Day 24: Popolano – Fiesole

Distance: 61.95 km

Time: 4 hours 9 minutes

Average speed: 14.9 kph

Cumulative distance: 1324.94 km

Cumulative time: 63 hours 22 minutes

Word of the day: ‘ripido‘ (ree-pea-doh) – steep

Our barbecue last night was in an idyllic setting, and the food tasted all the better for it. We ate sausages, grilled zucchini and aubergines, together with some delicious focaccia sourced from the local supermarket. A bottle of Barbera helped to wash it all down. Our apartment in the agriturismo was the biggest yet, with stone steps seemingly heading in all directions from a central hall. What a great place to stay, and it was run by Gian Martino and Veronica, who couldn’t do enough for us, including taking a picture before we left.

When we threw open the shutters this morning it was with some relief that we saw that the weather was overcast. Much of today’s pedalling was going to be uphill, and the slightly cooler weather was most welcome. We wheeled the tandem down the coarse gravel track to the main road, and set off to ascend the first of today’s two big climbs.

For the first twelve kilometres the gradient was relatively gentle. We were pedalling into a headwind, though, so we concentrated on achieving a good rhythm. We were soon virtually surrounded by forests, and the traffic on the road gradually diminished as we rose higher.

Gian Martino had warned us that there were a few steeper kilometres around the town of Crespino, and sure enough the Captain was soon reaching for the lower gears. We’d lost the headwind by now, and gained some rain, which was light and refreshing, at least to start with. As we worked our way up through the steeper section the rain grew in intensity and we heard some prolonged thunder, which reverberated around the steep sides valley for at least twenty seconds.

After about four kilometres the gradient eased off, leaving us with only another three hundred metres of ascent in order to reach the summit of today’s first climb. We stopped at the top to enjoy a cool drink, but all hopes of a fine view were dashed by the weather and the thick forest.

The Captain has spent some time yesterday evening checking that we had viable brake pads for our front and rear disk brakes. The verdict was that they were fine, but would probably need changing quite soon. We set off downhill quite cautiously, because the roads were wet. For the first eight kilometres of the descent we encountered hairpin after hairpin – it was a good job that we had checked the brakes.

The best technique with disk brakes, apparently, is to allow the tandem to run along the ‘straight’ parts and then brake hard immediately before each hairpin. This worked well, but it was a relief when the road straightened out and we could let the tandem run down to our lunch destination at Borgo San Lorenzo.

It took us a while to find a café in the town which, unusually for this trip, seemed a down-at-heel sort of place. We had a good lunch, though, while watching the pouring rain hitting the umbrellas outside.

So, lunch eaten, all we had to do was achieve the second big climb of the day. It continued to rain as we ascended, initially gently. Given the choice of beating sun or rain today, though, we’d have chosen the rain – climbing in the heat can be really debilitating. Once again we settled into a good rhythm, and though it felt slow after the flat cycling in the Po Valley we soon climbed to five hundred metres and began our descent towards Fiesole.

The views to the south were tantalising – for most of the descent we enjoyed spectacular scenery and hints that Florence was just around the corner.

It wasn’t really until we reached the lovely town of Fiesole that we could see the city centre and Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

Fiesole occupies a ridge above the city, and our hotel here makes the most of the view.

We’re not planning to visit Florence itself for two reasons – firstly we’ve already done so, and secondly we plan to stay there for a couple of nights when we drive back to Cervinia at the end of our trip. We’re going to content ourselves with enjoying the beautiful surroundings here at Fiesole.

As we’re well up on our schedule, and as a reward for conquering the Apennines (!) we’ve awarded ourselves two whole days of leisure here, so there will be no more posts until Monday, when we set off in a westerly direction for a destination yet to be decided!

Here’s today’s track.