We celebrate World Bicycle Day on 3 June with a two-wheeled trip from Florence to Livorno through one of Italy’s loveliest regions.
“You have to live spherically, in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm and things will come your way.”
This phrase, delivered by the character of Katherine in the film Under the Tuscan Sun, encapsulates what it means to travel in Tuscany. One of the 20 regions making up Italy, Tuscany is probably the culturally richest, and it’s hard to avoid clichés when describing it. Its mediaeval villages and landscapes are the essence of Romanticism. It was in the Tuscan city par excellence of Florence that Stendhal became lightheaded as he contemplated its beauty (his reaction would become forever known as Stendhal syndrome). And let’s not forget the message of Cavafy’s poem Ithaka: that the journey is more important than the destination.
There is a Tuscany that we can cross vertically, from Florence towards the south, through the valleys of vineyards that are home to Tuscan wines: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, to mention a few. But there is also another Tuscany, one that runs east to west and in which – as Katherine said in the film – you live spherically, by bike. A 140km route from Florence to Livorno ends up at the Tyrrhenian Sea. This trip is most enjoyable taken during the spring and late summer months of September and October, when temperatures are more relaxed and rain is scarce.
Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and an outdoor museum in itself. Not only is it home to some of the finest works in the history of art, but it also reveals places and scenarios so wonderful that you might need to sit down to prevent what happened to Stendhal from happening to you. You’ll see Brunelleschi’s dome, Giotto’s bell tower, the Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio. This is the perfect city for exploring on two wheels, with traffic restricted in the city centre and level ground.
Montecatini Terme, second stop
Just 50km from Florence is Montecatini Terme, the second destination on our route, and where the French designer Christian Dior died. Montecatini is famous for its thermal waters, the ostentation of some of its buildings and the Belle Époque vibe that emanates from them. In the 17th century, nobility came from all corners of Europe in search of miracles from its waters, making the town one of the most select aristocratic settings on the continent. Even today, its thermal baths are the largest in the country and its spa, which combines ancient splendour with modern treatments, is the destination of many travellers.
From Montecatini to Lucca
From Montecatini, we ride seven kilometres to Lucca. You can circle the walled city on your bike and look at a one-of-a-kind walls that – despite the passage of centuries and wars – are in perfect condition. The path has spaces equipped for pedestrians and bikes and groves of poplar trees. The interior is a trip back in time to the Middle Ages, with a village of squares, palaces and churches to be discovered.
From Lucca to Pisa
The shortest stage of the trip – only 20km – connects Lucca with Pisa, one of the best known and most visited cities in Tuscany. Its leaning tower is one of the world’s most photographed monuments, and rightly so, not only because of the tower, but also because of the whole complex it belongs to, along with the cathedral, the cemetery and the baptistery. There are few places in the world with so many monuments concentrated in such a limited space.
Arrival in Livorno
The sea is 30km from Pisa, and so is Livorno, Tuscany’s largest port. The passengers on the cruise ships that dock here will travel our route in the opposite direction. Still on your bike, you can enjoy a ride along the coast between the city with the Belle Époque vibe and the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can also dismount to cross the city on its canals – after all, it’s called Little Venice for a reason. From land to sea, bike to gondola, once again, the clichés are everywhere: Tuscany really has it all.