Day 25: Fiesole – Montecatini Terme

Distance: 54.87 km

Time: 2 hours 58 minutes

Average speed: 18.5 kph

Cumulative distance: 1379.81 km

Cumulative time: 66 hours 20 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘brutto e bello’ (brew-toe eh bell-oh) – ugly and beautiful

Fiesole was a lovely place to spend our weekend ‘off’.

Up in the hills outside Florence it had spectacular views of the city, including from our hotel’s restaurant and from the terrace, where we had breakfast each day. The pool was small but perfectly formed for refreshing relaxation. We walked up to the main town square for dinner one night, and for lunch and a more extensive explore on Sunday.

Fiesole has a Roman amphitheatre, some baths and some Etruscan ruins, all with fabulous views over the countryside.

In the main square was a statue celebrating the little-known meeting between Richard III and Fidel Castro:

Apparently it’s actually Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II.

There were some striking contrasts between our new region, Tuscany, and our previous location in Emilia–Romagna in the Po valley. Before our heroic conquering of the Apennines (!) we’d been cycling through flat countryside full of very managed crops, cereals, fruit, unidentified other stuff. Tuscany is all green hills, silvery olive groves, pencil cypress trees. It felt very different, and we appreciated very much that travelling through a country by bicycle is both fast enough to show the contrasts, and slow enough to give you time to enjoy them.

The other contrast was hearing voices speaking English again! Tuscany is very popular with Brits, and on hearing our countryfolk around and about, we realised that we hadn’t really heard English spoken, or interacted with anyone in English for about ten days. Other than each other, of course.

So it was a fabulous weekend, very relaxing and restorative. This morning we had one last breakfast on the terrace looking down on Florence, packed everything back into the panniers and headed off downhill.

After less than a kilometre we encountered our first problem. A one way road going the wrong way. We knew it was coming, it was very narrow, and although elsewhere on this trip so far it seems everyone is entirely happy for cyclists to go the wrong way down a one way street, we knew that in Florence if you’re caught it’s a 45 euro fine. The way around it was a five kilometre detour, so we’d decided in advance we’d just walk it, there was a pedestrian lane.

That done, we tackled a succession of sharp hills, and then finally were headed out properly towards today’s destination of Montecatini Terme.

And that’s where the ‘brutto’ began. Ugh, it was grim. Awful road surfaces, lots of traffic, real urban cycling, which is mentally completely exhausting. We both have to concentrate really hard to make sure stay on the right route, keep track of all the traffic, watch for potholes and one-way streets, it’s very tiring.

Kilometre after kilometre, it was horrible.

And then, just when we’d mentally consigned the day to the ‘file and forget’ category, up pops Pistoia. We’d identified it as a suitable lunch stop, just based on its location. We rode in, completely whacked, and found a little cafe where a really friendly and caring young waiter was looking after all his customers, we had a lovely lunch, the sun came out, and when we rode to the piazza where the duomo was it just blew our socks off. It was beautiful at every side, even the one with the bank and the government building! Bello at last, completely unexpected and wonderfully encouraging.

The ride from Pistoia to Montecatini Terme was fine, not much traffic and some nice views to look at after the awful urban sprawl of the morning. We found our lodgings, and after a quick shower and laundry duties walked to the funicular station to get the funicular up to Montecatini Alto. It was gorgeous, lovely views down to the plain and across to the mountains which we’ll have to thread through tomorrow on the way to Lucca.

It had a small church and an interesting pentagon-shaped fortress. The funicular was fantastically steep at the top – 38.5 percent, it said.

After a good mooch round up there we got the funicular back down, walked back via the supermarket to stock up for a quiet night in.

So, Lucca tomorrow, it’s reputed to be beautiful, it’s not very far from here so we plan to arrive at lunchtime and spend the afternoon looking around.

Here’s today’s track.