Biking in Italy - Guide Postby Bike tour guru
New for 2010 - DuVine Team Post - an opportunity for our team members to introduce an area that we travel to as part of the DuVine experience.
Today's post comes from Tom Coppock one of our guides who has an unmatched passion for Italy and the Italian experience:
DuVine got its start in Italy when Andy first ventured over the Alps from France to start a tour in Tuscany. Like countless other invaders over the centuries, we've been seduced by Italy's charms, succumbed to the temptations of heaps of homemade pasta and now that the grapes from that first summer can finally be enjoyed in a strong, dark bottle of Brunello, we feel right at home.
Of all places, Tuscany seems pretty idiot-proof when it comes to creating a bike tour. All the elements are there: beautiful scenery, great roads, quaint towns, world-class wine and a well-established tourist infrastructure. When I first visited the region alone on a bike I certainly thought I'd had the world's best bike experience. It was only years later when I returned as a guide that I realized how much I had missed. A guidebook can tell you where to find all the other tourists and which restaurants were once undiscovered gems, but, as in any heavily touristed region, the true Tuscany lies elsewhere hidden beyond the walls of the gift shops.
It would be easy as a tour operator to present the region in its most superficial form and it would be the rare guest who returned home disappointed. But despite the glowing feedback, our Tuscany tour has been through more iterations in the three years I've been there than I can count. We're not responding to criticism, just constantly striving to make every moment unforgettable, every day truly perfect for everyone. The wine tasting in the gorgeous cellars of a Montepulciano winery were great, but when we started doing a tasting in the private home of the small village wine-maker, Vittorio Innocenti, we knew that we had hit on something guests would be talking about for years to come. More recently, a friend in Montalcino noted that although DuVine was eating at the best restaurant in town, it didn't compare to his wife's cooking. Soon enough I found myself in his kitchen with a handful of guests translating frantically as Lina, his wife, showed us how to roll pasta. It was a huge hit and now this cooking class is a staple of our tour.
Andy is always challenging us to go out and find these real people and give guests these real experiences. We have accepted the challenge with gusto, especially as we have expanded into other parts of Italy. In Piedmont, my co-guide, David, and I struck gold after following a worn wooden sign down a one-lane road to Gianni and Mina's restaurant. They turned out to be a charming older couple, fulfilling their lifelong dream of running a small restaurant out of their country home. After a few glasses of wine, they offered to open their restaurant to our groups and DuVine guests have enjoyed Gianni's jokes and Mina's cooking ever since. In Puglia, on the other side of the country, we've started stopping by a local family farm to watch them make fresh mozzarella and taste it while it's still warm. These finds represent Italian hospitality at its best. With no tourism degrees, and very little English, these people do not look at tourists and see dollar signs. They just want to share their pride in their region, its cuisine, history and natural beauty.
Going forward, we are creating new tours in Umbria and Sicily with these lessons in mind. Biking in Italy is always a tremendous joy and setting our trip-making brushes to a blank canvas offers the most rewarding kind of challenge. No trip is ever considered truly complete, and we wouldn't have it any other way.