Always follow the arrow...
A short transfer from Milan to Tuscany and we‘re already in the theatre of operations. The Agriturismo Il Bettarello near the town of Roccastrada serves as the base for our three-day enduro tour.
The fact that the Bettarello has already been visited by numerous Touratech colleagues who are enthusiastic about enduro is not only due to the traditional hospitality cultivated in this house. In addition, the Enduro routes in the immediate vicinity alone add up to hundreds of kilometres. And the best thing about it is that you don‘t have to search for the adventurous trails for long. Tripys, electronic roadbooks, can be borrowed at a small cost. The sturdy boxes are easy to mount on your handlebars, and then it‘s just a matter of: Follow that arrow! Exactly the right thing for our tight time-budget, after all, we’re supposed to not only return with riding impressions, but also with lots of photos and plenty of video material.
Roller coaster through hilly country
There are only a few hundred meters of asphalt until we turn into a dirt road, following the arrow on the screen of the Tripy. The wet grass forces our bolides - raring to go are the R 1200 GS WTE, the Honda Africa Twin with DCT, the F 850 GS and the brand new R 1250 GS - to adopt a somewhat restrained style. But soon wider tracks with a firm gravel surface follow, allowing us to familiarise ourselves with the machines at a faster pace.
As soon as we’ve got properly warmed-up, the navigation arrow points straight into the forest. Clammy humidity surrounds us, the ground is soft and slippery. The routing is also tricky, but thanks to the Tripy we can concentrate on driving. Like in a fast-cut film, unpaved tracks alternate with short asphalted sections. But always in time, before the “highway feeling” arises, the trail branches off again onto the next forest track. Suddenly, we find ourselves on the first challenging steep ascent of our tour. Deep grooves in the clay, coarse boulders and - damn it - just after a sharp bend the wretched track gets really steep!
Whew! Not half an hour on the road and already sweating! At the top of the mountain range, the soil is sandier and therefore much drier. With corresponding verve, we let rip along the winding trail. Under these perfect conditions, the “enduro flow “ is not long in coming.
Admittedly, we have been losing our bearings for quite some time now due to being fixated on the electronic roadbook. And so it comes as quite a surprise when suddenly the view opens up to the city of Roccastrada, enthroned high on a hilltop - just one good kilometre as the crow flies from our accommodation.
One or two minutes on the main road, and a small narrow road already leads us, in narrow serpentines, hundreds of meters down into a narrow river valley. In the hilly country of Tuscany, this long descent means that we will soon have to - or, better said, will be allowed to - ascend the difference in altitude once more. At first gently, then more and more steeply, we follow a gully with good grip for the tyres up a sunny valley flank. Subdued light penetrates through the canopy to the forest floor, which is covered with a layer of rustling leaves.
The dreamy glide through the afternoon idyll comes to an abrupt end on a steep descent. Situated on the shady side, the track is damp and slippery. The grooves of tractor wheels have been cut deep into the stony, loamy soil by the rainwater. For the first time, we become really aware of the weight of the machines on the steep slope. Standing on the pegs, weight shifted far back, we work our way down the tricky passage with the adventure bikes, centimetre by centimetre. Our joy is correspondingly great, when all bolides arrive safe and sound at the foot of the descent.
We would have liked to have continued this roller coaster ride through the Tuscan hills even longer, but the long shadows remind us it’s time to go home.
Maremma - Cuisine and sea
Roccastrada is the olive town! We seemed to be reading this message every few hundred meters around the sleepy village on signs and posters. And we crossed the Strada del Vino more than once during our ride yesterday. Reason enough to savour these culinary promises: we want to dedicate our second day’s ride to a refined lifestyle.
We are unexpectedly presented with the first learning module in culinary matters right after breakfast. Grandma Tecla invites us into her kitchen. In a crash course, we’re initiated into the secrets of pasta production.
Our culinary seminar is not yet over. Luca, the owner of the house, invites us to visit the oil mill, where his olive harvest is processed. There’s a great deal of activity going on around the building. The farmers deliver their olives in pickups and on trailers. The fruits are separated from the leaves on vibrating screens before they are thoroughly squeezed out by two huge millstones rolling in a circle. The greenish-golden shimmering oil runs viscously from a pipe into the stainless steel containers provided.
But, that’s enough information input. We‘re off out. The day‘s destination is the Maremma, the unspoilt coastal landscape south of Grosseto. Parts of the coastal lowlands and the densely wooded Monti dell‘ Uccellina form a nature park. We roll comfortably through a light pine forest.
The pleasant scent of resin, carried by a breeze that already gives a hint of the nearby sea, flows into our helmets. Suddenly, the forest ends, and only a narrow strip of sand separates us from the sea. A perfect place for a short break and a little sunbathing.
As soon as we leave the pine forest again, we can’t believe our eyes: right beside the road, a group of cowboys are driving a herd of cattle into a pen. These are the Butteri, the mounted shepherds of the Maremma. On powerful horses, their legs covered with chaps, their heads covered with big hats, they circle the cattle and direct them with loud calls.
Our excursion to the coast ends with a round trip along the winding coastal road around Monte Argentario, an almost circular mountain in the sea; almost an island, connected to the coast by just two narrow headlands. There are even some very nice gravel tracks that lead us up to the summit.
The last stop on our day’s programme is the Valdonica winery. Here, we’ve arranged to take part in a wine tasting session. Mary, who is studying international wine management, introduces us to the company‘s products. We mustn’t allow ourselves more than just a small sip of each of these noble products - after all, there are still a few winding kilometres ahead of us, in a night which has meanwhile become pitch black.
Finally, back at Bettarello, Monia and Tania are already waiting for us with dinner. After a few antipasti, the pasta Tecla had made that morning is served with delicious sauces as primo piatto. Meat and sausages form the second main course, this time from the grill.
On sport enduro trails
The last day is dedicated to enduro riding once again. Having travelled along routes specially designed for adventure bikes, this time we choose a roadbook from the „Sport enduro, easy” category. The difference between this and the travel enduro routes is enormous. With our100 HP giants, we have to fight hard on tracks that are as narrow as they are steep and interspersed with stones.
The Africa Twin with its dual-clutch transmission proves to be a true revelation. Anyone who thinks that „automatic“ is something for sissies will be taught otherwise in difficult terrain. Like a tractor, the machine works its way up even the most hair-raising ascents under Alex‘s expert hand. After one excursion into hard enduro terrain we continue on moderate routes.
The enormous local knowledge of Jutta Hartmann and Markus Körbel from MotoAdventures, who developed the roadbooks, ensures that they don‘t get boring. More touristy passages alternate with narrow trails. From airy hilltops there is a descent into narrow valleys, coarse rocky trails follow flowing forest ones, fast gravel stages contrast with clay tracks riddled with puddles.
This Enduro day comes to an end much too fast. But, to finish with, we want to have a hill climb competition directly behind where we’re staying. However, the rocky, furrowed climb proves to be a touch too hard on our machines. Reason triumphs over sporting ambition, and after about a hundred metres we turn back. The motorcycles thank us for it. After a thorough wash, they look almost as nifty as they did on the Milan exhibition stand.
Agriturismo Il Bettarello is located in southern Tuscany between Siena and Grosseto. The house is optimally suited to the needs of enduro riders. The host, Luca, is himself an enthusiastic off-roader and is happy to provide help and advice on request.
The rooms are simple and very well-kept. The highlight is dinner, during which several courses of lovingly prepared Italian home cooking are served. In the kitchen, grandma Tecla rules the roost, hostess Monia and Tania, the good spirit of the house, take care of all the wishes of their guests with genuine hospitality.
The key to the best enduro routes around the Il Bettarello are the Tripys, electronic roadbooks. These devices are equipped with numerous off-road routes. As with classic roadbooks, detailed route information and turn-by-turn instructions are displayed. But the handling is much easier. Thanks to GPS support, the „picture“ of the current position is always displayed. You can scroll back and forth by hand. All tours start directly from the house. The different levels of difficulty of the tours, which are precisely classified, cater for the expectations of everyone, from the relaxed adventure biker to the adrenalin-hungry sports rider.