DAY 3: Lucca loop
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.