(For more photos, see the July 2019 issue of our magazine)

I met Alessandro, the guide behind Inspiring Tuscany Tours, outside of Velona’s Jungle Luxury Suites in Florence just after breakfast. We talked a little about the eco-bikes we’d use on our tour – it was the first time I’d ridden an electric bike – and what we’d aim to experience as he fixed the batteries onto the frames of our bikes.

“We’ll be looking for the authentic Florence,” he explained. “Something that lays beyond the art galleries and that makes up the fabric of the city. There’ll be history, vineyards, wine tasting of course, and more. Are you comfortable on the electric cycle? Ok, let’s go!”

Florence has such a beautiful face that you can have a good time just walking around on your own. However, if you want to really experience the heart and soul of the city then you’ll need a guide who thinks outside the box a little. Alessandro is such a guide. Cycle touring or hiking might not be the first thing you think of when planning a trip to the City of Art but if you’ve a few hours or even a day free in your schedule and a wish to take a look past the dazzling surface of the city, then do check out what Inspiring Tuscany has to offer.

We biked across the River Arno and into the suburb known as the ‘Galileo Hills’. Our initial aim was to visit the villa where Galileo worked then to cycle through the surrounding countryside to enjoy a taste of the rolling hills and vineyards for which Tuscany is world famous.

I flipped the lever on the handlebars to ‘Eco’, one of several settings that will add an electrical shove to whatever peddling you do. At the bottom of a hill I got into low gear and flipped to ‘Tour’ and the extra power swept me to the top. I didn’t even have to rise up out of the saddle.

This is obviously perfect for touring groups. The fitter people can set their bikes to offer less electrical assistance whilst others can up the assistance to easily keep up with the group.

We cycled quiet roads where the grey, handmade drywall reminded me of Cumbria and the Peak District. It was so rural and typically Tuscan, just a 10 minute ride from the centre of Florence. Here is a typical view seen during a brief rest stop.

Galileo’s villa, in the village of Bellosguardo, is known locally as the ‘Umbrella Villa’ due to the domed temple-like folly that fronts it.

A plaque on the outside wall announces that it has also been home to a great many other famous people such as Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Browning and Henry James.

We cycled on past wisteria in bloom (visit mid to late April for the best chance of seeing wisteria at it’s finest) and arrived at the Verinchelli Palazzo, a stately home which has belonged to the Verinchelli family since the 13th century.

“We’re mentioned in Dante,” said Thomas Verinchelli as he led us inside to taste some of his family’s wine. “In ‘Purgatorio’, the second book, not the descent into hell,” he quickly added, smiling.

Many palazzo you find around Florence have been brought by corporations and sterilized for touristic use but not this one. Walking through the Verinchelli home offered an authentic look into the modern lives of an established Florentine family.

In the cellars we toured the wine and olive oil making facilities. We sampled their own Vin Santo, a smooth 15% dessert wine made in 2013 and bottled 3 years later.

The urge to sample a few more glasses whilst we talked was strong, but we had to cycle back to Velona’s Jungle. It wasn’t far but there were some fast downhills to take into account and I wanted to be in full control of my senses to enjoy them.

Thomas waved us off.

“He’s a very down to earth guy,” I said as we cycled away. “Very humble, too.”

“It took a long time to find the family,” Alessandro replied. “I knew I wanted to find a family like the Verinchelli’s but it’s not easy these days. Eventually I contacted them via a friend of a friend who I used to go to school with and whom I met years later by chance in the Far East. It was very fortunate! It’s the type of experience I’m happy to share with my guests. The Verinchelli’s are part of the fabric of authentic Florence. To meet them helps one to understand the city so much better I think.”

Inspiring Tuscany offers a great tour that lasted around 3 hours. The batteries of the bikes they have can last up to 160km, depending on the terrain and how you use yours, but as my tour showed me, you don’t have to peddle very far at all from the centre of the city to get a real taste of rural Tuscany. Contact Alessandro via the Inspiring Tuscany Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/inspiringtuscany/