The Vespa is an iconic symbol of “la dolce vita”. Who hasn’t imagined scooting around a charming Italian town on a Vespa? My Vespa fantasy includes a very thin me in a cute designer dress, riding a pink scooter with matching pink helmet, white silk scarf fluttering behind as I scoot along.
So I was pretty excited when Nick booked a Vespa tour through the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, with a stop at a small family vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting.
OK, so I would be a passenger, with Nick doing the actual driving. While I’ve lost some weight in Italy, I’m not the thin, girl in my fantasy. If I had a fancy designer dress in my closet, wearing it on the back of a Vespa would be impractical and potentially indecent. It’s way too hot to wear any kind of scarf. And I suspected that the chances of getting a pink Vespa with a matching pink helmet were pretty slim. Oh well, this Vespa tour still seemed like a dream come true.
The tour operator would pick us up at “our” hotel in Siena. We selected a conveniently located hotel just outside the gates of the historic center of Siena for our pick-up. The day of the tour, we got up early to make the 90 minute drive from our home to Siena. We found a good parking spot, and had time to grab a delicious prosciutto and formaggio panini for breakfast. In grand, punctual American style, we were standing in the front of the hotel at 8:58 AM for a 9:00 – 9:30 AM pick-up.
We’ve lived in Italy long enough to know that we were unlikely to be picked up between 9:00 and 9:30. We are fully accustomed to “Italian time”. I mean, we live in a community where the noon bells on the local church ring precisely at 12:05 every day! About 9:20, Nick called the tour company and was assured that the driver was on his way. At 9:35, the Mercedes Sprinter bus pulled up and we were on our way.
There was already one couple on the bus when we climbed on. They were about our age, and on a 3 week vacation in Italy from South Africa. They were taking the tour in a vintage Fiat 500 instead of a Vespa. We were joined at the last stop by Pablo, one of the tour guides, and another tour company employee.
The bus careened through the streets of Siena. After about 15 minutes, we arrived in an industrial area on the edge of town. As we entered the parking lot, I could see rows of shiny red and yellow Vespas! Nick went inside to finish up the paperwork for the tour, and another bus full of people arrived. About half of the group would be on Vespas and the other half in the Vintage Fiats.
All of the folks on the Vespa tour indicated that they had some level of experience on a scooter or motorcycle. I knew for a fact that Nick had not driven one in 30 years or so. But you know what they say about riding a bike! Each of the drivers received a 30 second lesson on how to start and stop the scooter, and a full 45 second test drive in the parking lot. We were ready to go! The guide explained the itinerary, the gates opened and off we went. The Vespas took the lead and the vintage Fiats followed behind.
It’s been 35 years since I sat on the back of a motorcycle. I knew that Nick was a little nervous, too. I took a deep breath and channeled a calm and confident vibe to mask my own jitters. It didn’t take long for our group to reach a lovely country road with beautiful views of the Tuscan countryside. All of our anxiety faded as we got a feel for the Vespa and began to enjoy the ride.
The first stop was a scenic overlook. While the view was lovely, this stop was intended to give us a quick break and to see how we were doing on our Vespas. Luckily, everyone in our group was doing pretty well. After a brief description of the Chianti Classico region by our guide, we headed to Castellina in Chianti for our next stop.
We were given 40 minutes of free time in Castellina. As luck would have it, Nick and I had been to Castellina before, so we knew a little something about it. We walked to the main piazza with the couple that we met on the bus, and then left them to explore Castellina on their own. As we walked back down towards the Vespas we ran into our guide, Stefano and offered to buy him a cup of coffee.
After coffee, I hustled down to a little shop where I had seen some pretty white cotton dresses. I tried one on and bought it. By the time i had finished my purchase, the tour guides were searching for us because it was time to leave Castellina. Hey, I was on Italian time!
Back on the Vespa for our drive to the vineyard for a tour and lunch. Stefano explained that we would park the Vespas at the bottom of a steep hill and walk up to the cantin for lunch. The scenery on the way to the vineyard was spectacular, and we were both feeling comfortable on the Vespa. We parked the scooter at the base of the vineyard. The dry rocky soil slipped under our feet as we scaled the steep hill through the green vines.
At the top of the hill, we were greeted by a charming young man named Marco. He gave us a brief tour of the winery and sat us down for a delicious lunch of bruschetta, meat and cheese antipasto, a simple pasta and dessert. Each course included a generous pour of a different variety of wine, beginning with a refreshing sparking white, progressing through two fabulous Chiantis, a lovely Vin Santo with dessert, and for the truly courageous, Grappa (the Italian version of jet fuel).
The wine on the tours is always available to purchase and conveniently shipped home for you. It’s also always expensive, by Italian standards. We’re accustomed to paying $4 to $10 for a bottle of pretty good red wine. We’d decided long before we set foot in this winery that we would NOT buy any expensive wine. However, after a thoroughly enjoyable meal and several glasses of Chianti Classico, we shipped $300 worth of wine back to the states for our family to enjoy. It’s nice to support the small, local businesses in Italy. And I’m sure that the family will love it as much as we did.
As we scrabbled back down the hill and climbed back on to our Vespa, I realized that I was a bit tipsy. Nick had responsibly refused some of the wine, but I had enjoyed it all! As a passenger, being a little tipsy wasn’t so bad, but I could tell that Nick was getting tired. Even so, he made the ride feel safe and fun for me.
We made one last stop in Radda in Chianti, with a half-hour of free time to stretch our legs. Nick and I made a bee-line for a gelato shop and chatted with Stefano and Pablo until it was time to leave. The final stretch on the Vespa felt really long. My legs and back were aching and I was exhausted. Nick and I were both glad to climb off the scooter for the last time.
The Vespa tour is likely to be one of the most memorable things we’ve ever done. Yes, we realized that we were just a little to old to spend the whole day scooting around the Italian countryside on a Vespa, but we’re both very glad that we experienced our Vespa fantasy.