This story comes from Andy Levine of DuVine Adventures (http://www.duvine.com/); DuVine Adventures is rated by National Geographic ADVENTURE as one of the Best Outfitters for 2009.
Monte Oliveto di Maggiore to Arbia
My favorite bike ride in Italy runs along the clay hills of Siena from the medieval abbey of Monte Oliveto di Maggiore to the town of Arbia. I stumbled across this road on my first bike trip in Italy while on a brief break from my studies in Rome. It was the middle of February and I had suffered for the first couple of days of riding after foolishly requesting a ridiculously large 64 cm frame from the bike shop in Florence. The combination of hard seat, awkward position and cold rain had me questioning my stubborn refusal to join my classmates who had decided to spend the break in Sicily.
However, on the third morning, the skies cleared and the pair of windpants I had wrapped around the seat started to do their work. Following the recommendation of my guidebook, I set out from Siena for the Abbey of Monte Oliveto. The maps in Italy often show a green line running along scenic roads, but no marker could have prepared me for what I found as I began the first climb out of Arbia. The landscape here is known as the "Crete Senesi" or "Sienese badlands" (loosely translated). The region was once at the bottom of an inland sea, and the clay-like soil looks like it is bubbling out of the wheat fields like giant scoops of gelato. The winter is the wet season here in Tuscany, and the wheat that has been planted in the late fall covers the treeless hills with a bright green blanket. Hardy purple wildflowers that have resisted the farmers' eternal struggle to destroy them are scattered amongst the wheat giving a royal glow to the whole scene.
In every direction, the green hills and clear blue winter skies are the only colors broken up by the occasional hilltop villa and cypress-lined drive. As I climbed, I found myself stopping for more and more pictures, convinced that I had discovered the most beautiful place on earth. Through countless adventures since then in many beautiful places all over the world, one picture of the Crete Senesi has remained on my computer desktop.
Now as DuVine's senior Italian guide, I get to ride this road on the fourth day of every Tuscany tour. As the seasons change, I get to see the green hills of April and May turn to gold in June and enjoy the brief brilliance of the sunflowers in July before giving way to the rugged, barren, brown beauty of August and September and October. Every winter, I sit in front of my computer staring at the picture on my desktop, waiting for April to once again pedal through paradise.
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