‘Travel Like The Locals Do’
Weeks before the travel, we were beguiled by the marketing campaigns of Vespa tour companies that offered the option of traversing the rolling hills of Tuscany via the Nation’s Choice Ride – The ever humble and incredibly chic Vespa. Travel like the locals do! They claimed with such gusto that it sounded like the truth.
In reality, most Vespa tours would take you out on a van from Florence to Chianti region of Tuscany, and let you out on your Vespa in some isolated, relatively gentle (or flat) roads for a taste of Vespa travel. For those of you wondering, anyone with a class 3/ class 3a driving license (for cars) are deemed qualified to ride a Vespa (or any other motorcycles 125cc or lesser, of which the rental Vespas sit nicely at the limit of 125 cc). We were truly excited, and applied for the International Driving Permit (IDP) at AA in AMK in a heartbeat – We are going to travel in STYLE, like the locals do! (Or so we thought)
Instead of going for the typical Van (most of the time) and Vespa (for very little time) tour, we decided to rent a Vespa for 3 days and go for our own self-guided tours to all the wonderful old towns in Tuscany, and document perhaps our very own Vespa Diaries (much like the motorcycle diaries, but Italian in flavor).
So armed with our smart phones, which doubled up as our GPS, we rolled out in our attention-grabbing red Vespa from the Old Town of Firenze (Florence), ready to begin our Epic Vespa Adventure into the Tuscan Sun.
By the time we were done on the first day, we were shivering from the cold winds and paralyzed from the fear of being knocked down the Tuscan valley by unsuspecting cars that sped across the bends at unbelievable speeds. The accommodating lady (Francesca) at the rental shop (which we seriously recommend!) kindly acceded to our
request (more like plea) to change our Vespa to a smart car instead for our Tuscany travel over the next two days, sparing us from any more Vespa travel.
This 1-Day Vespa Diary merely serves to educate fellow travelers who might have the same illusion as us about riding a Vespa out to the Tuscan Hills without a care in the world – Our hand-to-heart advice is not to do it, and if you must, do a Vespa tour with a tour company but note that you may only be allowed to travel on a small part of the entire journey on Vespa!
Challenge 1: Getting out of Firenze Old Town
The first immediate challenge we faced was a strange one – Getting out of Florence town and into Tuscany. It looks simple enough on a map, but on the rental Vespa, there’s no space to mount a GPS device (in this case, our smartphone) to guide us through. At the same time, there are very strict rules on the timings for zoned areas of roads and once you miss a turn down a tiny winy alley, your ride extends considerably longer due to the detours you have to make to get back on the right track.
On the day that we set out on our Vespa tour, we met with a weekend marathon that had major roads of Firenze closed off as well, making it a double whammy for us – It took us an hour plus to move out of the small old town to the cusp of Tuscany (which would have normally take a max of say, 10 minutes tops without traffic?)
Challenge 2: Overcoming steep gradients and windy roads of Tuscany
In theory, the Vespa looks like the perfect vehicle for navigating through Tuscany’s rough rocky roads at the hill top – But in actuality, it was quite nerve wrecking ascending and descending down the steep slopes that really sometimes look like a one-way road but it is actually a two-way road!
In particular, it requires strength to maneuver the Vespa down descending slopes as you had to grapple with the heavy combined weight of the Vespa and the passengers as it rolls down with increasing acceleration. With rocky roads, you suffer from mini heart attacks with each bump that seem to threaten to derail the ride.
If you are relatively new to riding a two wheel vehicle like a Vespa, there are many accounts online that strongly advise against trying to pick it up in Tuscany, with stories of bright-eyed tourists suffering broken bones as they fell from their Vespas (and destroying the vehicle and debilitating their insurance coverage at the same time) – It’s been likened to trying to fly before you could learn to walk, due to the complexity and meandering nature of the Tuscan roads and many cars wouldn’t blink an eye to come at you from the opposite direction at high speeds, which really freaked us out.
Challenge 3: My Way, Not the Highway
Perhaps the most damning thing to the whole experience is this : The locals DON’T actually ride their Vespas into the Tuscan sun! In our entire 10 hour grueling Vespa tour, we hardly saw ANYONE on Vespas on the Tuscan Hills, and tons of locals zipped past us with their speedy Gonzales cars instead.
A strong reason why this would be so, is because Vespas (or motor vehicles with <= 125 cc) are prohibited from taking the autostrada (highway roads). That means you could only take the smaller (read: Obscure) roads to your destination(s), which the GPS couldn’t grasp properly.
Again, any wrong turn would lead us really really far away, and the detours are awfully painful – We could only cover around 40% of the sights we wanted to cover because of this limitation that day. An example of how crazily different the journeys were is we took almost 2.5x longer to reach one of the old towns through the small roads than if we had taken the autostrada. With precious daylight and limited opening hours for sights and retail, this was particularly crushing for us (besides the obvious “We could have died” risk).
Even though we had set the “Avoid Motorways” option in our GPS, the almighty Google maps could still fail, and lead us to take the Autostrada which had little chance of turning back – Running on the Autostrada risks us getting a seriously astronomic fine and /or an accident on the highway, where the average speed limit is 130 km/h – Not as crazy as the autobahns, but certainly no walk in the park either!
Also, the smaller roads are not as well maintained, with big pot holes, and sometimes peppered with rocks and sands (no tar roads) with no lighting, which meant that the way home after the sun set could be perilous.
The Beauty of Tuscany
Still, the experience winding through breath-taking Tuscany is nothing short of mesmerizing. Let the pictures do the talking, shall we? 😉
We reached home in Firenze at night with our hearts in our mouths, freezing hands and a profound gratefulness that we survived sans injury. The very obliging and truly kind lady at the rental then specially prepared for us to trade our Vespa to a smart car to continue our Tuscany tour the next morning, and provided a free Tom Tom GPS to guide ourselves as well.
Even with all that said, if you would still like to ride out in the sun with the bursting optimism of a sunflower, by all means go ahead, but we would recommend getting some additional insurance (most travel insurance only covers excess for cars, so you have to layer it with an additional insurance for motorcycles / vespas). 😀
If you are considering a self-guided tour / ride around Tuscany, you should definitely consider renting a car from this awesome company:
Francesca +39 373 7710 559