Posted by: Jennifer Sage | May 21, 2008

The best time to cycle in Tuscany and Umbria

Tuscany fields of poppiesAs I write this on May 20th, I am jonesin’ to be in Tuscany right now! May is an awesome time to go, with fields of poppies and other colorful flowers blanketing the fields as you ride by, and the brilliant yellow and fragrant broom scenting your path. In fact, we’ve encountered fields so covered in poppies, that from a distance they shimmered a scarlet red.   Poppies don’t do well in the heat, so once the temperatures start to really climb, they will disappear, sometime in early June.

The further south you go on the European continent, the earlier you can ride comfortably. In Tuscany and Umbria, April and May are excellent pre-tourist months. In April, it may be cool mornings and evenings, and at altitude. You may encounter more rain in both months. I’d avoid Easter, unless you make your reservations 10 months in advance – the Europeans love to go away at Easter.

June is exquisitely beautiful and green, and generally early in the month, you can avoid the crowds. But it begins to heat up towards the middle of the month, and the crowds start arriving at the middle to end of the month, so make sure to book your accommodations early for the best rooms. 

Tuscan farmhouse with vines and broom

My preference is to stay away from this part of Italy in July and August, as it is overrun with tourists (and the roads with cars) and temperatures can easily hover around 100 degrees or more (though cooler near the coast). If you must come in the summer, try to stay away from the most popular cities and off-the-beaten path.  

Tuscan texturesIn September, Tuscany becomes even more a land of contrasts and texture.  If you’ve traveled to this area in the spring, then you need to return to see it in the fall, because it is so different and fascinating! Many of the fields are turned over with large tractors, creating a textured landscape so beautiful and so unique, you must experience it at all different times of the day because the play of light changes everything. Some of the largest dirtclods I’ve ever seen were in some of these Tuscan fields, some as big as the tractors that sowed them! You can buy coffee-table books devoted entirely to the turned-over siena, ochre and umber-colored Tuscan earth.

September is also a fabulous time to ride in Tuscany due to the grape harvest, and part of the joy of visiting the wine regions of Chianti, Montepulciano or Montalcino is to visit the wineries and watch the process (and taste the fruits of their labor).  I am the first to admit that cyclists are a bon-vivant group of people!  We love to ride but we love to eat fabulous meals and love to drink the best wines, and we will go out of our way to experience the best of all three worlds!  You can have it all in September in Tuscany.  This is also the period of wild mushroom hunting, and of course, the wild boar hunting, so expect amazing meals containing both delicacies!  Mmmmm, Pappardale al Chingale e funghi (pappardale pasta with wild boar and mushrooms) with a nice Chianti – tell me, what can be better than that after a long day’s ride?  As you ride by some of the chestnut forests, you’ll see groups of cars parked along the road with families out searching for wild mushrooms.

September can be a busy time (but not as bad as August), so I would book 4-6 months in advance for the best accommodations in the best villages. Weather wise, September is perfect for cycling, although it’s possible to encounter the occasional sudden downpour.

October is sublime because all the tourists have gone home and you have the roads to yourself. Generally sunny and warm in mid-day, but make sure to bring your leg and arm-warmers, jacket and booties (especially if you plan to do some climbs or go later in the month).

Tuscany in the Autumn


Tuscany average temps and rainfall

                Mar    Apr    May    Jun    Jul    Aug    Sep    Oct    Nov 
c               16      19      23      27      30     30      27      22      16 
f                61      66      74      81      86    86       81     72       61
days rain   8        8        9         6        3      4         6       9        11


The photo below is in Chianti in late September at dusk.  A view to take your breath away!

Chianti Olive groves and Cypress trees at dusk in September


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