✍️ Kevin Morgan | 📸 Ducati
In February 2023; Cyclone Gabrielle had hit the North Island, and we were feeling thoroughly sick of heavy rain, flooding, land slips, power cuts, water supply issues and bad weather.
A family wedding in Dorset meant travel to the United Kingdom in September was a strong possibility and my wife had always wanted to visit Italy, the Amalfi coast, Rome, and Florence. Talk of Italy and Ducati and motorbike adventures filled my mind, (I’m a simple man).
I logged onto the Ducati website with thoughts of doing a Ducati track experience in Mugello! Alas, their September courses were fully booked. That’s when I found the Adventure riding course at Castello de Nipozzano on the Frescobaldi winery estate in Tuscany, Italy. The home of chianti wine.
It was a two-day course on the 9th and 10th of September riding the Ducati Mulitstrada V4S or the Desert X. Now, I’d never ridden either bike but after watching a YouTube video on the course I was sold! So, after entering my boot, helmet, apparel size, and credit card details the trip was on!
We set off on the 20th of August. It was refreshing and exciting to be catching the end of European summer. 30 degree blue-sky days, visiting castles in Bavaria, sipping Hofbrau bier from a stein in a beer garden nestled at the base of a Forest clad mountain with white swans gliding along the mirror surface of a nearby freshwater lake. It was like landing in a fairy tale.
Then to Italy! We had 3 weeks staying in Naples, Capri, Amalfi, Rome, and Florence. We traversed Mt Vesuvius, ate margarita pizza, sipped peroni, took a chairlift to the top of Monte Solaro, marvelled at the azure blue Mediterranean far beneath vertical cliffs. There were beautiful churches, art, sculptures, ceramics, clothing, leather goods and centuries old villas. It was all breath-taking.
From Florence, we picked up the rental car from Knowleggi and drove east, into the Tuscan countryside. A bit hair raising - driving on the opposite side of the road, dodging a blaring fire engine, police cars and impatient Italian drivers. Thankfully an hour later, via some crazy narrow gravel roads, between green vineyards and rustic stone buildings we found ourselves outside Castel de Nipozzano, the jewel of the vast Frescobaldi wine making empire.
Red Ducati flags fluttered gently in the breeze either side of impressive glass panelled door entrance large enough for giants. It was late on a hot Friday afternoon, the smell of fermenting wine in the air, I just stood there taking in the majestic view of the castle and the vast Tuscan countryside.
The DRE started 8.30am sharp on Saturday morning. So having sussed out the venue, we set off to find our accommodation. A 15 min drive away in the smaller Castello de Pomino, a delightful villa on the Frescobaldi estate. I wanted a decent night’s sleep. The spa pool in the yard of the villa helped soothe mind and body, and anticipation built for the weekend ahead!
The next morning dawned a beautiful Tuscan day, with temperatures forecast to be in the low thirties. I’ve got to admit I hadn’t been this excited since being a 10-year-old on Christmas morning. Breakfast was supplied at the villa then off to the venue. I pulled into the carpark to be greeted by the impressive sight of 26 Ducati Multistrada and Desert X’s lined up ready for action. Wow!
Into registration, sign your life away, and collect your goodie bag; then up to the briefing room smelling of freshly brewed coffee and biscotti. Behind a panel partition sporting a massive photo of a rider on a Multistrada in an African landscape with large elephants looking on, I found our changing area and gear bags. It really did feel like Christmas morning!
I emerged feeling like an adventure riding God, sporting new Ducati branded apparel including an Arai helmet and Alpine star boots! I was buzzing.
Having sipped coffee and consumed biscotti, it was time to meet the DRE team of instructors. Our chief instructor, Andrea Rossi stepped forward. He beamed confidence and enthusiasm. Andrea has competed in international motorcycle rally events and collaborated as a tester during the development of newer Ducati adventure bike models. We were treated to an inspirational video on the Multistrada and with introductions completed we were into the instructional stuff.
It turned out I was the only Kiwi in the room, 6 participants were from Israel, Josh from San Francisco USA, Mark, and his son Tom from the United Kingdom (They run the KTM adventure bike school in Wales) one Puerto Rican and the rest of the class from Italy.
Classroom instruction lasted an hour or so and covered off body position, weight transfer, braking and cornering techniques. Then it was out to the bikes. We set off to the first paddock to put into practise what we’d learned in the classroom.
Now, my youth was spent dirt-bike riding and taking my old Honda XR200RE on enduro rides out the back blocks of the Taieri, just out of my hometown, Dunedin. So, standing up on the pegs and riding obstacles in a grass paddock felt second nature to me. I was happy as a pig in S#!t.
From there it was back to Nipozzano for a 3 course Italian lunch and a quick tour of the wine cellar. It felt unreal.
The afternoon was spent riding in a larger paddock, getting into second and third gear, plus practicing immediate action if you stall the bike on a steep slope. We posed for a team photo and rode out the rest of the day until my body couldn’t take any more. At 5pm it was time to head back to our accommodation for a quick dip in the spa, shower, and change. At seven we arrived back at Nipozzano for a 3 course dinner and briefing for Sunday’s activity. It would consist of a 184km ride through the Tuscan countryside, to an alpine forest and summit a nearby mountain. Fair to say I slept like a log that night.
Sunday dawned another beautiful Tuscan day. We jumped on our bikes and headed for the hills as a pack of about 25 riders, plus the official photographer. Morning tea of Italian salami, cheese, sourdough bread, and water were interrupted by a herd of bell wearing cows who seemed to take exception to where we’d parked our machines. After a few tense moments and visions of a Multistrada being tossed into the woods by an angry bull, the herd moved on and we finished our refreshments. Andrea produced a tool kit, and we discussed essential items to carry on an adventure bike ride. He entertained us with a story where he and Casey Stoner helped another rider who was stuck out in the wilderness. The guy had no idea who had helped lift his bike on that day out in the wilderness until a year later when he bumped into Andrea again...
We continued to the top of the mountain. There we found an amazing vista and a Desert X lying on its side. We learned how to lift the 220kg bike without breaking the back. Then back down through forest and gravel trails to our lunch venue.
Another 3-course lunch while the group checked out updates on MotoGP and back to Castello de Nipozzano. A stop was organised on the way back where Andrea gave instruction on puncture repair.
5pm came far too quickly. There were some high fives dished out by the instructors to the class as we dismounted our machines before walking over to the certificate award ceremony. I handed back my Ducati riding gear and just like that my DRE was over. My lasting memories will be the smiling faces, comradery, scenery, flash riding gear and great food. Check out my photos. They tell the story better than I can. Would I travel all that way and do it again? Hell yes!