Enduro Thu 12 July 2018

VAL D’ORCIA: LEAVING AS ENDURANCE RIDERS, RETURNING AS PILGRIMS

After 15 years of endurance riding and a trip to Iceland, I abandoned 100-kg bikes for a two-wheeler that would allow me to tour my beautiful country: Italy.
It is no secret that I’m always looking for riding partners for Sunday and weekend tours, and this is why Stefano phoned me proposing a weekend in Tuscany for maxi enduros with his motoadv.org group.
In no time comes Friday and as soon as I get off work, I hop on my bike and head towards Radicofani, along the Cassia road.
Radicofani is where I’ll meet up with the group; it is a little jewel, a small town with 1000 souls that, with its tower and walls, dresses the top of a hill right in the middle of Val d’Orcia as if it was a mushroom.
Arriving from Viterbo one sees it from afar: the Amiata mountain to the left, Radicofani to the right and the Cassia road going to Siena in the middle.
When we reach the B&B on the hill top, we enjoy the view from the window: chalky hillsides in this corrugated part of Tuscany, wearing their spring green dress covered with reflexes from the setting sun.

The two sides of dual riding
Saturday’s tour consists of a loop around the Amiata Mountain passing through the Val d’Orcia: Montepulciano to the North, Castel del Piano to the South, and then returning to Radicofani.
The morning starts with a wade and a dirt-road lined with cypresses; easy stuff for the skilled in off-road, but even if it is true that everybody set their own pace in enduro, with dual bikes the difference increases: the weight of the bike complicates everything in off-road and the participants aren’t always skilled off-roaders.
This is why a short rocky climb, or a small ditch, slow the group down; however, even if at an elastic-like pace, the group proceeds along the trail over tree-filled hills and through acres of vineyards until it reaches a road sign that explains everything: Montalcino!
This is a tiny patch of land that created a true and personal culture out of its care of traditions, territory and agriculture. A region famous worldwide for its Brunello wine, a nectar that gives work to the whole region and enriches the landscape with rows of grapevines.
I never saw vineyards kept so well, every plant is knowingly pruned and precisely tied to its support, an obsessively ordered weave that looks printed, almost sculpted, on the hills, beautiful before being productive.
We have lunch here, amongst the rows of grapevines … a serving of pasta, a pie, a glass of wine and off we go again.
In the afternoon, the other side of dual comes out! The group splits: some want to keep running on the dirt-roads of the Brunello, others want to let the horses loose and put the suspensions of their big enduros at work.
At this point, Carlo enters the scene: on his old Africa Twin, setup ad hoc, he proposes to take us riding “bad enduro”, scaring the fearful and stirring up the cunning. And luckily so!
The pace changes in a big way, we are really using our horsepower now and the suspensions work hard, Carlo leads us along the trails of the KTM Trophy which was held in this area only a few weeks ago.  
The big enduros now are really racing, they are so fast as to overcome even the prejudices of who thinks they can only take on dirt-roads. These bikes, with the right tires and a bit of skills can really do a lot, maybe not everything … but almost!
We race up and down along canyons and loose rocks until we reach Castelnuovo dell’Abate, a tiny cluster of houses lost amongst the mountains. We stop for a cold drink and to wait for the latecomers.
In the bar/restaurant the only Italians are the owners! To our great surprise the people sitting at the tables speak northern-European or Far-Eastern languages. I appreciate the luck of living in a Country like this, where the cities are full of history and beauty and tourists visit the small postcard-like borghi, a distributed richness without equals.
Carlo’s “bad enduro” finishes here, we rejoin the others and smoothly along the dirt-roads that circle the Amiata Mountain, we return to the B&B in Radicofani for the night and for a dinner where the pitchers of wine are hardly left empty.

Sunday as a pilgrim
A ride North towards Siena is scheduled for Sunday, but I must return home early, so I decide to return to Viterbo along the via Francigena that passes from Radicofani.
For those who never heard of it, the via Francigena is an ancient route, 3000 km long, that in medieval times connected Canterbury to Rome, something like a Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) of Central Europe.
Following the signs and the milestones that for centuries indicated the road to pilgrims, I ride towards Montefiascone along spring green fields.
First, I must say that the via Francigena is a pedestrian route for pilgrims so one must go at a pilgrim’s pace even if on two-wheels; this is a must to avoid being disliked and looking like idiots. It must also be said that the trail must not be taken too lightly. It is mostly dirt-roads, but it’s still for pedestrians and in some sections I had to make use of all my enduro experience to pass without damage for the trail was so narrow my twin engine bike couldn’t pass.
Luckily, these are isolated sections, only a few hundred meters long, and the Cassia runs near the trail so, with enough information, it is possible to avoid any section that is too difficult
I pass borghi like Acquapendente and San Lorenzo – from the square of the latter the view of the Bolsena lake is magnificent with the road seemingly diving directly into the water. The crater lake attracts the eye at every step (or wheel turn); it characterizes the way between San Lorenzo and Montefiascone, a constant and spectacular presence that shows itself around every curve.
I reach Bolsena from behind its castle which lays almost on the shore of the lake and stop for a drink on the beach taking the time for a short walk in the Spring sun.
I leave heading towards the Turona park and reach the panoramic viewpoint of Montefiascone’s Rocca dei Papi, a terrace overlooking the lake where my trip ends. In this part of the country Sunday’s lunch is a serious thing, along the streets of the borghi the ovens work overtime, the scent of roast fills the air, it is time to head back home!

Text and photos: Dario Lupin