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Le Panzanelle: a tuscan treat

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Stuffed tomatoes or seasoned pork to start? Or how about a fresh goats cheese salad or some bruschette? Life is full of difficult choices. By the time you reach the pasta course it’s a real dilemma. The rabbit and vegetable sauce seems an obvious choice, but the wild boar doesn’t look bad either. There’s also that seafood lasagna that isn’t on the menu to consider.

If you’ve ridden all day and can manage a second course, the Fiorentina steak is a perennial favourite. But depending on the time of year there will be lamb chops, stuffed veal, wild boar stew or the ever-enticing peposo – a Tuscan speciality of beef slow-cooked with tomatoes, some wine and a lot of pepper – to bring out your appetite’s capriciousness.

 

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At least choosing dessert is easy, because everyone knows that the panna cotta here is one of the best you’ll find in Italy. Wait, you didn’t know that they baked the cantucci themselves?

This being Chianti, there’s obviously a heady array of wine in the cantina. We haven’t quite tried all of the 300 labels on offer – we’re trying our best, honestly – but whether you’re after a simple house wine, a local star, a hidden gem or a renowned vintage, there’s something on the card to suit.

The only thing that’s easy to agree upon is that Osteria Le Panzanelle is an unmissable treat when you’re in Chianti. Hidden away on an unassuming country road in Lucarelli, not far from Radda in Chianti, this little restaurant is a treasure, loved by locals and tourists alike. The atmosphere is relaxed and convivial, the staff are always smiling and the décor is as clean and unfussy as the menu, which changes according to the season.

In spring, we’re there to catch up with our friends in the pro peloton after the Strade Bianche. In summer, we share long evenings full of clinking glasses warm conversation with our guests, and in autumn, when our time in Tuscany comes to a end with L’Eroica, you’ll find us unwinding in the courtyard or by the large open windows inside, watching the world go by with a glass of well-earned Chianti Classico, reflecting on another year in the saddle.

Like a favourite road or a classic climb, it’s one of those special places of which we never tire. It’s familiar and yet it changes every time. And we love it for that.

inGamba in numbers: A marathon stretch in northern italy

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The summer is officially in full swing at inGamba. We’ve been enjoying the incredible weather at our new permanent base in the Dolomites at Corvara’s Hotel La Perla, and we’ve been very busy racing and having fun at two of our favourite events: the Maratona dles Dolomites and the Pinarello Granfondo.

 

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Getting from Italy’s high mountains to our home in Tuscany and then to Treviso to hang out with our friends at Pinarello requires some planning and a lot of hard work, but we think it’s worth it. Guests get to experience some of Italy’s most iconic climbs before discovering something totally different in Chianti and in Veneto. It’s hard to explain to people just how much we manage to fit into a trip like this, but here are some of the stand out numbers to give you an idea.

1 – Michelin star meal at Hotel La Perla’s La Stüa de Michil restaurant.

2 – Granfondos in a week.

3 – Destinations. Alta Badia, Tuscany and Treviso.

7 – Mountain passes climbed during the Maratona dles Dolomites.

19 – Percent. The maximum gradient on the Maratona’s final – and infamous – climb, the Mür dl Giat.

100 – Days. Reportedly the time it took Austrian soldiers to build the iconic switchbacks of the Passo San Boldo after their defeat at Caporetto during World War One. It is 7km long with an average gradient of 10% and 18 hairpin bends, and it’s one of the most popular climbs around Treviso. It made its debut this year on the Pinarello Granfondo route.

 

The Passo San Boldo. Image: Wikipedia

 

284 – Minutes. The time it took for 2015 champion Luigi Salimbeni to finish the Maratona.

851 – Kilometres ridden by guests on our Maratona/La Pina double header trip.

21,100 – Total metres climbed by each rider in 11 days.

Cheers!

 

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Guest opinion: the perfect cycling vacation in Portugal

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We’re all about the love at inGamba. We think of our technical partners as friends rather than just sponsors, and we think of our guests as part of the family. Every trip we do, people hit it off and form lasting bonds but even for us, this April was a particularly amorous month because we had not one, but two successful wedding proposals.

Jay Butler popped the big question to Kerri Shelly on our Portugal Randonée.  And after a week of some memorable rides in the southern Iberian Peninsula – and probably a few unforgettable, nervous seconds down on one knee – we caught up with him to see what he thought of the inGamba experience.

“It is just plain unfair that we had to leave and return to our, not, InGamba lives!  Oh, the humanity!” joked Jay from back Stateside. ”From top to bottom, front to back, the inGamba staff made this trip the single best experience that Kerri and I have ever had together.  We can’t begin to convey how much we enjoyed our time.  Portugal was magical, the hotels were awe-inspiring (and courage inducing too!), the riding, well, it was just fantastic.

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“It was beautiful, scenic, challenging but not too challenging … The rides were a treasure.  Hey, I even learned – kinda, in a Fred sort of way – how to motor pace!  How cool is that!”

Obviously, travelling with us is about more than just the bike. The road certainly reveals plenty about each of our destinations’ unique character, but to get the full experience you need to discover truly local food and dive into the local wine culture.

Jay put it simply: “The food, the food.  Where to begin. Simple, yet complex.  Tasty and clean.  A perfect juxtaposition between fish, pork and beef in every meal.  Each one’s best features brought out by the preparation, the presentation and the variety of each region.

“I will admit with some embarrassment that I was not really expecting too much from the wines. I’ve never been a huge fan of Portuguese wine. I am not proud to admit it, but I was (a fool) mistaken.  But no longer. We are among the converted!  Bright, clean, sharp and very subtle, the selections were terrific. Everything from the local house wine to the top end bottles were really a delight to experience.”

The inGamba crew also prides itself on knowing the best places to stay wherever we go. Whether that’s downtown Portugal or a small hilltop village in Alentejo, we’ve got the best quarters, guaranteed.

“The hotels were top notch and were lots for fun,” says Jay. “Each unique and each showcasing the charm of Portugal.  We are so glad we followed your recommendation and stayed at the Palacio Belmonte both before and after the trip. It was a pure hedonistic delight. We were both so appreciative of the upgrade in our room and revelled in how unique and special the property was.  We were pampered and feted like Princelings!  It’s nice being a Princeling!

“The standard of service and support inGamba set and then successfully delivered on are beyond compare.  The attention to detail, the devotion, and the genuine desire to serve from everyone, every day, makes the team so very special.  Kerri and I deeply appreciate everyone’s contributions and steadfast efforts to make every day unique and memorable.

“It might not be fair to call out any one action or any one person, because everyone was exemplary.  Oh what the heck, who am I kidding,  Here goes!  Helder and Xico,  excellent and perfect bikes, every day, without fail.  Clean and tuned to perfection.  Everything ticked and tied to a Pro’s specification.  I remember watching Xico pick small insignificant grit out of the tubular tires one afternoon, making sure every tire was perfect and without flaw.

“Jose, Nate, and Nuno working tirelessly every day, long into the night, to make sure that everything was perfect with the rooms, the food, the arrangements and our general mental well-being.

“Raul, Jose and Roque with their masterful massages and Raul’s wonderful treats. Oh, those wonderful treats!  Biscuits with marmalade! Yum! Our legs and psyches were well adjusted throughout the trip, always ready to take on the next hill or roller. Also a special note of thanks to Nate and Raul who were so kind with a timely gentle shove, a friendly wheel and an uncanny ability to find exactly the right pace to make the ride fun and enjoyable for everyone or just you, if that is what you needed.

“Kerri and I made a small decision and a small announcement during our trip with with inGamba this year.  Besides being very relieved she said “yes”, the occasion was made even more special because of where and with whom we decided to do it.  Portugal is great because of its own attributes, but it will hold a special place in our hearts and minds because of the proposal.  But even more importantly was the close group of special people that we choose to do it with.  The delight and generosity you and the team showed will also make the event very dear in our memories.  We’ve already begun scoping out the calendar and dreaming how/where we can do the next trip.  Who can say, Dolomites maybe?”

 

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The Maratona dles Dolomites: a ride like no other

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It’s hard to fathom what lays ahead, in the pure darkness preceding dawn. The mountains are pitch black, their jagged outline just decipherable against the slowly brightening sky. Later in the day the landscape will be awash with colour, verdant strokes of green draping the valley below and swathes of endless blue stretched out above, but for now it’s only shadows. The hulking mass of the mountains loom large and the atmosphere is a mixture  of giddy eagerness and trepidation. Helicopters hover above, silhouetted against a not-yet-bright, early morning sky and more than 9,000 riders busy themselves with last-minute checks, coffee and enthusiastic chatter. The announcers heap more excitement on an already keen crowd, and nestled in the expectant throng it doesn’t seem so cold.

Snugly tucked into the peloton, the first kilometres are a magical blur, rising slowly with the mountains and the sun to the first of the day’s enormous crests. You know you’re climbing, but the gradients are still gentle, welcoming, or to borrow a phrase from the Italian, almost sweet. 

 

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The race has grown from a small event held by a few enterprising locals to an international carnival of cycling. It’s been 29 years since the first Maratona, and in that time it’s taken on a significance unrelated to cycling as well. The route winds its way through some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery and the event serves to celebrate and focus attention on these all-too-rare, often fragile places. The emphasis is very much on getting as many people as possible to connect with nature – not a hard thing to do in a landscape that’s so inspiring it’s by UNESCO – and to contemplate our relationship with it. It’s the only event of its kind to be certified carbon neutral and the official jerseys even have an extra pocket on the side for your litter – just one of the many little things they do that other events should imitate. In every aspect the organisation is more akin to what you’d expect at a professional race, which is just as well, because people have come from far and wide. Anything less than perfect, and it would chaotic. Instead, the whole day runs like clockwork and every need is catered for. You still need to be able to haul yourself and the bike up the mountains, of course, but everything else is looked after.

You know it won’t be easy, but you also know that you’ll be quick to forget the more grizzly details. It’s that rose-tinted sense of achievement, the way memory tends to round out the shaper edges of experience, that makes this sport great. Pain and pleasure are normally a rigid dichotomy, but on the bike they come in harmony. You can’t have one without the other in cycling. To feel the wild rush, descending at great speed from the top of the world to the valley below, you first have to climb up there.

 

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The terrain is varied, ranging from lush green pastures to barren, snow-covered rock. Canopies of trees and shady woodlands give way to snaking switchbacks, exposed to the sun and the wind, and challenging climbs test body and mind but also guarantee the rich reward of a lengthy, high-paced descent.

These roads are paved with cycling history and on race-day, lined with fans. Which makes for great riding. There’s a savage beauty to the peaks and a gentle grandeur to the farms and modest hamlets that lay below. It’s a land of stark contrast, but one also marked by an peculiar harmony that you can’t fail to be struck by during the Maratona’s more quiet moments. Everything here – the roads, the mountains, the small towns, the locals, even these thousands of cyclists – is in its right place. 

 

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