Chianti

3chianti

Where to stay in Tuscany? How about gorgeous, magical Chianti, where exquisite villas and rustic farmhouses rise immersed among luxuriant vineyards and silvery olive groves. In Chianti, the hills melt gently one into the other, and the picturesque stone-paved towns and rich local heritage offer an authentic lifestyle experience. Full of character and authenticity, Chianti offers the very best wine tasting in Tuscany, the most mouth-watering cuisine and thank to its fairytale-like natural environment, is the ideal destination for inspiring farm holidays and memorable family holidays! The Chianti (“keeahn-tee”) region includes the whole area between Florence and Siena, stretching east toward the Valdarno and west to the Val d’Elsa valleys and extending as far as Arezzo and Montepulciano. It’s heart is the “Chianti Classico”, centered around Radda, Gaiole and Castellina in Chianti, the towns that were united to form the Chianti league (Lega del Chianti) back in 1384. The area comprises the softly rolling hills between Siena and Florence, bounded by the Elsa river and Pesa valley to the east and by the Chianti mountains to the west, and boasts a striking array of splendid villas, quaint farmhouses and extensive countryside estates.

This fairytale like region is the land of the black rooster – il Gallo Nero – who you can see defiantly looking out of all the signs along the countryside roads (and on bottle labels as well!). The Chianti League, originally established by Florence to solve boundary issues with Siena, soon became in charge of a completely different, increasingly important, activity: wine making. The reason was, of course, that the wines produced by the area’s luxuriant vineyards were very good, and sold very well! In 1444 the League issued a set of strict rules regarding harvesting dates and in the early 1700s an edict issued by the Grand Duke Cosimo III recognized Chianti as a specific wine making area. In 1924 determination of what a Chianti Classico was to truly be, was finalized at last when the area’s 33 main producers got together to create the Consorzio del Gallo Nero (with the famed Gallo Nero as its emblem). The Consorzio established that only members could call their wines Chianti Classico, and only vineyards located in the specified area could join. Holidays spent in a villa in Chianti offer a full immersion into the area’s rich heritage. Besides its one-of-a-kind history and the fame brought to it by both wine and culinary specialties production, Chianti is a region of unique landscapes and unrivalled natural beauty. Silky green hills covered with neat cultivated fields and dotted by rustic stone farm estates, the (ever so celebrated!) shimmering vineyards, and silvery olive groves which yield exceptionally tasty extra virgin oil. Dream-like villages and sturdy farmhouses, silent parish churches and mysterious abbeys appear here and there along the hillsides, adding to the all-round unending charm. The best way to discover Chianti and fully savor its atmosphere is renting your own villa or countryside estate and taking relaxed, leisurely drives along the state road SR222 – la Chiantigiana – stopping for a photo of a towering cypress, a walk down a peaceful hill, or a fragrant mouth-watering panino on the bench of a quaint stone-paved piazza. Awaken to the chirping of the lark in the perfect comfort of your Chianti vacation home and discover Chianti’s towns and villages, all to be enjoyed! Greve in Chianti, known as “Chianti’s front door” is a vibrant, colorful little town with a picturesque main square splendidly framed by an ancient arcade. Greve’s piazza, with its many local specialties’ and crafts’ shops and the bustling open air grocery market on Saturday mornings, is the heart of local daily life. The city hall, in neo-Renaissance style, and the large statue of the famous explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano (born near Greve, he then discovered Hudson Bay!) are also in the square. There are a few significant artistic treasures to be admired in Greve, too. Bicci di Lorenzo’s triptych and “Virgin and child” in the Church of Santa Croce and a collection of lovely sculptures and paintings from the 1300s within the “Museum of Sacred Art”. The instructive “Wine Museum” and its collection of 180 types of different corkscrews, may be worth a visit! Just a couple of kilometers from Greve lies the fortified hamlet of Montefioralle, a tiny and seemingly enchanted perfectly preserved village, birthplace of the great Amerigo Vespucci. Where to stay in Chianti? There are so many superb villas and so much to see, to learn and experience! Panzano in Chianti, for example, is a delightful, attractive village. Home to Chianti’s most important Romanic church, the superb Pieve di San Leolino, the town is mostly renowned because of its celebrity, Dario Cecchini, Tuscany’s most famous butcher! Cecchini’s butchery, located in the heart of town, offers premium cuts of the best locally raised meats, but the “house specialty” is actually… Dario himself: butcher, philosopher, excellent cook and especially unique showman. His restaurant “SoloCiccia” (i.e. ”meat only”) is close by, for a taste of authentic, delectable, Chianti meats prepared according to traditional recipes. Castellina in Chianti rises on a hilltop in a splendid position, and boasts a century-old history, though its main center looks quite recent compared to other towns of the area. As one of the Chianti League’s founding towns and due to its strategic location, atop a hill half way between Florence and Siena, it underwent many attacks and was destroyed more than once. Yet, the center is charming with a special, relaxed atmosphere filling the streets. Enjoy strolling around, and discover Via delle Volte, the only remnant of the town’s ancient walls which is today a roofed street, crammed with attractive shops, cafès and restaurant. Other interesting sites include a couple of princely noble palaces, the “Enoteca Antiquaria” dating back at least 100 years, and the Rocca, ancient sighting tower which offers spellbinding views of the surroundings. Family holidays in Chianti offer many an opportunity. Children and adults alike will appreciate visiting Radda in Chianti, a striking town encased by grand defensive walls. Inhabited since the 9th century and later headquarters of the Chianti League, the town has fully maintained its Medieval look: exploring the maze of winding streets and alleys that lead to the main square is a wonderful journey back in time. Sites to visit include the Romanesque Church of San Niccolò with its ancient wooden crucifix, the 15th century Palazzo del Podestà, which boasts a stately façade decorated by coats of arms, and the Grand Duke’s Ice House built in the 19th century to turn snow into ice. Art connoisseurs shouldn’t miss the Museum of Sacred Art which exhibits works of art from the Chianti region. The hillside surrounding Radda is truly charming, dotted with parish churches, elegant villas, imposing castles, such as the Medieval Castello di Volpaia, and picturesque farmhouses. On the road leading from Chianti to the Valdarno valley, along the banks of the Massellone river, rises Gaiole in Chianti. Thanks to its position it always enjoyed the important commercial role of being the area’s central market town. The center, destroyed and rebuilt many times, is pleasant and attractive but not striking, compared to the neighboring towns. Gaiole’s surroundings, with innumerable exquisite churches (the Spaltenna parish church, which hosts a valued 15th century crucifix and the imposing Coltibuono Abbey, a former monastery now wine production estate) and lovely, important castles, are certainly not to be missed. The Vertine Castle, a marvelous small Medieval walled village, and the grand Castello di Brolio built by the Longobards and then property of the noble Ricasoli family. Still today Brolio is privately owned and descendants of Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the very one who is said to be the inventor of modern Chianti wine, live in it. Yet it is possible to visit the splendid Renaissance style gardens, which offer spectacular views, and a small museum which houses family weapons and personal objects of the Baron. While in Chianti don’t miss a very special, less renowned, opportunity of “savoring history”. Stop by Albergaccio Machiavelli (namely “bad/nasty Machiavelli hotel”. This restaurant, located near San Casciano Val di Pesa, just off the SR222 and 5 minutes away from Florence’s “Certosa” exit, is one of the area’s most ancient taverns and boasts a singular history. When in 1512 Niccolò Machiavelli, world-famous author of “The Prince”, was forced to leave Florence (1512) he gloomily retired in exile to his country residence (the house which is still right there, in front of the restaurant) this rustic tavern was his retreat, his only “consolation”, the place where he would spend his afternoons playing cards, drinking good wine…

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