Windows Into Tuscany

Chianti in Tuscany

Chianti in Tuscany is beautiful. But then, every region in Italy has its own splendor. Chianti’s charms lie in the rolling vineyards bedecked with castles and surrounded by quiet little villages.

Castello Verrazzano in Chianti
Castello Verrazzano in Chianti

September’s wanderings brought me to the Castello Verrazzano just outside of Greve in Chianti. The long single-lane driveway up to the castle left the main road and wound up through rolling vineyards, past the renovated stone farmhouse where I lodged, then ending at this picturesque estate. The views of surrounding vineyards, olive groves and neighboring hilltop castles were stunningly beautiful. I imagined myself staying here for a very long time.

Agritourismo at Castello Verrazzano, Chianti
My room at Castello Verrazzano

An old stone farmhouse provided several rooms for lodging with a small central courtyard. Stonework was everywhere, backed by red geraniums. All around me was quiet and very still, an atmosphere that I cherish.

Each morning I would hike up to the castle from my room and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast feast nicely laid out on a long table. Hearty breads and chunks of white cheeses, fresh yogurt, sliced meats, fresh-baked pastries, ceramic pots of hot brewed coffee and tea all found their place and disappeared quickly. The views from here were even more astounding. A deck ran around the outside where I could sit and gaze at castles on hilltops surrounded by long green rows of vines. Olive orchards brought a different green to the scenery and grew in groves dotted about the countryside.

The Azienda Agicola Querceto Di Catellaina
The Azienda Agicola Querceto Di Catellaina

Several of the castles and villas are not only wineries. Many contain shops selling the bounty of the land. Shelves of wine, honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil are plentiful. Colorful labels mark the items as products of Chianti, Tuscany. Many are cooking schools and hold classes in the art of Tuscan cuisine. I explored a couple of these estates.

Just a fifteen minute drive down the road is the Farm Querceto Castellina. Set on 117 acres of vineyards, the 16th century farmhouse has remained in its original condition. Architecturally intriguing and beautifully maintained, the farm also has a shop with winery products, cooking classes and a restaurant. I was welcomed with open arms and was greatly encouraged to ‘snoop’ about.

Fattoria La Loggia, Chianti
Fattoria La Loggia, Chianti

Surrounded in a natural environment of olive trees and vineyards, the Fattoria La Loggia is another equally unique winery. Not only do they provide rooms to stay, but they are a contemporary art mecca. Thought workshops and a creativity laboratory of permanent exhibitions of sculptures by noted contemporary artists are charmingly displayed around the farm.

Fattoria La Loggia, an agritourismo for history, art and culture enthusiasts
Modern sculpture at the beginning of Fattoria La Loggia, an agritourismo for history, art and culture enthusiasts

All of these explorations took up a good part of the day. I found myself famished, so I turned my little fiat toward town. I wasn’t disappointed.

Cantina Pizzeria, Greve in Chianti
Cantina Pizzeria, Greve in Chianti

Dinner in Greve was perfect. I decided to try this cantina for two reasons. First of all, it was very rustic Italian, and secondly it was full of locals which is usually a very good indication of a worthy stop. People here are friendly and enjoy chatting among tables. My choice was a seafood pasta accompanied by a glass of Chianti Classico that was all delicious. In fact, the next day at the Castello Verrazzano winery tour, I recommended this cantina to a small group of tourists that wanted superb authentic Tuscan food at an affordable price. The Cantina Pizzeria fit perfectly.

Writing at the Castelo Verrazzano, Chianti
Writing at the Castello

I found my perch at the old castle where I wrote my memoirs. Words came tumbling out while my senses were engaged in pastoral scenery. As I took in the lush green ambience, I was reminded of an old quote from years ago…”in the stillness is the dancing.” How true, I thought to myself, how very true.

Chianti

Tuscany’s Castle Winery Leaves a Dashing Legacy

Castello Di Verrazzano in Chianti
Castello Di Verrazzano in Chianti on a lovely mellow day

Chianti, an area of Tuscany located between Florence and Siena, is beautifully grooved with vineyards over wide rolling hills. Castles often decorate the tops with their surrounding estate of vineyards full of grapes grown plump and aromatic under the warm Tuscan sun. Castello Di Verrazzano, overlooking the town of Greve in Chianti, is one of them.

Gardens of Splendor
Gardens of Splendor
20131019-072226.jpg
Every castle has a moat, of sorts….well, this is actually a large pool
Plump juicy Verrazzano grapes
Plump juicy Verrazzano grapes

The “vineyards situated in Verrazzano,” are mentioned in a manuscript dating back to 1170, preserved in the Abbey of Passignano. Olive groves are recorded to have been growing on the estate simultaneously.

Castello Di Verrazzano vineyards
Castello Di Verrazzano vineyards

Today, the Renaissance villa is built around the tenth century tower. Originally, the castle was an Etruscan, then a Roman settlement until the Verrazzano family acquired it in the seventh century.

20131018-193244.jpg
Captain Verrazzano, Explorer of the New World

Giovanni da Verrazzano, born in the castle in 1485, was a Florentine navigator who explored the bay of New York and most of the East Coast of North America in the early 1500’s. Not one to keep a low profile, while seeking entrance to the Pacific Ocean near South America on his third and final voyage, he mistakenly landed on an island with cannibalistic natives. End of story….almost. New York immortalized him by naming their double-decker suspension bridge the Verrazzano-Narrows in 1964.

The Verrazzano Estate’s boundaries have not changed in over one thousand years.

Today the Cappellini family runs the estate after acquiring it in 1958. At the time it was in a neglected state and needed repairs. The villa was restored and the surrounding 220 acres of land reorganized, nourished and replanted in vines which are replaced every twelve years. A system of thorough organic fertilization as well as the practice of agronomic techniques has contributed over time to superior wines. The harvest is done exclusively by hand through a careful selection of grapes.

Vineyard stretch to the horizon
Vineyards surround the castle

Most good stories have a great ending, and this is no exception. In my next post you are invited to come along with me on a wine tour of Castello Da Verrazzano. I promise a dungeon with cells, but no dragons! Stay tuned…..coming this Wednesday!

The Night that Wishes Come True

wine glasses

San Lorenzo’s Night of the Falling Stars is almost upon us. Every year on August 10th friends and lovers stroll the warm summer nights hoping to catch a shooting star and express a desire that is promised to come true. But another activity, tasting the bounty of local wines, is the real highlight of the evening.

If you find yourself in Tuscany during the month of August, this is one event you won’t want to miss. What better way to meet the wine producers of Tuscany and sample their prestigious wines…. all under the twinkling night sky.

Also known as Calici di Stelle or Calici Sotto le Stelle (glasses below the stars), this Tuscan Wine Festival runs from August 5th through the 11th in many of the charming medieval hill towns, surrounded by picturesque and world-renown wineries. During the event, the piazza’s fill with local wine producers who offer glasses of wine to the public. Wine cellars open, accompanied by jazz music and theater performances on the piazza to entertain the wine tasting.

Vineyards outside Montepulciano
Vineyards outside Montepulciano

Montepulciano is most noted for its Vino Nobile, made of 60-80% Sangiovese grapes and aged a minimum of 2 years in a barrel. Rosso di Montepulciano is a lighter and fruitier version that is very popular. Vin Santo, a dessert wine made of dried white grapes, is also produced in the area. Sangiovese-based Chianti Classico and Brunellodi Montalcino are a Tuscan wine but not specific to Montepulciano.

Montepulciano grapes are not grown in Tuscany because they ripen late. This is confusing, but the grape is actually grown east of Rome and in the southern region where the weather is warmer.

This year wine quality and sustainability will be the emphasis of the Calici di Stelle in Montepulciano (famed renaissance and medieval hill town), known for it’s sumptuous Vino Nobile. On the night of the 10th, beginning at 5pm, within the Piazza Grande there will be 50 red wines to taste from the many Montepulciano cellars. There will also be tastings of local traditional gastronomic dishes. Art and Antique markets will line the streets, sold directly from the producers. Flag throwers and drummers will entertain in the piazza, followed by live concerts to enhance the evening as you stroll about with wine in hand.

Afterwards, find a grassy spot to spread a blanket out, lean back with glasses of sparkling wine and watch the stars as they criss-cross the sky. Grab one and your dreams will come true!

Recommended Local Winery Tours:

*Villa Cafaggio Winery in Chianti

*San Fabiano Calcinala Winery

Montepulciano
Montepulciano

Cycling the Sun-Splashed Ligurian Riviera

“With the Mediterranean on one side and the Alps on the other, this new cycle-pedestrian path is one of the most beautiful in Europe, the first on the Italian Sea.”       Claudio Burlando, developer of Cycling Riviera

Cycling along the Mediterranean
Cycling along the Mediterranean

Liguria has a brand new cycling/pedestrian pathway that hugs the coastline and provides level, bump-free pedaling. Come experience the beauty of the Italian Riviera by bicycle. Cascading flowers cover old rock walls, palms sway in the cool ocean breeze that carry the citrus scent of lemon trees, and sandy beaches edge the wide expanse of the ocean. Vineyards and olive groves creep up the terraced hillsides, nourished by the warmth of sole. Sun-washed and sophisticated, the Riviera is picture-perfect.

Stretching for 74 km altogether, the Cycling Riviera pathway runs from Tuscany to the south of France. The eco-friendly cycling path is smooth and wide, with plenty of room for every speed of bicyclist. The first 24km stretch, from Ospedaletti via San Remo (think Casino) to San Lorenzo al Mare, follows an old railway line, winding though eight historic fishing villages. However, several options for shorter bicycling routes are given in the link at the bottom of this article. Some of the pathway goes through a tunnel that is well-lit and roomy.

“This is the first time in Italy we are replacing an old railroad with a cycle/pedestrian path that will create a protected natural environment, car free, and tourist friendly,” said Tullio Russo, a member of the private partnership that developed the project. The path provides access to pristine beaches and an ecological coastal sea park that protects a whale sanctuary. For those who want to ride further, the path becomes a gateway to the Milano-San Remo route. Mountain bikers can explore the nearby Maritime Alps.

Liguria is actually separated into two “Rivieras.” To the west is the Riviera di Ponente, which hosts resort towns like San Remo. The Riviera di Levante to the east, with classy Portofino and the dramatic Cinque Terre, is preferred by many writers and artists. Genoa, the Ligurian capital, separates the two of them.

During the 19th century, the Riviera was famous with European expats who outnumbered the locals. Wealthy aristocrats were attracted to the very temperate climate, amusing themselves with lavish botanical gardens. They gambled in the casino’s of San Remo, and dined in several fine art-nouveau villas.

Villa Hanbury
Villa Hanbury

The Villa Hanbury, also associated with Villa della Pergola, was popular with Queen Victoria and later Winston Churchill as a holiday stay. The last years of Alfred Nobel were spent here. Worthy of a peek, the villa is located in Alassio, just 20 km from San Remo and not far from the cycling path.

Of particular delight are the unique local wines and foods of Liguria. Stop along the way for a taste of the famous Taggiasche Olives, the unusual Albenga purple asparagus, or the Ligurian red prawns. The basil Pesto sauce is the culinary masterpiece of Liguria. Being on a bicycle makes so many things possible, providing the flexibility to explore as parts of the pathway wind through villages.

So much to see and do on bicycle, and so little time. Choose your itinerary and proceed with reckless abandon. A great memory is in the making.

(see link below for pathway sections, bicycle rentals and eating/drinking ideas along the way)

*Riviera Cycling Path divided into 5 routes plus where to rent, lodge, eat, and everything you need to know about cycling the Riviera

If you enjoyed this article, please like it and pass it along! Thank you:)

Vineyards and Castles on Horseback

Horseback Riding in Tuscany
Horseback Riding in Tuscany

” ‘Andiamo,’ let’s go, the sound comes out at a gallop.”  Frances Mayes

Imagine riding horses under cypress shadows that fall in wide bands across a sunlit pathway that meander over the hillsides of Tuscany. Endless blue skies blown clean of clouds frame medieval villages and vineyards. Birdsong and breezes gently caress your senses and nature is suddenly all around you. 

Have any of you, like myself, ever dreamed of riding from castle to castle on horseback? Recently, I have fallen in love with a similar idea. Riding from winery to winery on horseback. But the very best is to combine the two of them together and ride to castles and wineries on horseback! And what better place to journey through than Tuscany.

Tuscany is a primeval land full of history, legends, and ancient peoples. Pathways wind through meadows and forests that pilgrims walked many centuries ago. Olive groves, vineyards and cypress trees embellish the landscape in the most striking tones, giving a balance of beauty that soothes and refreshes the soul.

Chianti is a region in Tuscany located between Florence and Siena. Steeped in ancient history, the land has grown wealthy from wine. Today the vineyards produce an excellent quality. This was not always the case. Many of us remember the cheap Chianti  encased in a wicker bottom with a candle sticking out of it, displayed in Italian restaurants years ago. However, the wine has changed with time and today has become some of the best in the world. Classico is a term used which means that the wine is grown in the oldest zone of origin. The map below shows the area.

Map of Chianti in Tuscany
Map of Chianti in Tuscany

Chianti wine was first mentioned in a document from 1398. The above outlined Chianti area boundaries have been fixed since 1932 and have stayed the same.  But not all are Chianti Classico. Divided into 8 sub-zones, each one produces its own Chianti wine. As you ride through the region, you will find many farms and wineries along the road offering wine tasting.

There is no better way to experience the sights, smells, and tastes of Tuscany than on horseback. Enjoy a day under the Tuscan sun and experience the ambience close up and personal. Below I have listed a few recommended riding experiences that offer wonderful horses that anyone can ride. Click on the titles to open the websites. I have provided a brief description after each title.

Horseback Riding in Chianti

After riding for two hours through the Chianti hillsides, you will return to the stables and enjoy a robust Tuscan lunch of salamis, cheeses, meats, fresh vegetables and wines from the same vineyards you just rode through.

Horses and Vineyards 

Beginning with a one hour ride through vineyards, olive groves, and medieval villages to a 17th century Villa’s estate, you will be taken on a guided tour of the ancient cellar. The unique process of making olive oil and wine will be discussed, followed by tasting the olive oil and several wines. A Tuscan lunch, consisting of bruschetta and pasta, or dinner for the pm ride, will be served afterward.

Seven Castles of Chianti on Horseback

For those who are up for a week-long excursion, this is the one. This rides takes you on a wide loop through the Chianti Classico wine region north of Siena.

Discover-Tuscany_7-548x373

Heads up, heels down and enjoy the ride!