Friday, October 23, 2009

October 13-22, 2009 - Tuscany, Italy

Run: Three Runs

Time: 3 hours
Distance: 18 miles
Effort: Moderate
Body: Good
Weather: Sunny and a bit chilly

Just back from a 10-day trip, sans kids, to the Tuscany region of Italy. My wife and I spent those days driving around the region (one of 20 regions in Italy) in a little blue diesel car called an Eco. We stayed overnight in five different towns/cities (Montalcino, San Gimignano, Florence, Cortona, Montepulciano and Siena) and drove through a couple dozen others and stopped and explored a few more (Pienza and Castellini in Chianti). This was her first trip to Europe, and my second - the first being a group trip in high school.

Our days were filled with great food, liters of fine red wine, remarkable scenery, a crash course in Renaissance history and art and more walking than I think I've done in years. I'd say we walked an average of six miles a day, with a couple of higher mileage days in Florence that skewed the average. I only managed to get out for three runs during the trip, but each was memorable for the sublime experience of running while surrounded by complex arrays of walls, buildings and streets conceived, designed and constructed 800 or more years ago.

A few highlights from the runs:

San Gimignano - 6.2 mies: Ran from our hotel, located in the heart of this small, well-preserved hill-top town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I ran through one of the gates in the wall that surrounds the town, looking for a gravel trail I had seen earlier that I assumed would encircle the town. I found the trail easily and followed it around the town. Via a combination of trails and sidewalks I quickly circumnavigated the town in, maybe, two miles. On the second lap I spied a dirt road heading downhill from near the town's main entrance. One of the things I found most

amazing about these towns was that they weren't surrounded by anything much more than farms, with their olive groves and vineyards. And, since the towns were always on hilltops, everything was always up or down. I ran down the dirt road a couple of miles to where it intersected with a paved road. The road offered amazing views of San Gimignano on the hillside above and led me past numerous farms. The GarminConnect map of the run is pretty cool. See it here.

Cortona - 4.4 miles: Cortona was the biggest of the "towns" we visited, with about 23,000 residents. It is perched on a hillside, with commanding views of Lake Trasimeno and across the Val di Chiana, a huge, fertile valley. I ran here around 5 p.m. on a perfect fall day. From our hotel, I headed uphill and quickly found a large park-like promenade that ran about a mile before connecting with a little-used paved road that provided residents outside the town's walls access to their houses. It was on this road I saw the first runners I'd seen all week. I passed two guys, one headed downhill and another, later, making steady progress uphill. I exchanged with each a quick "Buona sera," and continued my steady 7:50 uphill pace. I quickly topped out at the apex of the mountain Cortona was perched on. Here I found the beautiful Church of Santa Margherita and the Fortezza Medicea, a 15th century fort. From the top, I ran down cobbled paths and streets trying to keep my navigational bearings in the labyrinth-like layout of the town. This was my favorite run of the three. The early evening lighting was picture-perfect. The scent of burning leaves was in the air. And, the thrill of finding a new architectural treasure around every corner kept my enthusiasm high and the legs moving quickly. GarminConnect info here.

Montepulciano - 8 miles: This town is located across the Val di Chiana from Cortona, perhaps 20 kilometers or so. We stayed here two nights. I squeezed in a run the second night. Running again from our hotel, I searched for a path that I hoped would follow the town's walls, but struck out. Instead, I followed a series of cobbled roads and made my way about two-thirds of the way around the town. At an intersection just beyond the walls, I followed a paved road for about a mile-and-a-half until I found a promising road heading off toward farm country. After running past a small industrial area, I quickly found myself running by farm fields and the ubiquitous vineyards and olive groves. The paved road soon turned into a wide gravel road. After a couple of miles, the road narrowed to about the width of a driveway. I continued on past a small dairy and decided to turn back when the road passed uncomfortably close to a pair of tiny white houses. I retraced my steps back to town and completed the circumnavigation of the town. I ended with a few uphill strides on a 15-degree incline near a convent and the impressive Madonna di San Biagio, which was one of my favorite churches we saw the whole trip.

Having the chance to travel with my wife and visit this remarkable area, one so steeped in human history, was truly a gift. The runs added nice capstones to great days, and provided me opportunities to experience places I never imagined I'd ever get to see, let alone run in.

Now back home in the foothills of the Rockies, I'm eager to get back into a regular running routine and take advantage of the last remaining relatively snow-free trail days left this year.


  1. Awesome trip! Italy is amazing.
    Do you know Andy and Annie Fox?

  2. No...I don't know the Fox's. Local couple?

    The trip was very cool. Hard to get over how advanced the art, architecture and society was so long ago. Constantly reminded me of how young the U.S. as a nation is. Also was thinking a lot about the juxtaposition of what was happening in the Tuscan hills around the time the Anasazi people were abandoning the Mesa Verde area for places unknown.

  3. Ya, Annie and Andy are in Evergreen, avid endurance athletes.

  4. Jim - Your "You might also like" widget displayed a thumbnail of your Tuscany post today and I had to check it out before I forgot about it. I can't believe you got to run there :)

    I stayed a summer in Cortona during college in '83 as part of U of Georgia's art program there. It was basically summer school during the week and day trips to surrounding towns on the weekend. Too bad I didn't run back then!

    Amazing place.

  5. Jeff - thanks for the comment. Led to me re-reading, and briefly reliving, a great trip. Cortona was a great of my favorites. I'd love to go back to that area and just cruise around and explore.