story by Monet Adams, video and photos by Tom Grundy
made possible by James McKnight and Punta Ala Trail Center
“Benvenuti in Toscana”
Well this is Punta Ala Trail Centre, an Italian mountain bike resort set among varied Tuscan farms, rolling hills and the pretty little rickety villages that are strewn across the hillsides in shades of peach and terracotta.
This small resort played host to the first ever Enduro World Series in 2013 and the trails all link up into some epic ride days through beautiful Tuscan country side.
I was invited out here by my old friend and rider James Mcknight who met us with a bag of huge burgers and Italian beers for a sunset catch up on the beach less than a stones throw from the little cabin we were staying in for the week.
“We sunk a few more birre and listened to stories of encounters with wild boar”
James had told me the riding here was good. He knows good riding so I was excited to hear about his plans for the week and he wasted no time in pointing out to a small island, suggesting we do a trip over on a boat to see what the riding was like. We sunk a few more birre and listened to stories of encounters with wild boar and reviews of the various eateries in the area. We retired to our cabinkeen to get a good nights sleep and hit the trails early the next day.
The riding and the Cinghiale
The wooded hills surrounding our campsite are full of mysterious patches of ploughed ground among very dark black areas of sandy soil; tight tracks twist and tumble their way through these patches down towards the sea and are intercepted along the way by a few firebreaks that provided mini-piste-style switchbacks and drainage ditch senders.
We learnt that wild boar – the Cinghiale – were in fact rife. More than that, they like stomping around on the softer sections in the woods creating loose flat corners. More than that, it seems that wild boar just love smashing into everything they can find. As a result, most of the hang time you find on your way down these tracks is over banks and into deep gullies that dip and dive between the trees and turn into natural luge like sections. Climbing is a mixture of steep technical challenges and gentle traversing paths. Alternatively you can venture out on to the fire breaks to push up (or climb if you’re feeling tough) in the sun.
Cappuccino and pastry
Our cappuccino and pastry-fuelled morning was full of flying down these trails and dotting our way around the hill side to ride all the different options. The tracks all criss-cross and one section could be part of several different routes down to the sea. These tracks are the relics of the charcoal production that used to go on in these woods on a scale big enough to need a whole network of donkey and cart tracks to transport the charcoal away.
We had made our way to the next bay along by afternoon and dropped down into a harbour full of racing yachts and modern minimalist beach houses to find a spot of lunch and were swiftly tucking into a pile of pomadoro a spaghetti. (Spaghetti with tomato sauce) like you’ve never had before.
“we dropped out of the woods onto a beach and just had to go for a swim.”
The afternoon’s riding was halted when we dropped out of the woods onto a beach and just had to go for a swim. Even this early in the year the sea was refreshing but perfect to swim for a cool down. In the campsite you can rent paddle boards which we had promised ourselves we would do, but, then we ended up riding everyday! Dinner was straight up pizza and salad in a great little restaurant in the Punta Ala harbour, we ate great pizza, were drowned out by a gaggle of shrieking Italian ladies and chatted in broken English to the waiter about how good the parkour in London was…!
Uplifts with Dario
There are longer hills 20 minutes further inland. For these we jumped in with Dario resident rider and the driver of the Punta Ala trails truck. Dario will take you out, do big uplifts and show you more unassuming little places serving effortlessly delicious food. Italy is always better with local knowledge.
The tracks further afield could be likened to British terrain, but only if your were riding at home in the driest, most ideal long summer conditions. We were following James closely through tunnels of trees, into roots, hitting blind transfers and doubles, and diving into switch backs and rock gardens. James knew the tracks and he doesn’t hang around so it was flat out from the word go and super fun!
Singletrack to the sea
You may have noticed the running theme of me mentioning the good food. Well, I do like my food so we sampled the different farmshops and eateries in the area, feasting on fresh cheese and parma ham rolls with huge tomatoes and strong sweet coffee.
One particular rickety Tuscan farm had a small restaurant serving all their home grown ingredients, cold meats and cheese boards. Huge slabs of frittata and sweet slow roasted root vegetables were the order of the day with, of course, the obligatory olives and bread.
We washed it down with espressos to see us back to Punta Ala and started the pedal back through wildflower meadows and wooded single track towards the sea.