The Mail on Sunday
The freedom of Tuscany
ows lengthen and a fox calls from the neighbouring orchard. There is the added bonus of no mobile phone signal.
In the middle of one afternoon, as we cycle past a vineyard, there’s a sudden squeal from the children.‘Quick! Quick! Come and see!’ They zoom back towards us, pedalling as if their lives depend on it, their faces a mixture of fear and excitement. ‘There’s some weird animal in the road!’ A weird animal in Italy? Wild boar? Wolf? Porcupine? Surely not.
to ever greater speeds, my curiosity building. We round the corner and there, staring at us is . . . a donkey. This, I suppose, is what comes of living in a big city like London – a donkey becomes ‘some weird animal’.
But I have to admit it is an unusuallooking donkey, with a hint of goat about its jaw. It belongs to Torto and Bruna, an elderly Italian couple who delight in showing the children round their farm. There are pheasants and their chicks, goats, hens and at least ten, no, 20, cats.
Torto the husband tells us he is 76 but he looks a lot younger. A Mediter- ranean diet steeped in olive oil, we wonder? ‘No,’ he tells us proudly, ‘lots of sleeping. My wife, she do all the work.’ ‘It’s true,’ she nods, ‘always he does nothing but snoring. Here, have another olive.’
Week two and we have left the town of Orvieto, with its fabulous and ornate cathedral, its winding cobbled backstreets and its crisp white wine, for a bungalow on the coastal plain opposite the island of Elba. First impressions are not good. The two bodybuilders in the next-door bungalow have a fierce-looking doberman on a leash and on the first night the power goes out. Twice.
We are also in for a nasty shock. Without a car, we had assumed we
The top-rated Bodysgallen Hall (www.bodysgallen.com), a beautifully restored 17th Century property in Llandudno, is offering special ‘holiday at home’ packages until October 31 this year. Breaks cost from £250 per room per night for a standard double room for a minimum two-night stay.
The price includes dinner, a full Welsh breakfast, use of the spa, and free entry to local places of interest.
To Tuscany could catch a taxi to the nearest town of Marina di Grossetto, just 15 miles away. But this is Italy and a public holiday and the taxi driver might as well have had a dorsal fin and serrated teeth. He charges us a staggering €138 for the round trip, pointing with glee at his suspect meter, then turning nasty when we protest.
Drastic measures are called for. We resolve to go everywhere by bike, however long it takes and regardless of the fact that the mid-afternoon temperature is nudging 40C. Our daughters, ten and 11, take up the challenge, competing to be in front and taking turns at the navigating. Early memories of childhood bike holidays come flooding back, of com-
AgroTurismo passes and crumpled maps clamped to handlebars.
But this is the 21st Century and we have technology on our side. Using my wife’s mobile phone and its rolling sat map, we zigzag our way across Tuscany along quiet country lanes to distant trattorias, returning by moonlight and racing each other to the door.
On our last night but one, we watch Gladiator on DVD, then, on our final day in Rome, repeat every line we can remember as we marvel at the statues, the ancient Forum and the breathtaking Colosseum. My handbike feels completely at home on the 2,000-year-old cobbles and, with a surge of arm-power, I pull clear of the guided tour, pausing for a minute as the Roman sun sinks behind the pines.
This machine, despite its earlier hiccups, has transformed our holiday, after all. There can be no going back after this – it’s coming with us next time.
Frank Gardner is the BBC’s Security Correspondent.