Exploring Tuscany and Chianti the fun way – on two wheels of course!

Italy. It has a reputation for good wine, high fashion and romantic scenery. Does it live up to this reputation – absolutely!

Whilst cars and motorbikes can get you to most places, you will find you blink and soon pass some of the sights. I was lucky enough to be involved with co-leading the Exodus ‘Cycle Tuscany and Chianti’ trip last week, alongside the awesome leader Radu. Slowing things down and seeing things from a bike I conclude, is actually the best way to see this stunning region.

Our group of 16 met and became well aquatinted with their two-wheeled friends for a week. With days in the saddle ranging from 50 – 75 kilometres, the group found their pre-trip training came in handy!!!

Keep peddling up the hills!

Keep peddling up the hills!

For the first two days the sun shone and we eased the legs in gently! We had our first introduction to the ‘white roads’ (gravel) and a couple of nice big ‘undulations’… This was to become the word of the trip!  Gelato was on tap as were the wines of the Chianti region. Chianti Classico anyone?

Vineyards as far as the eye could see

Vineyards as far as the eye could see

After a few days in the saddle the group had a well earned break in Siena.  Meanwhile Radu put me through my paces on the bike!  Siena truly is beautiful.  With the magical Campo (main square) and Duomo there were photo opportunities galore! I enjoyed a glass of prosecco on the edge of the Campo with two of our guests. In Italy you never get bored of watching the world go by!!!

Siena - wow

Siena – wow

By the middle of the week the group were back in the saddle again and we entered the Chianti region. Castellina here we came!  At this point it felt like there were vineyards everywhere we looked!  The undulating hills and blue sky backdrop just made the whole area look like a fairy tale.  I managed to fit in a quick swim in quite possibly the best pool I have ever swam in. Pictures didn’t do it justice. Outdoor (of course), the backdrop were vineyards, the town of Castellina and forests. As the sun set I swam up and down trying to take in the tranquility. In amongst a busy week, the ten minute break came at the right time.

Afternoon dip

Afternoon dip

The next few days brought mixed weather but the group became experts at dodging the showers. We made a day trip to San Gimignano. The first 18k from the hotel were downhill…. But of course that made for a nice uphill on the way back!! As usual this ‘medieval Manhattan’ town was bursting at the seams and the queues for the ‘best gelato in Italy’ went on for ages!!!  As usual the support van was on hand with drinks and snacks to help them up the hills on the way back!

Prize-winning gelato!

Prize-winning gelato!

After sampling lots of wine and lots of gelato, the trip continued with a mixture of ups and downs to Florence. As we pulled in you could see the Duomo in distance just waiting to be explored.  What an iconic place to finish! The historical sights awaited….

Above all, the trip was full of great people and was at a pace that was doable for all. With regular snack breaks and photo stops who could not enjoy it?

Snacks and grapes...

Snacks and grapes… 

Tuscany and Chianti really are better off seen on two wheels!


– Natalie

P.S  Heres the link to my flipagram montage – enjoy!

The bare essentials – packing for backpacking!

It’s something that is a cross between a chore and fun. A bit of a challenge as you seek to ‘break’ your own last ‘lightest weight’ record. The necessity of packing ahead of any trip is something that we can’t escape. For some it helps the rising crescendo of pre-trip excitement, for others it’s the last hurdle before departure.

All set and ready to go!

All set and ready to go!

Now we’ve all heard the rule of thumb: lay everything out and halve it. But how many of us do it? Ironically I find it much easier to pack for longer trips. With a long trip you accept that you will need to do washing en route (often a tricky task and when you hand over ALL of your clothes whilst hoping the passers by don’t realise you are stood in your pajamas, you pray to the Clothing Gods that your diminishing supply of socks will all come back). With a short trip you can attempt to raid your underwear draw and stretch it so you have enough pairs of pants to last for the whole trip. Whatever your style of packing, I think there are a few ‘must takes’ for every trip.

Washing line, sink plug, water bottle carrier, packing cells, multi country adapter, carabena and the best travel item ever - my buff!

Washing line, sink plug, water bottle carrier, packing cells, multi country adapter, carabinas and the best travel item ever – my buff!

For me my must takes are practical. For others they are luxury items. For example the hair straighteners don’t make my list, but I know from the questions I get asked at work they are important to some people.  They are not very practical when you are bush camping in the middle of nowhere though!  Some people have lists, others throw in what they remember at the time. For us, it’s a bit of a mixture of both.  To a certain extent it depends on where we are going, but most of the below go with me on any big (and often small!!) trip.  So here we go with my backpacking paraphernalia:

Buff – These multi wear headscarves are the best invention ever!  For me I wear mine as a scarf or a hat, or over my mouth when its dusty but above all I use it to cover my face when I’m on planes.  The modern version of an eye mask as it is so multifunctional.  Well worth the investment

Scarf for ladies (but a sarong can double for this too) – I bought a couple in Morocco that now go everywhere. Particularly good for ladies to throw over their shoulders, head or wherever necessary to cover up a bit more

Dean wearing his buff and me wearing my scarf.

Dean wearing his buff and me wearing my scarf.

Travel skirt
– I have one trusty skirt (if you have ever travelled with me you will know exactly which one!).  It covers my knees, is super lightweight and dries easily and packs into nothing.  Great to dress up or dress down.

Packing cells –  The modern day carrier bags!  We each have a set of three – one for tops, one for bottoms and another for undies.  They keep everything together and so your bag doesn’t quite explode to the same extent when you stop.  Before I invested in these I used to use different colour carrier bags so I knew what I was pulling out!

Multi country adapter: One adapter works in most places.

Small sewing kit – Running repairs will be necessary on any trip when you have limited clothes to wear.  My tip – pick up a sewing kit from the hotel if you splurge one night!

Sink plug – whilst the travel ones are not quite perfect, they are good enough to keep enough water in the sink to do some washing. Handy to wash the three-day old socks out!

Peg-free washing line – This handy piece of elastic hangs between bushes, showers and anything you can improvise with. Just DON’T hang it off the sprinkler system!

Sleeping bag liner – sometimes in the nicest looking place outdoors, you find the bed sheets a bit suspect indoors. Always handy to have in case you don’t trust the sheets or just need a bit of extra warmth. To all those people at work who ask me if they can hire sleeping bags… this is essential!

Sarong – doubles up as beach towel, skirt for a night out and drying tool when your real towel is in the wash

The sarong in action during a break in diving

The sarong in action during a break between dives

Travel towel
– These are an acquired taste, but once you are used to them they are handy and take up less space than your conventional towel

Havaianas / waterproof flip-flops – A must for a lazy day pair of shoes and to wear in the shower

Water bottle carrier – I bought a simple small fabric bottle carrier in Peru and its proved invaluable. Great when you need to take water with you but don’t want a bag

Carabinas – Great for hanging off the front of your bag in case you need to ‘dangle’ anything backpacker style! The simple answer to packing when you are running late (or have too much stuff!)

Small Handbag / Man bag – This might seem like a luxury item, but I have a small handbag that I keep all my electrical chargers and cords in.  Then if I have a night out I empty them all out and use the bag!

Small head torch – hands free lighting is handy. You might look like you are going down a mine, but you don’t have to wear it on your head. You will be grateful for it when navigating to and in and out of a long drop toilet in a snowstorm via the light of the moon (I speak from experience!)

Tiny hairbrush – I would actually argue you could leave this one out really…

Waterproof jacket – not only good as a waterproof layer, they also act as a wind breaker and help keep you warm as part of a layering system. Layers, layers, layers…. The key to warmth!

Down jacket for cold climates – These keep you so toasty and warm, are light weight and  pack down to next to nothing.  Fantastic inventions!

Warmth at a fraction of the space

Warmth at a fraction of the space

In amongst all of this I usually take about four tops and four pairs of bottoms of varying sleeve and leg length. Before every big trip at least one person has asked how I pack for so long. In truth it’s simple – get the above items in and the rest is easy. Above all, we all like to buy souvenirs en route, so isn’t forgetting something important? If only as an excuse to go shopping on holiday!

Happy Packing!

–       Natalie

P.S I don’t have a weight record as such, but if you think this list is long, before the last trip I went away prepared for -30 degrees with 12.5kg of luggage. Not bad going! Don’t ask what I came back with…