Florence is considered one of the most magnificent cities in Italy, as well as the world. Located in the heart of Tuscany, the tourist can find fields of sunflowers, miles of vineyards, rolling hills and mountaintop castles. This place is the Renaissance capital of the world, its famous sons are Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, Machiavelli, Fra Angelico and Michelangelo. It is a destination not to be missed.
Florence has an exceptional artistic patrimony, celebrated testimony to its secular civilization. Cimabue and Giotto were considered the fathers of Italian painting, they lived in this place, along with Arnolfo and Andrea Pisano, reformists of architecture and sculpture; Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, founders of the Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance, Europe's richest cultural period, began in Florence when the artist Brunelleschi finished the Duomo, with the huge dome. Ghiberti and the Della Robbia; Filippo Lippi and l'Angelico; Botticelli and Paolo Uccello; the universal geniuses Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Their works including Michelangelo's famous statue of "David" are exhibited in the city's many museums and known around of the world. Boccaccio wrote his 'Decameron' in Florence.
Probably Florence is a city of incomparable indoor pleasures. Its chapels, galleries and museums are an incomparable treasure, apprehending the complex, often elusive spirit of the Renaissance more fully than any other place in the country. The most famous museum in Florence is the Uffizi which houses works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Rubens. Other great art museums include the Pitti Palace, Galleria dell'Accademia and Palazzo Vecchio. Florence is also home to some of the biggest churches in Italy, including the famous Duomo of Florence, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce.
Assisi is a small Umbrian town in central Italy, located 12 miles (19 km) east of Perugia at an elevation of 1,300 feet (400 meters). Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi — patron saint of Italy, founder of the Franciscan order, and one of the most popular Catholic saints in history. Assisi's main attraction is the 13th-century Basilica di San Francesco, which contains the sacred relics of Francis and beautiful frescoes of his life. And there are at least seven other churches well worth visiting for their history, beauty, and connection with Francis or his friend Clare.
San Gimignano rises on a hill (334m high) dominating the Elsa Valley with its towers. Once the seat of a small Etruscan village of the Hellenistic period (200-300 BC) it began its life as a town in the 10th century taking its name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes. The town increased in wealth and developed greatly during the Middle Ages thanks to the "Via Francigena" the trading and pilgrim's route that crossed it. Such prosperity lead to the flourishing of works of art to adorn the churches and monasteries.
In 1199 it became a free municipality and fought against the Bishops of Volterra and the surrounding municipalities. Due to internal power struggles it eventually divided into two factions one headed by the Ardinghelli family (Guelphs) and the other by the Salvucci family (Ghibellines). On the 8th May 1300 Dante Alighieri came to San Gimignano as the Ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany.
In 1348 San Gimignano's population was drastically reduced by the Black Death Plague throwing the city into a serious crisis which eventually led to its submission to Florence in 1353. In the following centuries San Gimignano overcame its decline and isolation when its beauty and cultural importance together with its agricultural heritage were rediscovered.
The construction of the towers dates back to the 11th and 13th centuries. The architecture of the city was influenced by Pisa, Siena and Florence. There are 14th century paintings of the Sienese School to be seen and 15th century paintings of the Florentine School.
Situated in the south of Tuscany, and surrounded by postcard-pretty scenery, it features on many tourist itineraries - yet visitors usually only allow a day to explore, consequently missing the pleasure of discovering the city’s atmospheric maze of narrow lanes and alleyways.
Siena grew wealthy in the early Middle Ages, as it was an important stop on the Via Francigena - the pilgrim route from France to Rome. The influx of travelers and merchants led to the establishment of hostels, shops, a university and banking facilities - including, in 1472, the powerful Monte dei Paschi Bank, which still has its headquarters in the city. However, in the 16th century, the independent city state was beaten by its enemy to the north, Florence, and became part of Tuscany.
Siena is divided into separate districts, contrade, as it was in medieval times. The fierce rivalry that exists between them is played out each year in the Palio, a brutal bareback horse-race that is run on the main piazza, the Campo, in July and August.
At these times the city gets so busy it seems as if it will burst from its walls, but at other times visitors can enjoy more relaxing visits to its stunning cathedral, ancient palaces and tempting shops.
The Edelweiss Bike Tours
In the USA
Another Dream Motorcycle Vacation?
By Jim Gianatsis, Editor
I got hooked on Edelweiss when I took my first tour, the Western Alps Touring Center Tour in 2005 which takes place in the mountains of southern France and along its Mediterranean coast with stops in the glamorous cities of Cannes, Monaco and Saint Tropez. "Touring Center" means you are based in one resort hotel for the entire week and take daily 150-180 mile loop rides out from the hotel each day, returning to your same room each night.
Our group saddles-up in the hotel parking lot at Assisi on Friday morning Day 6 to ride to San Marino. But first we will stop at the world famous Assisi Cathedral just down the street to shot a group picture (see above). Check out the 500 year old houses across the street! Some of us used the Luggage Bags that come standard on the Ducati MTS1200 Touring, and some of us including myself left the side bags back at Ducati. The Edelweiss Support Van on each tour transports all your luggage from one hotel to the next. Bikes were numbered on the front to tell them apart.
The new for 2010 season Ducati Edelweiss Imola sounded to be the perfect tour for me, a hard core Ducati owner enthusiast and superbike fanatic. It started off with a tour of the Ducati factory and museum, pick up the new Ducati MTS1200S Touring superbike powered Multistrada, and ride across the mountain roads and through the vineyards of Tuscany in Northern Italy, finishing up with a weekend at the SBK World Superbike races at the famed Imola race circuit where we would see Max Biaggi and Aprilia clinch his first World Superbike title.
The Race Paddock at Imola World Superbike with 69,000 race fans!
The only drawback to the 1st generation Multistrada, compared to the the bigger BMW GS, is that the Multi wasn't as comfortable on longer rides and the engine wasn't as smooth, leaving you a little more fatigued at the end of the day. But then so did the big BMW if you had to manhandle it on tight roads. The new 2nd generation watercooled Testastretta 11° powered Ducati Multistrada MTS1200 introduced this year takes it to an all new level. Just as lightweight and maneuverable as the old aircooled MTS1000, while it's even more comfortable than the former industry standard BMW GS, and it boasts some 50 more horsepower to slingshot out of a corner and in overtaking cars like its Superbike brothers.
The gang of Ducati Edelweiss Imola 2010.
In past years Edelweiss never really had a working relationship with the BMW factory. They bought their BMW bikes new from dealers, garaged them at their facility in Munich, and sold them off as used at the end of the season. I wasn't privy to Edelweiss exact deal with the Ducati factory, but the bikes seem to be maintained, if not owned by Ducati, and Ducati is actively promoting the Ducati Edelweiss Tours on Ducati.com and through their dealers world-wide.
The Ducati Edelweiss tour started in downtown Bologna at the 5-star Royal Hotel Carlton near the Ducati factory. On Monday morning after visiting the factory and its museum we headed south by mountain roads to Florence. We stayed outside Florence for 2 nights in a very funky old monastery converted to a hotel, and visited Florence during by train during the day. Wednesday night we stayed in a large modern hotel in downtown Sienna near the famous town square where they race hours in a big festival once a year. Thursday night we stayed in the famous fortress cathedral city of Assisi atop a mountain. Friday we lunched at the old fortress city of Urbino, then rode through the rain into the independent country of San Marino to stay at another modern 4-star hotel.
Not as frightening as my past Alpine tours, but this narrow road over a deep ravine and around the side of the mountin up to Urbino on top of this mountain overlooking San Marino, was a bit intimidating. Note the potted flowers on the bridge railings.
Saturday we rode to the racetrack at Imola to get dialed-in for Sunday's race and watch Superpole then returned to the Carlton hotel in Bologna where we would finish the tour. Sunday morning we rode down to the track to watch the World Superbike races and Max Biaggi clinch the 2010 title. On the way back from the track we stopped at the Ducati factory store in Bologna, which was closed on Monday when we had started our trip at the factory, and bought lots of T-shirts and other gear. Besides the visit to the Ducati factory and Museum (see the story on the following pages), one of the other nice perks of this being a Ducati factory sponsored ride was we got VIP parking for our bikes at the Ducati Midway, right behind the Ducati Main Grandstands at the Imola race track, right on the front straight across fro the pits. The had a riding gear check-in booth run my Elena, my tour guide at my last visit to the Ducati factory and museum back in 2004! Plus tickets to the Ducati grandstand which included the best view of the track watching a big screen TV display atop the pit garages where we could watch the complete World Superbike TV broadcast live as it took place on the track. Incredible!
The Edelweiss tour guides for our trip included veteran Marco Bauer, with whom I had taken the High Alpine Adventure tour in 2006, and new guy, Manuel Marabese. It was Marco who designed the Ducati trips, and lead us by bike on most of the days. Manuel handled driving the chase truck, delivering our baggage from one hotel to the next. Both were easy and helpful to get along with, and went out of their way to be sure we all were happy.
This particular Imola tour group was as diverse and wonderful to meet as every one that I'd been on before. There was Dean, a Triumph dealer from Albany, NY, who ride with me on the High Alpine Adventure tour in 2006. Wayne and Mary, a paramedic and psychologist couple from Taringa, Australia. Another Aussie Tony, and a Kiwi Richard. David from Canada. Kim and Choo from Beijing, China. Keiko and Kaz from Japan. Adam the restaurant entrepreneur and his friend the building contractor Tim from Bridgewater, MA, with Tim's entire family following us on the tour from hotel to hotel and city to city in a rental car! The life of our party, the Thomas and Hardy pair of Bill and Dante from South Africa. Plus freelance motojournalist Baseum Wasef and his photostylist girlfriend Anna.
The 8-day tour began by flying into the Bologna Airport on Sunday, catching a taxi and meeting our group at downtown Bologna's Royal Hotel Carlton to check in for an introductory dinner that evening. The Carlton was a very luxurious 5-star hotel, all marble and chandeliers and huge modern rooms. We found our Multistradas waiting for us in the hotel garage on Monday morning for our ride to the Ducati factory. The bikes all had about 1000 miles on them so we figured they most have served as Press bikes before being given to us. At the Ducati factory front parking lot we were meet by Ducati tour guides who would take us through the factory and the Ducati Museum. We were also meet by Ducati factory photographer Tommas who would ride with us and photograph us during the week's tour.
The one fault of the Imola Tour if there was any, is that it couldn't be all things to everyone. It had to strike a compromise, which in that regard it did quite well. Lots of Italy, the Ducati factory, interesting hotels and towns, cafes and restaurants, historic cities, cathedrals and fortresses, beautiful back roads in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. For many on the tour it was a perfect compromise between motorcycles and sightseeing. Some, on the other hand, left the tour group some days to goof off their own visit museums and other places of interest, meeting us that night at the next hotel on the tour where our luggage would be waiting for us in our rooms. While for me, I wanted more motorsports enthusiast things like to visit Ferrari, Aprilia and maybe a track day. A Ferrari factory tour had actually been described in the Edelweiss tour guide, but we came to find out upon arrival from our tour guide that the Ferrari factory wasn't on the schedule, as it is only open to Ferrari owners.
One real drawback of this particular tour was we only had one guide riding with us to lead the group. And with a wide diversity of riding skill among the participants, including couples riding 2-up, we had to ride at a pace I'd describe as 70-80%. Good for enjoying the view, not great for real riding excitement. Then every 30 minutes when we came to an intersection, we have to wait anywhere from 5-10-20 minutes for the rest of the group to catch up.
My experience on past Edelweiss tours were with the slower riders and couples usually riding together on their own, taking a shorter ride route and getting in more sightseeing. While the Edelweiss guide who knew the roads, took the faster riders on a longer, more difficult roads at a quicker 80-90% pace. Everyone arrived at the hotel at night fully satisfied. This time unfortunately, it just didn't happen. And some weren't very happy.
On Thursday I was booking through the backroads with the 2 couples from Japan and China who were riding two-up. Somehow I had gotten separated from our guide Marco and the others, and because my bike's tank bag and road map had been stolen from the bike the night before at the hotel in Sienna, I now had to follow someone else with a map as to not get lost. The Japanese couple Kaz and Keiko were riding at a pretty fast pace, say 90%, and I was having to ride at about 80% to stay with them. We had found the The backroads in Italy to be rather tricky...the asphalt consisting of small polished stones like BB pellets. And our bikes were sliding loose sideways accelerating out of corners, DTC working or not, the bikes were sliding without getting over to the edges of the tires. Grip was poor everywhere. So we're jammin' down hill on a 2-lane which turns left on a stone bridge over the creek at the bottom and Kaz looses the rear end of his bike on some gravel and cut grass on the edge of the pavement. Down they both go and bounce off the sides of the bridge.
Luckily there were no serious injuries, but Keiko injured her foot and couldn't stand up. And Kaz's Ducati was down for the count. We sit there alongside the road for the next 2-3 hours, waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, and to make arrangements for an ambulance for Keiko and the support truck to come and pick up the bike. Keiko finished up the tour on crutches with a cast on her lower leg for a broken toe, with both she and Kaz riding in the support truck. Thankfully it was just a broken toe, which might not have happened at all if she had real motorcycle boots, rather than Alpine Star woman's fashion boot with no real crash protection.
The other big complaint on this tour was the food, particularly at the hotels most nights including the 5-star Royal Carlton. In most cases we were not allowed to order off the menu, but got served a set group menu with only choice of chicken or fish, which you couldn't tell apart, and some not so great pasta. One night I finally did rebel and Marco let me order off the menu and I got a fantastic pepper sauce baked filet mignon, while every else had to suffer. On Saturday night back in Bologna, rather than eat at the Royal Carlton, Marco took all of us in to the middle of town where things were jumping and we found a crowded and popular restaurant and ate out under the stars. I ordered a mixed seafood dish which sounded excellent, but when it arrived it was mostly deep fried sardines which were not cleaned and still had the heads with them. That night I went home hungry.
The view out the back porch of our converted monastery to hotel Villa Pitiana with sun chairs and a swimming pool below.
Another unexpected problem, was that Ducati and Edelweiss wanted to show off the multiple personalities of the leading edge MTS 1200S with its electronic adjustable suspension and engine management riding modes for Sport / Touring / Urban / Enduro. Some 'optional" off-road riding was advertised in the Edelweiss advertising for the Imola Superbike Tour, but some participants, less skilled without dirt riding experience, didn't really realize what that meant until they came face to face with a dirt road. The MTS1200S was perfectly fine with its smooth street tires on the two well maintained dirt/gravel roads we came up on each day. But for many of the riders who had never been off pavement before it was, it was total panic as they crawled along at 10mph while being passed by cars doing 30 mph. I bypassed the first day's off-road section with a few others, as my allergies were giving me hell and didn't want to be breathing the dust of 14 bikes on a very dry and dusty dirt road.
The next day we were lead onto a dirt road again, this time without warning or being offered an alternate paved route. Most of the group panicked and proceeded at a snail's pace in Enduro mode. Having grown up motocrossing, scrambles and enduoo riding, I just left the powerful Multi in Sport mode, clicked it into 4th gear and disappeared down the winding dirt road by myself at about 50 mph. Back on pavement 10 miles later at the next intersection I had to wait another 15 minutes for the group to catch up.
Pictured above: After coming into Florence by train on Tuesday, Marco and I hiked through the city, across the Ponte Vecchio bridge, then up a big hill to to a famous view point named the Piazzale Michelangelo. Here is the views from there of Florence looking towards Ponte Vecchio, the oldest of Florence's six bridges. Probably going back to Roman times with its stone pillars and wooden planks; it was built in stone but then newly destroyed by a flood in 1333. It was built again twelve years later, perhaps by Neri da Fioravante (or Taddeo Gaddi, according to Giorgio Vasari). The five arches became three and the main part was widened. The shops, housed under the porticos, first belonged to the Commune which then rented them out. But later on, towards the 15th century, they were sold to private owners and began to change through subsequent additions, raised parts and external terraces, extending towards the river and altering the original architecture in an anarchical, suggestive way.
Just to the right of the view of Ponte Vecchio from the Piazzale Michelangelo, is this view of the the Palazzo Vecchio (far left tower building) and the veduta del Duomo (Dome church far right). The Vecchio was built around 1300 and has served as the seat of government for both Florence and Italy. The building of the dome on Florence cathedral, 1414-1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi, can be considered one of the Renaissance's main building enterprises.
At this point in the story I should mention that I had tested a new $19,995 Multistrada 1200S Sport a few months earlier when they first came out, and after trying the optional / Touring / Urban / Enduro modes which decreased the power, slowed the throttle and softened the suspension, I just put it back in Sport mode like the street bike I wanted. Then I went out to SoCal Ducati and bought a Base Model MTS1200S for $1495.
My previous two Edelweiss trips were a Perfect 10. Would I want to do this Edelweiss Ducati Imola tour again? No.
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