, as we sped from Tuscany to Umbria.
We stopped in Cagli, where Ron and Terry Minor, experienced Beach tourers and fellow COG members, knew of a great little restaurant where we dined on guinea fowl and rabbit.
After lunch we followed along, basically enjoying the group, which kept a good pace through the Italian hills and valleys lined red with poppies this early in May.
We rode at the bottom of a huge gorge with towering white cliffs, topped with dark green vegetation; the road following along the small river that spawned the gorge millenniums ago. We then made a quick stop by the Frasassi Caves, one of Italy’s largest, before doubling back and following a delightful route towards Spello.
Once again Rob vectored off the main roads and we found ourselves rising higher and higher along some tight switchbacks and heading into Spello along a road that tenaciously hung on the mountain before serpentining its way into the red-hued city where we would spend the first of four planned two-night stays.
In this region there are many wonderful restaurants from which to choose, but one stands out above the rest - La Bastiglia, which conveniently was in the same hotel that we would be staying. This was just the beginning of a number of exquisite dining experiences.
Spello is another fine example of the quaint Italian town. Considered by Rome to be the ‘Centre of the World’, it was equidistant from North Africa and Rome’s northern European borders and from Spain to the near east.
In this town you’ll find the typical narrow alley-way streets, small restaurants and a number of little shops selling local produce, cheese and wines.
With not having to get out and get going this day Shira and I split up for the morning; she exploring the shops of Spello and me joining my buddy Chris for a morning ride. Rob had told us of a great peak road, heading over Mounte Subasio towards Assisi that was mostly gravel and stone. That being the case we took the GS’s and went in search of some dirt.
I did cheat a bit and stole Shira’s F650, as it would give me a chance to play with it a bit; and lighter is always better on gravel.
Heading up the peak we had a blast and while up there found fellow Beach folk Gary and Lee Ann who were on the way to Assisi as well and couldn’t pass up another ‘pass’- especially one that got the rims dirty.
It was great to be riding atop a mountain in gravel with Chris again, and I thought it funny that the last time we did this it was in Patagonia - although this road was no Ruta 40. Soon the terrain flattened out on top of the mountain and a great meadow stretch below.
The far side of the mountain was roughly paved and in no time we were riding into Assisi. By this time I had planned to return to Spello to meet Shira for lunch so I bid adieu to my comrades and headed back.
Shira had found some great shops and she took me down into the town centro where we serendipitously found Enoteca Properzio, which Independent Traveler Magazine called, “possibly the finest ‘enoteca’ in Umbria, and possibly Italy. ”
I know we were impressed by a small glass of chilled local white along with bitingly good selections of local cheeses with walnut honey and a grand selection of hams, prosciutto and wild boar.
After lunch Shira wanted to ride to Assisi, and I agreed. But, I had to show her the road over Mounte Subasio. After spending some time above Assisi we rode down and parked the bike and strolled around the fortified part of the city.
Luck was with us that day, as the city was holding its Assisi Calendimaggio, the celebration of Holy Week in honor of Saint Francis and the beginning of Spring, which is held the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of May each year. The celebrations include competitions with love songs, games and events. The festival leads to the prestigious Palio, which is contested by two groups for a valuable prize. They are the ‘Magnifica Parte de Sotto’ and the ‘Nobilissima Parte de Sopra’, the two districts that form the city. They compete to see who is the best in a competition of flag waving, drums and horns.
Many of the people were dressed in period clothing and it was like a Renaissance Festival, in a real Renaissance town.
Some of the older men were carrying medieval weaponry and one fellow with an ancient crossbow completely caught my attention; what a beautiful piece of artful destruction.
We strolled around town and watched the youngsters go through their last minute practicing before the competition. I found one shop that specialized in weapons from the past - maces, shields, swords and a few small crossbows. Not what I had in mind, as I like the real deal.
But, then high on the shelf lay - the real deal. Four feet long with a wicked bolt and gut string - it was very sweet - if such an evil weapon can be described that way. Shira saw it too, but we thought better of it.
We watched the Calderdimaggio, which was truly a treat for two riders just passing through Umbria, and then made our way back to the BMW.
Along the way, with Shira in the lead, I followed her down stairs, through alleys and across ancient bridges till we found ourselves - in front of the weapons shop.
Yep, there we were riding back to Spello. Shira and me on a new F650GS, riding along in the radiant Italian sun with an ancient-style four-foot crossbow hugged between us.
It couldn’t get better than this, could it?
The previous evening Ron had mentioned some great sweepers he knew of heading in the general direction of Villa Vomano, our next night’s stop.
After being painted with mountain switchbacks and hairpins for the last few days Shira took the ‘sweepers’ as if Ron had offered her pistachio ice cream!
The next morning we took off with a small group and once again Italy did not disappoint. The sweepers rolled through the hills, along fine pavement and a great series of open-sided tunnels that bore through the rock and along the white rocked gorges all the way from Muccia to Norcia, where we stopped for lunch in a huge town square with a statue of Saint Benedict. The Saint is buried in this town and it was here that he started the Benedictine Monks somewhere around the year 500.
We got a bit turned around leaving Norcia, but the combination of paper maps and GPS finally got us going in the right direction.
Our plotted route would bring us back up into the mountain called Sibillini where the tops of the peaks were still shrouded in snow.
We rode through little villages and along rivers and lakes, always with the peaks watching over us from above, once again on tight roadways.
This part of Italy looked a bit more rugged than the previous terrain, but it was all the more stunning for it.
By late afternoon we picked up a little road that wound back over the hills south towards the city of Teramo and Villa Vomano, where we would once again stay for a couple of days.
Around one tight up hill hairpin I got a view of what awaited us. It was phenomenal; like a snow and rock monster sprawling across the Italian landscape - the awesome Grand Sasso, and it would keep its eye on us for the next few days.
The Corte dei Tini was certainly the nicest of the hotels we had stayed at so far, and they were all spectacular in their own ways. Corte dei Tini is a sprawling place with finely manicured lawns and rooms fit for royalty, which we were beginning to feel during this tour. The bedroom windows opened to the courtyard below and the view of the Grand Sasso chain was beguiling. Getting me to move onto the next place might be difficult.
Once again we had a killer meal and afterward Rob, as was his custom, said a few words. This would be a good time to explain the drill each night. Rob would talk at length on the next day’s ride, what to expect and a number of attractions and sights along the various routes. If GPSs needed updating Rob, or Gretchen (think really pretty Gal Friday) would get that done. After that anything from the previous day’s ride would be discussed and awards given out. To receive a “DOH” Award (as in the Simpsons) you only had to do something stupid - usually involving gravity and pavement. Rob and Gretchen seem to live to give these out with wicked smiles. To get a “Good on Ya”Award you had to do something of a very positive nature - Rob was very frugal with these. I tried to keep a low profile, but not low enough, as I, too, would get a “DOH” for leaving the GPS on the bike.
I was not appreciative, but I was deserving.
Although occasionally Rob’s way of talking and dealing with the group seemed matter of fact - I do believe this is a guy with tons of experience and he makes it a point of taking the time to give some of that experience away each night. If you would listen you just might find something there that will save your hide one day. I would give Mr. Beach a Backroads ‘Good on Ya’ just for that.
With two choices that day, the Grand Sasso mountains or a jaunt to the sea we chose the Adriatic - another sea we can say we dipped our toes into.
We joined Ron and Terry and spent an easy morning riding along the tops of the hills before turning east and riding to Silvi Marina and the Adriatic.
The town was your typical Italian seaside city and we spent some time at the beach before finding a great coffee and gelato shop for dessert.
The ride back was awesome as we first rode south and then through Loreto and Penne before picking up ss81, which twisted along the hills for 60 kilometers or so in a most enjoyable manner.
I was just starting to feel like I was in my Rossi-mode when a pretty young gal came around the turn on a Vespa, her right hand had the throttle pinned while she was sending a text message with her left. How deflating - damn Gen-Yers!
By early evening we had napped and refreshed and were ready for another great meal in this exquisite hotel.
After much prodding Shira convinced me that it was in our best interests to give up our palace and continue on the tour with the rest of the group.
Begrudgingly I agreed and, with Chris and Ben joining us for the ride, we went west and into the peaks called the Grand Sasso. This was Sunday and all around the world riders were going for a ride and the mountain roads of central Italy are no different. We stopped for coffee at a roadside rest along Lago de Campotosto. By the time we left, the place was filling up with all sorts of machines. Yes, there were some Japanese machines, but the Ducatis and a couple of MV Augustas seemed the crowd favorites.
Atop the Grand Sasso the terrain was quite desolate and you could ride for miles and not see anybody; but then a small town would appear, clinging to some hill and you’d find a bustling Sunday community.
Just outside Montreale we got a bit confused as Shira’s route sheet called for a right and the GPS wanted us to go straight - normally this isn’t so big a deal, but Ben and Chris followed the Garmin and I stuck with my wife.
We didn’t see our two intrepid explorers till the hotel that evening. It turned out all of us were in the town of Leonessa having coffee at the same time, just a few streets apart.
Leaving the town we followed our route, which would bring us up and over Mount Terminilla. Heading up higher and higher the temperatures steadily dropped and at one point two ATV riders were heading down the road adamantly gesturing to us that we should not go up the peak.
A few kilometers later we found out why, as at around 1,500 meters we ran into snow and ice, two feet thick, blocking our path. It was only about thirty feet across but I could see more ice above.
We thought better of it and headed back down Terminilla and took another road to Rieti, the center of Italy.
We parked in a large square and were given directions to a tiny restaurant full of families enjoying an early Sunday meal. Gnocci, white lasagna and some delicious meats filled our lunch time, while we watched half the F1 Grand Prix live from Turkey. It’s funny how folks from Italy and the United States sound exactly the same when two open air cars get together and go airborne.
We took a road numbered 521, digits we are oh-so comfortable with, back towards Leonessa and then swung further north to Cascia, the home of Saint Rita, for the night.
Ron and Terry joined us again the next day as we followed Shira who had mapped out her own route for our ride to Todi, which brought us northwest into the deep Umbrian hills. As always on the Beach tour it was hard to decide what was better, the roads or the views. We did our best to enjoy them both. The mountain road dropped us down into a valley and we headed south along a larger state road and made quick time towards the city of Terni.
This was the first time in the entire trip that I had gotten to see if the BMW did indeed have a fifth and for kicks - sixth gear. It did for sure.
Along the way we spotted the Museum de Mummies. We had to investigate, Seymour O’Life would have it no other way.
The museum was in a large unconsecrated church and the rows of glass coffins holding the desiccated remains of locals and foreign soldiers and rows of skulls were truly a sight.
Outside of the tiny hill top town of Arrone we cut across a mountain on another tiny road Shira had chosen before heading to the Roman Waterfalls at Marmone. Created by the Romans in 290B. C. , a canal was dug to move the stagnant waters of the Velino River down to the Rieti valley and Nera River, far below. The result is a manmade cascade that falls a full 165 meters. The water is controlled now and is used to supply power stations.
Twice a day the water is turned on and when we got to the falls it was a pleasant cascade, but when the gates were opened it became a raging beast of a waterfall and one of the most impressive manmade creations I have ever seen - especially considering it is 2,200 years old.
We took lunch in the medieval town square of Spoleto before turning on the GPS and following along the ‘Rob Roads’ which gave us another hour of riding pleasure before dropping us off in front of our hotel in the city of Todi.
With a few hours of daylight left Shira and I walked to the funicular, which brought us high up to the town Centro, where we spent an hour or two simply walking, browsing and buying some local cheese, meats and wine for the group back at the hotel.
After the first day’s ride we had been golden as far as weather, with only the occasional spit of rain, riding for the most part in deep blue sky and warm sunshine. This day would be different, as we awoke to the valley below enshrouded in a heavy fog and moisture in the air.
As they say, even in Italy, ‘La pioggia succede!’ (Rain happens).
Sometime during the night ninja vandals came down and ‘sanitized’ our bikes, as every machine, and the chase van, had their saddles taped with the “Sanitized” bands from the hotels toilets - what horrible lack of security that night.
Heading out we floated down the road into the valley and somewhere in the town of Orvieto we lost our group and found ourselves solo once again.
We always enjoy riding with others, but we have found, over the years, we do really well with just the two of us.
We vectored on a little backroad towards Lago di Bolsena and, riding around the shore, we spotted something very out of place - a lakeside restaurant that was flying Canadian colors.
Since we had two Canadians in our group and we ourselves would be visiting Quebec in just a few weeks on our Spring Break Rally we decided it was time for cappuccino before moving on.
Rob Beach had told us of a friend of his who served the most wondrous lunch atop Mount Amiata - something that should not be missed. He did fail to mention that the road up the mountain passed through an equally wondrous forest. The mist that shrouded the verdant woods made them even more beautiful and the green was the deepest I have ever seen - truly an Italian treasure.
Lunch was as grand as promised with local flavors all around - antipasta, wild mushroom soup, pasta, chicken, beef, sweet onions and a marvelous coffee ricotta for dessert. Two hours later we dragged ourselves onto the GSs and aimed west.
For the next few hours the road spun through the Umbrian hills in a most snakey way.
After the big meal and all the moisture that day I was surely getting tired but I knew that this night’s destination would be completely different from any of our previous night’s stay.
A few days before we had touched the Adriatic Sea, today it would be the Mediterranean. Just off the Italian coast is Monte Argentario. It is connected to the mainland by two 10-kilometer sandbars. This is a seafaring island, for both pleasure and commercial fishermen, and it would be our home for the next few days.
Our first view, even through the rain, of Porto Santo Stefano was striking and I knew that this would be a great few days.
Later that night we shuttled into town for a late light meal in the Beach support vehicle, a new Mercedes truck. Very utilitarian, emblazoned with the Beach logos and the saying, “We turn your dreams into reality,” true enough if you like touring in only the best style. Mark, the driver and Rob’s right hand man, was a fellow always willing to help and carried with him an infectious laugh that seemed to be the soundtrack to each night’s meal. Good man.
He dropped us off at the Port and we soon found a comfortable restaurant and more seafood than we could possibly finish; shrimp, mussels, white fish and some big monster on the plate with his eyes staring up at us. Later that night, totally caloried out from the day’s feasting, we walked the couple of kilometers back towards the hotel through an underground tunnel.
Feeling we had gone far enough we took a wrought iron stairway up to the road above only to have to wander around, trying to get our bearings. Okay, tight windy road, mist, speeding Italian drivers, dark jackets, no sidewalks. Yep, this was brilliant.
Thankfully Chris opened his cell phone and used it like a torch while I peeled down to a white teeshirt trying to be more conspicuous.
In no time we were safely back at the lobby and ready for a well-deserved sleep.
The dark clouds and rain from the previous day’s ride were a distant memory as I awoke to sunrise over the azure waters of the Mediterranean.
This day our group would go off in many different directions, but Shira and I planned on simply riding around Monte Argentario and do the exploration thing.
We took a counter clockwise route and about 15 minutes into the ride we realized that we had lost somebody.
Unlike the rest of the tour when we’d lose a rider or group in a city, this time it was Mr. Happy. He had been riding in different places during this tour - my jacket, the tank bag, sleeping in the saddlebag; but today I stuck him up front beneath the windscreen. Rounding one peak I looked down to discover our little yellow friend had jumped ship somewhere. Even though Mr. Happy has free will, we couldn’t leave him without making sure he was, well, happy.
We doubled back into Porto Santo Stefano and found Mr. Happy at a dockside caf� chatting it up with a sweet Italian girl who had befriended him and bought him an espresso, for as we all know Mr. Happy doesn’t carry much cash; lucky for us that we found him. He decided to continue his journey with us.
We doubled back, again, and this time continued on admiring the homes on the cliffs and the waves crashing onto the rocks.
What a wonderful place to live.
Circling around the island to the south we took a small road, which switchbacked down towards the sea and then back up the mountain, becoming smaller, tighter and more desolate with each kilometer.
We had heard that the back way into Port Ercole was possible only by GS, and soon it was ‘rutted boulder trench mud puddle gravel heaven.'
Along the way we met a couple from Holland who were attempting the ride to Ercole on a small scooter, two up. Ahh, those intrepid northern Euro-types; dontcha know they made it, if a bit slowly.
We spent a few hours in Port Ercole, having a typical seafood lunch of mussels, oysters and shrimp risotto, and then rode back to Porto Santo Stefano where we just sat by the sea for a time before heading back to the hotel.
No rushing today, just pleasure.
Today’s ride was supposed to be short and easy, but one thing led to another and we were the last of the group to arrive at the hotel.
It went something like this: Shira and I left early and made our way from the sea to the hills of Tuscany. The plan for most of the group was to stop and visit the Banfi Winery. Banfi is a huge Italian wine maker and they have over 7,000 acres of beautiful vineyards, with their main building in a 12th century castle, stunningly maintained.
In addition to wonderful wines of many styles, they also create some of the most intriguing balsamic vinegar.
We toured the Balsameria, where they make and store this wonderful creation and then bought some for home along with a few bottles of Brunello for the rest of the trip. While there we ran into Ron and Terry.
Ron had been telling me about a great town called Volterra, which he and Terry had become quite smitten with. They were riding there for lunch and we asked if they would mind us riding along.
Each time we had ridden with this Professor from Cornell and his lovely wife it always proved to be an adventure and today was no exception.
Volterra proved a great deal further away than thought, but the city was striking, with the stores filled with lovely alabaster statues, and the ruined Roman theatre proved well worth it.
Lunch in the square filled us up and we spent the rest of the late afternoon in a most pleasurable pursuit of our last hotel on the road, the fabulous Borgo Pretale, hidden away at the end of a dirt road high in the Tuscan hills.
The hotel was made up of many buildings, the most prominent being a watchtower built in 1027 to help protect Sienna.
It was there we had our room for the next two days before finishing the tour back to Fiesole.
We took an easy day’s ride with some of the group, first to San Gimignano, a city where a great many towers hold the landscape, and enjoyed gelato while taking in the sights. In fact this town is so special that UNESCO has made it part of the World’s Architectural Heritage.
Compared to Umbria the riding here in Tuscany was less dramatic, but very enjoyable, with deep valleys lined with grapes and numerous wineries and the occasional walled town awaiting.
The most dramatic of these was Monteriggioni. My friend Michael had told me about this town and promised I would find the spirit of age old Tuscany in its square.
Unlike many of the other fortified towns, which now have more modern buildings around them, Monteriggioni stands completely inside its ancient stone walls. It looks to be a huge castle as you ride towards it and the town square was indeed as pleasant as promised. We had a filling lunch and then walked around the towered walls before riding back towards our home for the night.
Along the way we passed a Roman arch bridge, thousands of years old. The previous day our friend Ben Abrams had taken a picture of his bike atop of it. We liked his idea and took a little ride over the ancient stone crossing ourselves.
Back at Borgo Pretale there was much to do, one of which was the hotel’s archery range. It was time to see who was the Robin Hood or William Tell of the group. Shira, put this apple on your head.
That night we chose, with Ron and Terry, to skip the restaurant and we dined al fresco on cheese, hams and wild boar, with some excellent chianti, while we watched the sun fall behind the Tuscan hills. It was a wonderful last night on the road.
It was a short day’s ride back north to our starting point north of Florence, in Fiesole, but it was a pleasant ride indeed into the heart of Chianti. Everywhere we rode the land was dominated by vineyards.
We stopped for lunch in the small town of Grieve and then met with the rest of the group and parked the bikes, took a seat on a stone wall and watched the famous Mille Miglia Rally ride by. This event features hundreds of classic cars and I do believe Rob Beach might have blown his entertainment budget on arranging for our route and the Mille Miglia to be one and the same. Another good friend, Roberto Mitchelli, has actually driven this event and his enthusiasm about it was unbounded. In every town and every good vantage point hundreds of people watched, picnicked and waved at every snazzy auto that came by. Heading north we got caught up in the rally and at one point we found ourselves riding between some of these grand autos, which will always be a magnificent memory.
By mid afternoon Shira and I pulled into the parking lot that we rode out of two weeks before. This wonderful tour of Italy had come to a quiet and sad end, but the memories, the cities, the people, the phenomenal riding would be with us for a long time.
I had asked why so many riders return to Beach Motorcycle Adventures time and time again.
Well, the easy answer is simply that Rob Beach is following in his parents tire tracks, providing some of the best guided-motorcycle tours on the planet. His many choices of routes, each one incredibly wonderful and scenic, and his superior selection of hotels and inns could all easily answer this question by themselves.
But, unlike other tour companies we have traveled with, it is that riders who have ridden with Rob Beach before feel like they are coming back home to a family. Many stay in touch with each other and plan their next Beach tour together. That is a rare thing.
Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures runs tours in Italy and the Alps, excellent places on the globe, and you can find out more on their website at www.bmca.com.
If one or all of these great riding destinations appeal to you then drop Rob Beach a line and, as their logo says, “They’ll make your dreams a reality!”
Maybe you’ll even find you have extended family you just haven’t ridden with - yet!
We thoroughly enjoyed this two-wheel jaunt of Italy and have only one last thing to say. . . “Good on ya, Mr. Beach.”
By Bill Edwards, Local BMW Club Newsletter
By Clement Salvadori, Rider Magazine January 2015
By Odile Heisel, Personal Blog 2015
By Brian Rathjen, Backroads Magazine
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Beach's has been touring the globe since 1972, racking up many, many miles across 4 continents.
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