DAY 3: Lucca loop

Bicycling (South Africa) - - Stories -

30.5km 9.7km/h 508m el­e­va­tion

At last: a glo­ri­ous sun­rise peeked through the wooden shut­ters of the old house, the burnt or­ange, ruby pink and baby blue of the sky­line per­fectly match­ing the dis­tinct shades of the Tus­can build­ings around us. We lost Deb­bie and Wynne to the labyrinth of in­ner Lucca’s shop­ping par­adise, but the rest of us em­barked on the Lucca Loop.

Af­ter re-vict­ualling at a cor­ner bak­ery, we headed to­wards Mar­lia, home of the quin­tes­sen­tial Tus­can villa; ex­pan­sive es­tates, with high walls and man­i­cured gar­dens. All are named, rather than hav­ing house num­bers. Some are open to the pub­lic for view­ing, but the en­trance fee can be pricey.

On­ward we rode, up the Via de Ma­traia and into the Piz­zorne moun­tains, where the in­clines be­came more chal­leng­ing. With gra­di­ents of be­tween 8 and 16%, the route was a re­minder of how tough cy­cling can be in Italy [be­low, left]. Chez, hav­ing had the forethought to or­der an e-bike, took con­trol of these climbs. At the flick of a switch she took off like Mikel Landa – or Mary Pop­pins…

Once again the weather was on our side – blue skies with wispy white clouds, and a cool breeze as a con­stant com­pan­ion. The road reached its zenith at the small vil­lage of Ma­traia, where we dis­mounted at a view­point to take in the beau­ti­ful vis­tas [be­low, right].

A lit­tle fur­ther up the road, in the vil­lage proper, we bought lunch from a small del­i­catessen. Here the ladies were in­ge­nious in their gath­er­ing and we tucked into crack­ers, Ital­ian salami, cream cheese and the ubiq­ui­tous Birra Moretti (7-Up shandies for some). We filled our wa­ter bot­tles at a road­side wa­ter foun­tain dis­pens­ing nat­u­ral moun­tain wa­ter, and set off again.

Ev­ery prop­erty we passed had a small olive or­chard with the farm­ers reap­ing the olives, us­ing an im­ple­ment like an over­sized pitch­fork to ‘comb’ the olives off the tree. At the en­cour­age­ment of one farmer, Dun­can had a go – but gave up af­ter only a cou­ple of strokes, grum­bling about be­ing a farmer, not a labourer!

Com­ing down the moun­tain was fast; be­fore we knew it we were back on the flat, zigzag­ging through sub­ur­bia en route to Lucca’s city cen­tre.

In all, it was a spec­tac­u­lar day on the bike – the tough­est so far; no fur­ther than the pre­vi­ous day, but with 500m of climb­ing to keep us hon­est. That said, I would have climbed an­other 500m just to see those views, eat that lunch and drink that cold moun­tain wa­ter.

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