Careering around Tuscany on the back of a little red Vespa should come with two disclaimers. Firstly, the narrow twists and turns of Italian roads are not without danger and renting a Vespa should be done with caution even if you’re experienced. Secondly, it’s one of the most romantic ways to enjoy Italy, so choose your companion wisely before setting out into the wilderness on a bike together. More than fancy dinners or sunset strolls around the Duomo, for me, a day on the road is the epitome of Tuscany’s real dolce vita. It’s a life-affirming experience, with the wind on your skin and freedom of the open road, and nowhere is more picturesque than the Chianti hills at golden hour. The routes are endless, and as long as you stick to minor roads you’re soon bound to end up scootering through olive groves and medieval villages. After exploring the Tuscan hills around Florence with a fellow expat called George, I’ve shortlisted the highlights into three ultimate Vespa day trips.
New perspectives of Florence
Enjoying a day on a Vespa isn’t all about getting miles under your belt. Some of the most scenic parts of Tuscany can be discovered on the outskirts of Florence. Find your feet by taking the quiet viale Machiavelli at the Porta Romana roundabout and wind slowly up past the Boboli Gardens, Renaissance villas and the iconic San Miniato al Monte Basilica. Take your time on these peaceful back streets, then follow the viale Michelangiolo for more panoramic views over Florence. Afterwards, head north of Florence to Maiano and Fiesole, where sleepy hilltop roads will once again give you a fresh view on the city just a few kilometres below. Stop for lunch in one of Fiesole’s many excellent trattorias or venture on further to the village of Settignano, where a few eateries, such as La Capponcina, serve up rustic Tuscan fare. Head back to the steps at piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset over the Duomo before taking the scenic route back down into the city via San Niccolò before dark.
Rolling hills + Tuscan fare
Set off from Florence’s southernmost Porta Romana in the morning and follow directions to the pre-Roman village of Impruneta, about 12 kilometres to the south. Get accustomed to your bike by following quiet back roads until you get to Cascine del Riccio, then slowly wind your way through hamlets and vineyards. Within a few kilometres, the city falls away behind you as you climb into the Tuscan hills and time slows down. In the tiny centre of Impruneta, a local bakery serves excellent pastries, enjoyed with a coffee under the portico of the medieval Santa Maria Basilica. Later on, treat yourselves to lunch at one of Tuscany’s many farm-to-fork restaurants, such as La Cantinetta di Rignana, a tastefully restored medieval mill in the heart of Chianti. The restaurant, farm and vineyard are down a kilometre or so of dusty farm track, with unspoilt views over the woods and hills below. After a leisurely lunch, and perhaps an impromptu siesta on the grounds, head to Panzano, one of Chianti’s most underrated little villages and then take the historic via Chiantigiana all the way back to Florence, stopping at leisure as you pass through Greve in Chianti, Strada in Chianti and Grassina.
Chasing waterfalls + city spires
If you only have a day to see the Tuscany countryside by scooter, you can’t beat this itinerary. In the morning, head straight to San Gimignano to beat the crowds. Park just outside the walls and wander around the medieval center, perhaps climbing one of the fourteen famous towers for a view over the rolling hills. Pick up a picnic in town, then follow directions to Cascata del Diborrato near Colle di Val d’Elsa, a collection of unearthly turquoise waterfalls that have remained a fairly well-kept local secret. Go for a swim if you’re feeling brave and while away the afternoon on the banks of the river. On the way back, stop for some sensational schiacciata (Tuscan-style focaccia) at Forno Giotto in the otherwise unremarkable village of Chiesanuova. Be prepared to queue: this humble bakery has developed something of a cult following among foodies.
Where to hire a Vespa
To hire a Vespa independently and with minimal fuss, Tuscany by Car rent reliable scooters at 40 euro for 24 hours from their office on borgo Ognissanti. Florencetown is a recommended bike tour company and can organize guided day trips with a local guide around Chianti on 50cc original Piaggio Vespas. Prices here start at 310 euro per person for a regular scooter and include a traditional Tuscan lunch and minivan support. Tuscany by Bike provides a fully guided, six-hour Vespa tour in the Tuscan hills, including lunch at a castle, wine and olive oil tasting. Prices start at 130 euro.