The Tuscan countryside is enticing, beautiful, and can lure any Florence visitor out of the city limits for a day.
While J and I were planning our own trip to Italy, Viator’s four hour long Vespa excursion caught my eye. It seemed like a way to see this beautiful part of the country surrounding Florence without being bound to 50 other tourists on a cramped bus. After comparing the rates and insurance laws to renting our own Vespas, it was also clear that this would be the cheapest and easiest way to have control of my own vehicle and access to a knowledgeable guide. (Note: I paid full price and was not asked to write a review for this tour. This is just an honest account of my experience! To find out more about pricing and details, check out more information here.)
It took a bit of work to make this adventure a reality. First, I had to convince J, who has an aversion to guided tours, that it wouldn’t just be a gimmicky photo op (although there were plenty of photo ops to be had). He eventually succumbed. Then, our flight from Boston to Florence got delayed by almost 24 hours, forcing us to reschedule and squeeze everything we wanted to do into just a few days, including the Vespa tour.
Given all our trials, we weren’t sure what to expect from the tour itself. However, it ended up being not only my favorite part of our Florence trip, but J’s as well! (I consider this a win.) It never once felt like a cheap tourist trap, and we both had an amazing time.
This tour is not for the faint of heart.
If you have never ridden a Vespa before, I highly recommend learning before you take this tour. There is a review session at the beginning, but it will take you a while to feel fully comfortable. If you have never driven on European streets, familiarize yourself with the street signs. Italian drivers are no joke and will not spare you any of their aggression.
Before our small group of 8 people could depart, we had to pass a driving test. Neither J nor I had ever even laid hands on a Vespa, and we weren’t the only ones (I guess we had all showed up hoping to demonstrate our quick learning skills). After a 5 minute presentation of how to switch gears and brake, the guide had us take turns making loops around the street corner. I wish I could say everybody passed, but we had a bit of a scare when the third person crashed his Vespa right into the wall! He was okay, but obviously, he was not allowed to ride.
J did better on the test than me, so he took over the driver’s seat of our two-seater Vespa. This left me to openly gaze and gawk at the sights (and also terrified me, since his driving habits are…. Let’s say, assertive). We were handed walkie-talkies to stay in contact with everybody else in the group, and off we went.
San Miniato al Monte
Our helmet-clad group entered the streets of Florence to get to our first stop: Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. Clocking in at almost 1,000 years old, little has changed at this church (which has a fascinating backstory) since its construction. It is located at the top of a peak overlooking Florence, which gave us gorgeous and unobstructed views of the city. We were able to explore the inside of the church and listen to some beautiful live organ music before hopping back on our Vespas for the next leg of our trip.
The ride to get out into the countryside had me actually fearing for my life. We passed over narrow, winding gravel roads and steep slopes that were followed by roller coaster declines. The Ferraris scattered across the roads mocked us, daring somebody to hit them. The Vespas seemed to be hyper-sensitive to weight, so every movement affected its balance. I breathed for the first time in 30 harrowing minutes when we finally pulled over on the side of a quiet road well outside of the city’s hustle and bustle.
It was here that I began to take in the beauty of the countryside all around us. The green hills seemed to roll forever, peppered with pointy little cypress trees and rows of olives. There was a peace to this place that couldn’t be attained in the city. The air felt fresher, the sun less harsh and softer. There was something I liked about the earthy roughness still peeking out from behind the groves, which had been well manicured and trained into orderly lines over centuries. I could have stayed there for hours longer than the time we spent learning about olive oil production (and of course, snapping photos). Then again, I suppose that’s what you purchase a Tuscan villa for!
The Private Terrace
This was something I was not prepared for, even after all the beauty I had already seen on this afternoon! After another scenic ride, we pulled into an unassuming little dead end and crossed a path that opened up into a completely idyllic setting. Ahead of us, Tuscany spread out for
miles kilometers, framed by blue mountains in the distance. Flowers and herbs lined the garden, and trees lightly shaded two large tables set with utensils and wine glasses.
This property belongs to Viator, and they have definitely put in the time and effort to make it breathtaking. Italian cooking classes are routinely held in the modern villa with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the garden. Something that stood out to me on our visit was how immaculately clean everything was. With the amount of people coming through every day, I was impressed with the sparkling condition of the kitchens and dining area.
Lunch began with a glass of lovely Chianti wine and charcuterie board packed with goodies like pecorino cheese, artichokes, and prosciutto. Second course was a simple but delicious homemade pasta with fresh tomato sauce. The wine and conversation both flowed freely as everybody in our group got to know each other, all the while gazing out over our beautiful view.
The meal concluded with an espresso and a few minutes for us to gather our wits about us before climbing back onto our Vespas for the last time.
One short, tumbling ride later, we were back in Florence, wistfully parting ways with our vintage vehicles.
This tour combined several things I love doing while traveling. It allowed me to try something new, showed me parts of the country I would not have otherwise seen, and introduced me to people from all over the world. It was exhilarating to zoom through the streets, and best of all, we were not tired at all by the end of the excursion. I would absolutely do it again, and I think you should too– but please practice riding a Vespa first!
I paid full price for this tour and Viator did not ask me for a review.