Il Palio

Siena travel, siena vacation, il palio, tuscany vacationThe Anticipation is mounting in Siena as Il Palio kicks off on July 2nd with Palio di Provenzano, the first of two historic, and fervidly celebrated horse races.

A time honored tradition, Il Palio dates back to the 17th Century, when each of the 17 Contrade, or districts of Siena, were in fierce economic and social competition with one another.  Today, though the official function of the Contrada has diminished, each neighborhood remains a closely-knit community, and naturally they are proudly represented and devotedly supported in the historic race around Siena’s main square, Piazza del Campo.  Adorned in the customary colors of their respective Contrade, the riders frantically circle the Piazza three times before a winner is ultimately declared.  The victor’s Contrada is awarded Il Palio, a banner that serves as a trophy, and a jubilant celebration ensues.

Tuscany vacation, Tuscany Travel, Il Palio

The next leg of Il Palio, Palio dell’Assunta will take place on August 16.  Though each actual race lasts less than two minutes, the ceremony, and the spectacle that accompanies Il Palio makes the entire summer a wonderful time to take in the old-world splendor of one of Italy’s most impressive medieval cities.  Visit in July to cheer on Il Bruco (Caterpillar), La Lupa (She-Wolf), or Il Montone (Ram) and experience the wonder of Siena for yourself as part of Tuscan Hill Towns by Bike vacation.






Cheers! Salud! Prost!

Grapes and hops … plums and pears … lemons and corn. For travelers, the local drink – culled, crushed, liquefied, and fermented from these pearls of the land – is as vital to a place’s culture as a plate of Puglia orecchiette pasta or a Slovenian struklji pastry. So we thought it would be fun to raise our glasses to some of the fine vintages, brews, and concoctions that VBT travelers have the pleasure of tasting during our vacations. Bottoms up!


Italy has been producing wine for 3,000 years. Today, hundreds of indigenous grapes are grown throughout the country. Here are some traveler favorites:

Chiantis, Vino Nobiles, and Morellinos of Tuscany. These world-renowned vintages are most closely associated with the Sangiovese grape, known for its spicy and strawberry flavors. The grape is also used to make bold “Super Tuscan” wines. Tuscan Hill Towns by Bike, The Tuscan Coast, Tuscany by the Sea

Gewurztraminer and Blauburgunder. These floral-noted wines are produced in the cooler climes of South Tyrol – an unsung wine region amidst the Dolomites. They are, if not easy to say, then easy to sip. Italy: Cycling the Dolomite Valleys

Malvasia. The Po River Valley in northwestern Italy has brought new life to a vine imported from Greece – it makes a sweet wine with a nice finish. Italy: Po River Valley and Lake Garda

As dessert in Italy goes, perhaps nothing compares to this famed post-meal digestivo.

Limoncello. The truest version of this potent liqueur (it averages 35% alcohol) is made from the Sorrento lemon peel and served in small ceramic glasses. The Amalfi Coast & Capri


Centuries ago, a group of devout monks in Burgundy “invented” red wine. All it took, they discovered, was macerating the skins of grapes during the wine-making process and – voila! – their wine resembled the blood of Christ. France still produces divine vintages.

Cabernet Franc. In Bordeaux along the Dordogne River, this grape is grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but is vinified on its own in the castle-dotted Loire Valley. Bicycling Bordeaux & the River Dordogne

Chenin Blanc. This white grape is also grown in the Loire, where it is valued for its malleability in making everything from sparkling wines to sweet dessert wines. Loire Valley


Sangria. This refreshing drink, perfect for warm Mediterranean days, is typically served in a pitcher for sharing and made with red wine, chopped fruit, sugar or honey, and a small amount of brandy or triple sec. Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky

Pedro-Ximenez. The climate, soil, and sunshine of Andalusia give rise to sweet, fortified sherries. Among these, the Pedro-Ximenez grape (PX for short) is believed to have Moorish origins and been brought to Spain from the Canary Islands. Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky


Port. Portugal’s port has been shipped to England since the 1670s. It wasn’t until the 1800s that shippers fortified it with brandy to preserve it for the long trip. Walking Portugal’s Douro River Valley

Vinho Verde. Its name translates into “green wine” for its green-ish tint, is often grown off the ground – up trees or fences – so that vegetables can be grown below the vines. Walking Portugal’s Douro River Valley


Plavac. An ancestor of the Zinfandel grape, Plavac yields rich flavors of blackberries, dark cherries, and pepper. Croatia: The Dalmatian Islands, Walking Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands

Prosek. Plavac’s white counterpart is more expensive since it requires seven times more grapes to produce. Its sweet dessert wine is made throughout the Balkans. Croatia: The Dalmatian Islands, Walking Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands

Holland & Belgium

Beers and Ales. Amstel. Heineken. Grolsch. While pale lagers like these make up 95% of production in Holland, many brewers also make special brews like witbier, or white beer. Belgium has been brewing beer since the Middle Ages. Today, 125 breweries dot the landscape of this small country. From Trappist and Abbey beers to brown and blonde ales, it seems there’s no beer that Belgians can’t brew. Holland and Belgium Bike & Barge, Netherlands Bike & Barge


Stout Porter. Arthur Guinness founded a brewing company in Ireland 250 years ago. His enterprise remains, producing more than 10 million glasses each day, for pubs around the corner and around the world. Ireland: Galway & Connemara Coast, Ireland: Walking the West Country


Palinka. Don’t be alarmed in Hungary if someone wishes you “Palinkas jo reggelt!” They’re merely wishing you “Good morning with palinka,” which goes to show you the importance of this fruit brandy in their culture. The cordial can be made with plums, pears, peaches, and apricots. Hungary & Slovakia: The Best of the Danube


Chicha. The Inca used this corn-based brew in rituals and drank it in large amounts during religious festivals. In today’s Peru, it is usually prepared with purple corn, resulting in a sweet, unfermented drink. Peru: Machu Picchu & the Sacred Valley