The Maremma Challenge is a 461-kilometre (286 mi), non-technical mountain bike route, or a technical gravel bike route, that loops from and back to the historic, hilltop town of Massa Marittima in the western part of Tuscany. It's a varied mix of gradients; from flat coastal tracks to hilly terrain with some unexpected steeper sections hidden amongst this lesser visited countryside of Tuscany.
Despite the extensive flat sections, there’s still 8,180-metres (26,837 ft) of climbing. It’s a mixed terrain route, utilising sections of hillside, woodland singletrack, rugged double tracks, smooth gravel paths and rolling back roads. It’s challenging at times on a gravel bike, yet ideally suited on numerous sections. A mountain bike would be more appropriate for approximately half the route, yet slower going on the smoother tracks. As is often said, however, the best bike for any adventure is the one you have.
This Tour isn’t just about the ride, but also about the cultural experience. It passes through some of the region's iconic, mediaeval towns, each spectacular sights, constructed on hilltops with their towering, defensive walls rising up from rocky foundations. They were built to have high vantage points across the surrounding countryside.
You’re never far from food or water sources along this ride, regularly passing through villages, many of which have a community water fountain or a small store. However, do be aware of store opening times in the more rural locations, especially on the weekend or bank holidays. You’ll find plentiful resupply options in all of the towns too of course, so you don’t have to carry much water. Two 750ml water bottles will be plenty. If you’re a foodie, this Tour is for you too! Grab freshly made Italian produce from any of the small stores or treat yourself to dinner out in any of the larger towns’ local restaurants, many of which are conveniently located on the route.
The ride is divided into two parts; the hills and the coast. You’ll head into the hills from Massa Marittima, rolling in between lowland peaks for the first 100 kilometres (62 mi). The inclines gradually increase in length as the route takes you towards the two highest peaks of the Tour, Monte Amiata and Monte Labbro. The former has a small ski station and normally great views, but I didn’t get to experience them this time as the peak was encircled by low clouds! The descents off these peaks are super fun, if a little more mountain bike orientated than gravel, especially off Monte Amiata where the terrain gets rocky at times with some singletrack switchbacks.
Back into rolling peaks, the route passes through several of the region’s historic hilltop villages, and the more well known ones of Sovana, Sorano and Pitigliano. Take some time to admire the architecture and narrow streets, especially in Sorano and Pitigliano where the rock has been extensively carved out to create the towns themselves and an extensive network of storage areas.
You’ll head out to the Tuscan coast for the second part of the Tour, but it’s not quite all downhill from Pitigliano! The rolling countryside hides some steep climbing. It’s mostly relatively brief, but come prepared with a lower gearing option (I ran a low gear of 38/46 on the gravel bike). The climbing isn’t over once you are at the coast though. The Tour circumnavigates part of the Tuscan archipelago that is directly linked to the mainland. You’ll need the low gears here too, but the stunning views out to sea and the islands of the archipelago make up for the effort.
Once off the peninsula, the legs can settle into easier riding along the coast on flatter terrain, all the way to Follonica. It’s a picturesque section, passing through coastal towns, national forests and along traffic-free cycle paths, with a few kilometres right along the edge of the beach. On a hot day, there are several cafés (check seasonal opening times) that would be perfect for a cooling ice-cream on the beach, with views out across the archipelago. It was too much of a cold, wet day to stop and enjoy the beach this time!
If you don’t stop for ice-cream, Follonica makes an ideal spot for a quick snack and a coffee before the final off-road section back to Massa Marittima. It meanders back along forest singletrack and double track, with a few brief climbs, double the distance via the road. Massa Maritemma sits on a high, rocky perch, so there’s a climb back to the finish, but none of it is steep. It’s steady and almost traffic free on a quiet back-country road, arriving into the back of town. Five minutes more riding and it’s a well-deserved beer back at Bike Garage & More.
Camping spots along this route are limited to wild ones. This is tolerated if you set up late and leave early. Otherwise there are plenty of accommodation options in the towns, many of which cater for cyclists with a secure lockup for the bike.
There isn’t any direct transport to Massa Maritima and the nearest train station is 20 kilometres (13 mi) away on the coast at Follonica. Coming from Turin direction, it’s a pleasant train journey along the coast on a regional service. Regional and Intercity trains accept walk-ons with your bike. The fast Le Frecce trains do take bikes, but they must be in a bag or wrapped with the wheels off. It’s a straight forward, flat, road ride from Follonica, with the exception of the climb up into Massa Maritemma. Use this as a pre-ride warm up or if you arrange a stay in town through the folks at Massa Vecchia Bike Hotel, they can arrange a transfer from the train station.
The Maremma Challenge is a mixed terrain Tour where a cross-country type mountain bike would be ideal for a majority of the riding. If you wanted to tackle it on a gravel bike, I would recommend a 45mm minimum tyre width and if you have the option of a suspension fork, even better. I rode it on 40mm tyres with a Lauf fork (30mm suspension) and was very underbiked on a number of occasions.
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Last updated: September 26, 2023
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
The start is in the heart of the old town of Massa Marittima at the edge of the Piazza Garibaldi, based out of the bike store, bar and restaurant Bike Garage & More. Riders gather outside the store, opposite the steps of the architecturally stunning stone cattedrale di San Cerbone.
It’s a soft pedal…
by Scotty C
This is a hilly stage that heads into the mountains where you’ll ride over the Tour’s two highest points on the slopes of Monte Amiata and Monte Labbro. Even though the two longest climbs are over and done with early on, there’s no real let up from continual short climbs until the final 10 kilometres…
by Scotty C
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
Stage 3 is a ride from the hills out to the Tyrrhenian sea. It's a big day on paper, but faster riding than the previous stage, with most of the terrain being flat. There are still a number of off-road sections and a couple of longer climbs, but nothing with more than a 300-metre (984 ft) height gain…
by Scotty C
This is a relatively easy day compared to the previous one, but speed will be slower after Follonica due to the winding forest trails and singletrack. It’s super fun riding before the final back road climb to the start point in Massa Marittima. With a couple of larger towns and numerous cafés en route…
by Scotty C
Mountain Biking Collection by European Divide Trail
Mountain Biking Collection by Peter Baumeister
Hiking Collection by Sauerland-Tourismus
Bike Touring Collection by komoot