Tuscany in July: Italian hills, thrills and heat

harry ehrlich tuscan bike ride

The Tuscany region of Italy is known for many great things. It is the central region of Italy and is home to some of the most famous cities in Italy. Florence, Siena, and Pisa to name a few.

Well, this story isn’t about any of those places, it’s about a tiny town called San Quirico d’Orcia and one long bike ride, down (and consequentially up) one long hill, in the middle of July.

You might be asking, “what are you doing in this obscure town in the middle of July?” The answer is simple. I was there for the holy unity of two lovely souls, which happened to intersect with a month-long trip across Europe.

More on that wedding in my next article, but back to the fire of the Tuscan sun.

It was the day before the wedding and childhood friends had traveled from far and wide to this tiny Italian town. We had the whole day, as the couple-to-be went with their family to tour a separate small village, and the hotel happened to have five, well-used, mountain bikes for borrowing.

San Quirico d’Orcia is a beautiful Tuscan hamlet, located at the top of a rather large but gradual hill. We had been told that a few kilometers down there is a smaller town and there is a river running through it. Being the optimists we were, we said, “Let us go, and find that river, so that we may swim in it, or look at it, or whatever it is we will do once we arrive.”

Photo by Harry Ehrlich

Fast-forward and we are coasting like crazy. These bikes are gliding down the rolling Tuscan highway as we zoom down, gravity doing all the pedaling. The sun was hot, but the wind was in our face. The asphalt was scorching but we were going so fast we didn’t have a care about it.

At some point, one member of our 5-person crew had the wits to realize that we would indeed need to bike back up this hill that it just took us four minutes to descend. We pushed it from our minds, focused on the task at hand.

After one of ours took a little tumble and stopped to catch our bearings, we realized that although we weren’t necessarily where we wanted to end up, the map indicated that there was a piece of river nearby.

The river was gapped by what can only be described as a really awesome wooden bridge. This wooden bridge wasn’t rickety or held together by ropes, but strong, with metal supports and sound architecture. The map said that it ran right over the river, but when we looked down, what was at one time surely a rushing and bubbling body of water, was nothing more than sun-baked stones with reflective, still pools of murky green liquid. The summer sun had completely dried this river up (and most of the valley as well).

Would we let this stop us? No no no. Because, adventure.

Photo by Harry Ehrlich

We recuperated on the steady support of bridge, taking in the sun, doing a bit of yoga, and drinking wine that one of us had brought in a strong backpack (obviously a classy bunch).

As the sun baked us, it got to a point where hanging above the river just wasn’t going to satisfy our team. We needed to be in it. We proceeded to find a route down the steep sides of the cliffs leading down to the river bed. I think the three defining words of that adventure were thorns, ouch and bees.

We frolicked down beneath the massive bridge to the river bed made up of big, climbable rocks. All of this was well and good but we all knew what we were really doing. The afternoon sun shined down upon us as we renavigated our way out of the basin and to our bicycles, resigned to our fate of the treacherous ride back up the hill.

Photo by Harry Ehrlich

Remember when I said the feeling of flying down this hill was a dream? It had now turned into our own completive nightmare. Without really any momentum, we needed to find our way back to the main road and start climbing. We had been in the sun for hours, our water (and wine) practically depleted, and all we had left were our legs and a dream. A dream of making it to the top!

I’ll never forget the smell of melting rubber and the feeling of being cooked by the radiant heat of the asphalt! As we peddled steadily in our one-line formation, little Italians cars speeding by us occasionally up or down, we could feel the intense trapped fury of the summer heat, emanating from the dark pavement.

Because you’re reading these words, you know it’s a spoiler alert, and that we did indeed make it back to the top of the hill, and San Quirico d’Orcia.

Moral of the story here. Pursue adventure, remember gravity, and bring more water if it’s hot!

Photo by Harry Ehrlich