TRAVERSE CITY — Matt and Judy Vajda will tour Italy at an average speed of 20-24 miles an hour.
The Traverse City couple are gearing up for seven days of cycling in the Tuscan countryside in May with 14 of their closest friends.
“Quite a few of us have been friends (going back as far as about 25 years),” said Judy Vajda, 49, of the close-knit group, which gets together as many as four days a week. “We cycle in the summer and we cross-country ski in the winter.”
So far members of the group — including current and former members of the Hagerty Cycling Team and members of the Vasa Ski Club — have cycled in Italy, Spain and Croatia. But their first trip to Tuscany in 2007 was so memorable that they decided to return this year to tour a different part of the region.
“Everybody I talk to who’s been to Tuscany says you come back a better person,” said Vajda, who is planning the trip with a tour company based in Ireland. “Everything is very small, quaint and meaningful, not to mention the beauty.”
The group will arrive in Rome and take transportation to their starting point in San Gimignano, a walled Medieval hill town. That’s where their rented race-quality, carbon-fiber bicycles and tour packets — containing route, dining and lodging information — will be waiting. From there they’ll ride between 30 and 62 miles each day to a different hilltop or coastal town, where they’ll meet for dinner and spend the night at a bed and breakfast.
Highlights of the trip include cycling on Elba Island, where French emperor Napoleon was exiled after his forced abdication in 1814, and stopping for a relaxing soak in hot springs on the way to Paganico in southern Tuscany.
“You always know you can’t recreate the memories you’ve already had. So we’re looking forward to a different region and visiting different towns each day,” said Vajda, who was so taken with the simple charm of Tuscany that she remodeled her house to give it a Tuscan feel.