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Chianti Wine Trails: Florence to Siena 73

Cycling Via Francigena: Parma to Siena

Overview

This part of Via Francigena starts from Parma, real gastronomic heaven, and leads you through medieval hamlets and ancient archaeological sites across the Appennines at Cisa Pass, connecting the Ligurian and Tuscan Apennines. You then plunge into the mysterious atmosphere of Lunigiana, the little-known land of the moon, to later explore the world-famous Tuscan towns of Lucca and San Gimignano. Your ride then continues among thousand-year-old parish churches and tower crowned castles to finally reach Siena, with the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo.

Highlights

  • Parma and its delicacies, such as the Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma
  • Lucca, with its perfect for cycling walls and the buzzing amphitheatre square
  • The medieval atmosphere of Pontremoli and Monteriggioni
  • Stunning views – hilltop villages, open valleys, cypress woods and olive grove 

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Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Parma

The journey starts in Parma, a crown jewel of Italian gastronomic tradition. You can try and taste the local specialities or take your time to explore the artistic beauties of the city: from the imposing interior of its Cathedral and Baptistery to the enchanting Palazzo Farnese, designed by Michelangelo and built of stone taken from the Rome Coliseum. 

  • Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Parma (Hotel Torino or similar)

Day 2: Parma to Berceto | 74 km

The first section is quite demanding but rich in natural beauties and authentic villages such as Bardone and Terenzo, with their ancient churches and some bass-relieves treasured in their interiors. An ascent will lead you to Cassio, and after a short downhill section, you will take on another climb towards Berceto, a little “stone jewel”, where you can stop for a rest and a local cake made from chestnut flour.

  • Cycling for the day: 74 km, ↑1070 m ↓325 m
  • Accommodation: B&B in Berceto (B&B La Casa dei Nonni or similar)

Day 3: Berceto to Aulla | 53 km

You start the day getting to the Cisa Pass, connecting the Ligurian and Tuscan Apennines, from where you get on an exciting descent to Pontremoli, the town of bridges and mysterious stele statues, where you can enjoy a relaxing walk among the alleyways of the old town centre. Once in Aulla, you can visit the Abbey of San Caprasio and explore its archaeological finds from the medieval period. Do not miss a walk along the Fortezza della Brunella’s ancient walls before taking a walk through the old town centre. And if you are hungry, there is nothing better than the tasty little local focaccias, to be enjoyed still hot and accompanied by charcuterie and cheeses.

  • Cycling for the day: 53 km, ↑370 m ↓1115 m
  • Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Aulla (Hotel Demy or similar)

Day 4: Aulla to Massa | 48 km

From Aulla you get on some demanding but gratifying roads, from where you will be able to have a glimpse towards the sea for the first time. Along the road, you will pass through very green countryside and medieval villages. Once in Sarzana, you will be amazed by the Baroque interior of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, and you will admire the Gothic facade of the Pieve di Sant’Andrea, the oldest building in the town. Your journey continues along flat paths, following in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims embarking from the Roman port of Luni towards Santiago de Compostela, to finally reach the nice town of Massa, a few kilometres far from the sea of Versilia.

  • Cycling for the day: 48 km, ↑720 m ↓770 m
  • Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Massa (Hotel Annunziata or similar)

Day 5: Massa to Lucca | 52 km

A nice cycle path along the sea leads you from Marina di Massa towards Pietrasanta. Before browsing among its art galleries and shops, we recommend visiting the town’s Duomo to walk among its marble columns and admire its frescoed vaults. From Camaiore you continue up and down among the hills of Lucca, entering the city through the walls you can enjoy its old town centre, and browse in the little shops of the circular piazza to buy spelt and local biscuits to take home with you, get on the Guinigi tower and admire the town from up high in its hanging garden.

  • Cycling for the day: 52 km, ↑380 m ↓360 m
  • Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Lucca (Hotel Rex or similar)

Day 6: Lucca to San Miniato | 46 km

An easy and flat leg of the journey leads you from Lucca’s walls to the old town centre of Altopascio, passing through the Badia di Pozzeveri, where pilgrims stop to rest and pray (do not miss the local bread, a real delicacy). The itinerary continues across the wild land of the Cerbaie before crossing the river Arno and continuing towards San Miniato. The Seminary, which gives the name to the main square, will amaze you with its particular facade: enjoy it lit up, perhaps after eating a risotto dusted with the typical white truffle, the pride of the local area.

  • Cycling for the day: 46 km, ↑230 m ↓125 m
  • Accommodation: 4-star hotel in San Miniato (Hotel San Miniato or similar)

Day 7: San Miniato to San Gimignano | 41 km

The section for the day is demanding but also very exciting. From San Miniato, you descend to the bottom of Val d’Elsa to later ascend again towards Gambassi Terme, where you will be able to cross the threshold of the Pieve di Chianni, where the same Archbishop Sigeric slept on his way to Rome. You will continue your journey pedalling across the splendid natural scenery to San Gimignano, one of the most beautiful towns along the Via Francigena: known for its famous towers. Do not miss the view of the medieval town and its surrounding valleys from the top of the Torre Grossa, or if you don’t run out of energy, venture up the steps of the Rocca di Montestaffoli for an even more special view.

  • Accommodation: 3-star hotel in San Gimignano (Hotel La Cisterna or similar)
  • Cycling for the day: 41 km, ↑640 m ↓480 m

Day 8: San Gimignano to Siena | 50 km

From San Gimignano, you continue through the rolling Tuscan hills to Colle Val d’Elsa, an out-of-time Tuscan village with a charming old town centre and narrow alleyways winding through the stone walls. The itinerary then continues through one of the most beautiful sections of the Via Francigena: a pleasant meditative route, along which you will be surrounded by the silence of the Pieve di Strove, with its Romanesque interiors, or stand in the quietness of the splendid Abbadia at Isola, with its imposing Abbey.

Do not miss a stroll along the wall of the breath-taking castle of Monteriggioni, once defending the Repubblica of Siena, before reaching Siena through dirt roads and the ancient medieval hamlet of Cerbaia. We recommend you celebrating the end of your trip with a plate of pici all’aglione in the illuminated Piazza del Campo… and don’t forget the panforte, of course.

  • Cycling for the day: 50 km, ↑505 m ↓470 m
  • Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Siena (Hotel Chiusarelli or similar)

Day 9: Departure

The trip ends after breakfast, unless you have booked extra nights or the next section of the Via Francigena with us.

What to Expect

Accommodation

Standard accommodation for this trip is in selected 3-star hotels in the larger towns and cosy, friendly B&Bs and inns in the smaller villages, all in twin/double en-suite rooms. All places have been carefully hand-picked by us, and their quality is regularly monitored. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Click to view default hotels

*Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal or higher value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Breakfast is included each morning. When no restaurant is available on the route, lunches and snacks can either be bought from local shops, or packed lunch can be pre-ordered from your hotel the night before. Dinner is available either from the restaurant in your accommodation or in the town where you stay overnight.

Difficulty & terrain

The rides follow mostly well-asphalted country and secondary roads. Near larger towns, you can expect a bit more traffic. Average daily distances vary between 40 km and 75 km, with daily elevation gain ranging from 230 m to 1070 m. The trip is suitable for regular cyclists who have an active lifestyle (read more about difficulty grades). Once you arrive at your first hotel, you will receive a detailed information package, including a destination manual, route notes, and maps. Before the start date, you will also be sent GPS tracks, which you can load on any Garmin device or smartphone application that you are used to working with.

When to go

This trip is available from the beginning of April until the end of October, departing on any day of the week (subject to availability). Spring and autumn months are a preferred travel period if you want to avoid the summer heat of July and August (If you’d like to catch the famous Palio di Siena, you will have to travel in July or August, however). In September – October, you will enjoy pleasant temperatures and might also be able to catch the regional wine harvest.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

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By plane

Our recommended arrival/departure airports for this tour are FlorencePisa and Bologna, all served by major and low cost international flight carriers.

By train or bus

Arrival in Parma

  • From Bologna Airport (BLQ), reach the central railway station, from where you can take a direct train to Parma
  • From Pisa Airport (PSA), you can take a train to Parma with change in Pisa Centrale station
  • From Florence Airport (FLR), take a public bus to Florence Santa Maria Novella Train Station, and then a train to Parma (with a change in Bologna)

Departure from Siena

Upon departure, you can reach Pisa, Bologna and Florence by train. In case you are flying from Florence, you can also go by bus from Siena (direct)

Inclusions

Included

  • 8 nights in selected B&Bs and hotels as detailed in the itinerary
  • 8 breakfasts
  • Luggage transfer on all cycling days (1 piece per person)
  • A detailed information pack, route notes and maps with tracks
  • 24/7 phone support by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers
  • Lunches and dinners, drinks and snacks
  • Bike rental
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Local tourist tax & entry fees (payable on the spot)
  • Personal expenses
  • Any items not specifically mentioned as ‘Included’ in the programme

Options, extras & supplements

  • Supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room / single use of a double room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
  • Bike rental, including delivery to Parma, theft insurance and collection from Siena
  • Extra nights

Bike rental

In case you would like to rent a bike from us, we can offer you a standard trekking bike, road-bike or E-bike. All our bikes are equipped with a front bag with a map holder and odometer. Additional panniers are bookable upon request.

Sample models: Kalkhoff Endeavour 27, Wilier Cento 1 Hybrid, Kalkhoff Endeavour 27 5B. 9G

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