E-biking vacations in Tuscany & Umbria

Tossing up between Tuscany and Umbria? Why choose when you can e-bike through both? Electric is the way to go if you’ve got longer distances and rolling hills of farmland to cover. In a week, you can cross from Tuscany into Umbria, skirt the lovely Lake Trasimeno and make a pilgrimage to Assisi. St Francis was born here, but you don’t need the patron saint of nature to remind you that the natural landscape here should be treasured.
Umbria, the Italian peninsula’s only landlocked region, gets less attention than Tuscany, its quiet valleys sun-dappled, not tourist-tramped.
Umbria, tucked to the east of Tuscany, is something of a hinterland. It gets far fewer visitors, which is criminal, as there are some great agritourismo properties making the most of the region’s rich farmland. If you take the time to explore, you can find plenty of locally-produced products; look out for pork from Norcia and white Trebbiano wine (called Prociano on local menus). E-biking connects you to the suppliers you might miss by car, and gets you investing in the places off the beaten track.

Where to go e-biking in Tuscany and Umbria

From Tuscany’s eastern hill towns, you can see Umbria spreading out to the east. There’s Lake Trasimeno, Italy’s third largest lake, and Perugia, the region’s capital, beyond it. Cross the River Tiber valley and reach Assisi, birthplace of St Francis and important Christian pilgrimage site. As you cycle deeper into Umbria, you’ll start to recognise the landscape before you. You’ll notice the smaller, family-run organic farms, old vineyards where roses bloom among the vines, and fields upon fields of brilliant sunflowers. This region is known as Italy’s ‘green heart’ and it looks the part.

Assisi

Perugia may be Umbria’s capital, but Assisi is a major pilgrimage site for Christians. The beloved St Francis was born here and the town is richly decorated to celebrate him. There’s the UNESCO-listed, be-frescoed basilica where you can spot masterpieces by Giotto. Outside, the statue of humble St Francis on horseback, head bowed, is far more affecting than the average imposing equestrian tribute.

Cortona

A lovely Tuscan town, Cortona’s hilltop position frustrates drivers looking for parking (leaving cyclists feeling smug), but offers lovely views of the Chianti valley and a distant glimpse of Lake Trasimeno. The important Etruscan Academy Museum of Cortona (MAEC) opened in 2005. It holds varied treasures relating to the mysterious pre-Roman civilisation: we don’t know much about the Etruscans, but they did make very interesting tombs.

Gubbio

On the slopes of Mount Ingino, Gubbio’s dark grey streets and narrow alleys are old and atmospheric. Museums, palaces and churches complete the picture of medieval might. The 14th century Palazzo di Consoli is now a museum, and the suspended square in front of it offers beautiful windswept views down the hill, whilst a funicular takes you to the top of the mountain.

Lake Trasimeno

Just a shade smaller than Lake Como, Lake Trasimeno is distractingly pretty, half-surrounded by hills, and lush with wildlife. It wasn’t the distracting beauty of the lake that thwarted Flaminius in 217 BC, but Hannibal and his army of Carthaginians, who defeated the Roman consul on these shores with the largest ambush in military history.

Montone

Unchanged for centuries, this little Umbrian town is a great base for reaching both Tuscan and Umbrian sights. Lapped by a defensive wall, the village was famously the home of Braccio de Montone, a condottieri (leader of a band of mercenary soldiers). In the 15th century, this ambitious solider conquered most of Umbria. He was excommunicated by the Pope not once, but twice, then died of battle wounds and became an Italian legend.

Via Flaminia

The Roman consul Flaminius might not have had much luck beating Hannibal at Lake Trasimeno, but gives his name to this Roman Road, which is still used today. Built in 220 BC, it runs all the way from Rome, north to Rimini on the Adriatic, passing through the Umbrian Apennines on the way. Channel Roman discipline as you cycle along, and keep in formation.

What does this trip entail?

Tailor made e-biking trips run for eight days. You’ll cycle between two and a half and four hours a day. The terrain is hilly, but very doable with an electric bike, and you feel like you have all the time in the world to lunch at your leisure, or wander into a vineyard’s wine shop. The routes can be adventurous, but every night you’ll stay in a nice hotel – often with a pool – and there’s also a chance to stay at an agriturismo, a great way to reduce your carbon footprint in the destination by eating very local products.

Finding your way is easy. You’ll get detailed route descriptions and maps, and some e-bikes are also fitted with their own sat nav. You’ll be cycling along country roads – some dating back from Roman times – plus cycle paths and trails too. If there are problems, help is just a phone call away.

Why take an e-bike?

E-bikes are great for people who feel less confident cycling. Maybe you’re worried about the hills – or the heat – or the distances. An e-bike is fitted with a discreet battery powered motor that kicks in as soon as you start pedalling, propelling you up to 25km an hour. It doesn’t look any different from a regular bike at first glance, though it is slightly heavier. It can comfortably last a full day of cycling, you just need to remember to charge it in the evenings. E-bikes can be rented on many regular cycling trips – just ask your operator. Alternatively, an e-bike only tour will allow you to explore further, and get deeper into a region.

Making the most of your pit stops

Booking your trip through a responsible tour operator gives you a treasure trove of useful local information, so you can tap straight into the soul of a region. You’re exploring a wine region, so make the most of it. Sip and swill your way through Tuscan reds like Chianti and Montepulciano, but don’t forget to try Umbrian wine, too – the region specialises in white. Umbria is full of smaller, family-run farms and vineyards which will be happy for your custom.
If you’re cycling along in autumn you’ll see people out picking olives, grapes or fruit. If you’re feeling confident, stop and ask if they need help – family-run enterprises want all hands on deck. Both regions brim with natural wealth, all revealed when autumn comes: truffles are uncovered in the woods, and shady groves give up their mushrooms.

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Small group travel:
2020: 11 Apr, 9 May, 16 May, 30 May, 6 Jun, 20 Jun, 5 Sep, 12 Sep, 19 Sep, 10 Oct, 17 Oct
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When is the best time to go?

E-bike tours of Tuscany and Umbria run from the beginning of April to the end of October. Whilst summer may be busier and hotter, this tour takes you away from the crowds and your electric assistance should mean you don’t get too hot. Look out for special events: go to Gubbio in May and you might see preparations for the Corsa dei Ceri, where three teams race up the mountainside carrying 280kg statues of saints. Umbria’s poppy fields come into their own in July – the plains below Castelluccio are full of them. In September, Lake Trasimeno holds a festival of fish, and uses the world’s biggest frying pan to cook them all.

Practicalities

Harvey Downard, from our e-biking specialists Cycling for Softies:
“In Umbria and Tuscany we use Raleigh Motus e-bikes for the most part. These have Bosch motors and plenty of range for the routes we ride. On these trips we provide one bike with the Bosch Nyon navigation system, which is basically a sat-nav on your handlebars. It makes navigating a doddle.”

You will probably be asked to bring your own helmet from home, but everything else – bike, maps, and panniers – are provided.

You should know how to cycle and be confident with controlling a slightly heavier bike. Because of their battery pack and motor, e-bikes are a little heavier than regular bikes – depending on the brand, they normally weigh around 20kg. This, and their motor assistance, means they’re not suitable for children.

When you park up for the night at your hotel, take out your battery and plug it in. Electric bike batteries need four to six hours to charge so it’s best to do it overnight.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Cycling for Softies] [Assisi: Lachlan Gowen] [Lake Tresimeno: Adbar] [making the most of pit stops: Cycling for softies]
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