by Paola Cambria
Chianti today is a land of gently rolling and rugged hills, where vineyards and olive groves alternate endlessly, and forests shield the most precious crops. In the midst of all this nature, towns seem untouched by the passing of time, like cheerful medieval villages or ancient hamlets, preserving all the traits of typical Tuscan architecture. Chianti, with the unique wine it produces, is a symbol of Italian gastronomic excellence for the whole world. The region offers a journey in peacefulness, good food and good drinks, immersed in the pure Tuscan countryside. Nature here has been preserved, with no concession to overbuilding and no distortion in urban planning. The essence and charm of Chianti has remained intact over the years – despite the sudden success of the area, which has attracted so many new residents from abroad that the region has ironically been renamed “Chiantishire”.
Our goal is to help you plan a relaxing holiday in Tuscany, starting from Chianti. A weekend is enough to discover this land, but you may want to plan a longer stay, regardless of the season. Every different time of the year will show you a special aspect of Tuscany, and in particular of Chianti: spring can capture you with its bright green, while summer alternates sunny days and cool evenings, perfect to enjoy jazz, classical music, theater and interesting readings, outdoors or in the vineyards. Fall is the most industrious season here, and allows visitors to discover the hard work that goes in winemaking, and to experience the intense aromas of grapes fermenting in the cellars. Come to Chianti after the harvest is over, and you will experience a sense of nostalgia: vineyards will be turning their typical autumn color, and the streets and ‘cantine’ will no longer be as busy.
Finally, winter is when the region’s fine food and wine are showcased in every castle and stately home, and revive every kind of accommodation, from bed and breakfasts to charming little homes, to simply comfortable cottages.
We could have listed an infinite number of places to visit, but we would have ended up with nothing more than a plain tourist guide. Instead, our travels helped us select two historical residences, which have been transformed into places where visitors can enjoy the tradition and beauty of Chianti to their fullest, while still benefiting from the high standards of professional management.
Thus we suggest a weekend full of the flavors and aromas of the typical Tuscan cuisine, in search of that Chianti or IGT Toscana wine – better known as “Supertuscan” – that you still have not been able to taste.
Our itinerary starts in Florence, where you can take the Chiantigiana – the road the crosses this area in Tuscany and reaches Siena – and go meet the new generation of winemakers, who have kept alive century-old farms – some dating back to the 1100s – and now manage the most varied range of traditional and modern accommodation, from rustic to luxurious.
Our first stop is Greve in Chianti, to visit Querciabella’s vineyard and winery: the company is a strong mix of modern design and pure nature where, if you are as lucky as we were, you’ll be able to see deer at sunset on the property.
You will take the memory of Querciabella’s wines with you forever, but why not take a few bottles with you as well?
For your overnight stay, we suggest a high-end accommodation that will make you feel pampered and get you back in shape. It is Castello di Gabbiano, in Chianti Classico, in Mercatale Val di Pesa, right outside Greve in Chianti. In 2000, the historic property was acquired by one of the world’s major winemaking groups, Beringer Wine Estates. A shift that has not taken anything away from the traditional value of the estate, but which has added an international business perspective to management style and allowed the major multinational corporation to bring out the best of the venue. Surrounded by 130 hectares of vineyards, Castello di Gabbiano now has ten rooms for its guests, each one completely different from the other, and four apartments. The ancient cellar under the castle has been equipped with advanced technological systems: it is open for guided tours, followed by tastings at the company’s wine shop. Here you can enjoy the area’s best bottles, from Chianti Classico Riserva – the second best-selling Chianti in the United States – to the more complex and modern Alleanza, to Cru Bellezza, made with grapes that grow in the vineyard you can admire right outside the windows of the castle.
“Il Cavaliere”, the restaurant inside Castello di Gabbiano, is a converted farmhouse from the 16th century. Located on top of a hill, it offers a splendid view outside and a welcoming space inside. The tables are arranged in two rooms: the one on the ground floor is bright and airy thanks to the large arched windows, while the one on the first floor has stone walls decorated with “en plein air” frescoes by Odali, and small windows overlooking the vineyards. On sunny summer days, guests can sit outside in a shaded and well-ventilated area, surrounded by greenery and flowers, and take in the breathtaking view over the vineyards and olive groves. The chef at “Il Cavaliere” carefully selects his ingredients, sourced from local farmers or provided by the castle’s own garden, and creates dishes that celebrate the tradition and unique flavor of the region.
Before leaving Chianti, we warmly suggest picking a few tasty souvenirs to take home. Stop in Greve’s historic central square, bursting with culinary stimulation for the senses. Visit its wine museum and its record-size Chianti Classico wine shop, where you can taste over 140 Tuscan wines. A successful marketing strategy has made this a popular tourist destination, and a must-see for wine lovers: here you can try the most renown Supertuscans, from Solaia to Ornellaia, from Luce to Tignanello, as well as Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano, not to mention the best Chianti Classico you’ll ever taste. The ‘cantina’ also serves meat and cheese platters and wonderful Tuscan bread.
Finally, if you are inspired to stock up on meat, salami and cheese, head to Antica Macelleria Falorni, the “temple” of ‘bistecca alla fiorentina’, to purchase vacuum-sealed T-bone steaks, pre-cut cold cuts, Tuscan sauces, and fresh or aged pecorino cheese. Enjoy!