Known for its undulating hills blanketed with picturesque vineyards, Tuscany’s popular wine region of Chianti makes an easy day trip from Florence. Even if you’re not into wine, the region is worth a visit for its scenic landscape and for its charming, historic hamlets.
We had time to spare during our leisurely sojourn in Florence so why not take a day trip to this popular wine region? But since we had enough share of vineyard-hopping in the less touristed wine region of Bolgheri, we decided to do less vineyard tour of Chianti and more exploration of some of its towns and hamlets.
CASTELLO DI QUERCETO
Chianti’s dramatic landscape is made even more magnificent by many architectural treats dotting its hillsides, like the medieval castles that stand amidst lush vineyards. Many of them are working wine estates and offer perfect opportunity for wine tasting in historical surroundings.
The wine estate of Castello di Quercet0, a castle-farm only about 25 kms/15 miles south of Florence, was our first stop in our scenic meandering around Chianti. Built in the 16th century as a look out, the castle helped defend the immediate area. Today, it stands like a sentinel amidst its 60 hectares of vineyards and olive grove.
After walking around the lovely castle grounds and viewing its vineyards, we tasted the estate’s excellent wines including its award winning Chianti Classico, the signature wine of the region.
What is Chianti Classico? It refers to the heartland of Chianti, which is the traditional and longest established viticultural area of the region. Like France, Italy’s wines are name after the region where they are produced.
Chianti Classico wines are ruby red, made mostly from Sangiovese grape with aromas of violets and cherries and a hint of earthy spice.
For many years, Chianti wines were exported all over the world in straw-covered bottles that used to decorate tacky Italian restaurants with red and white checkered tablecloths and which symbolized Chianti as producer of cheap wines.
But much has changed. The vintners of Chianti have work hard to improve the quality of their produce and today, they are producing excellent wines that are worthy of the region’s sublime surroundings.
GREVE IN CHIANTI
A short drive from Castello di Querceto is the small town of Greve in Chianti. It is considered a gateway to northern Chianti, as it is the first main town you will reach as you travel south of Florence to Siena.
In the olden times, Greve’s strategic position was a crossroad of three important pilgrimage roads. It became a market place starting in the 13th century when pilgrims and people from surrounding villages came every Saturday to buy livestock and produce. The Saturday morning market still takes place in the town’s man piazza up to this day!
Greve in Chianti is also known as the host of the annual Chianti Classico Wine Festival held in September.
The town’s historic main square, Piazza Matteotti, where the Saturday morning market takes place. Standing in the center is the statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, a local boy who became a famous explorer and discovered New York harbour. (In recognition, New York named its suspension bridge, the longest one in the world, the “Verrazano Narrows Bridge.”)
Keith was in carnivore heaven! Another one of town’s claim to fame is its local macelleria (butcher shop), Antica Macelleria Falorni. It has been delighting local and visiting meat lovers with its traditional meat cuts since 1729.
Greve in Chianti is also surrounded with sculptures, churches and museums. For lovers of religious arts, there is the Museum of Sacred Arts. For oenophiles, worth a visit is the Museo del Vino, which offers wine tastings of over 200 different labels from the region as well as collections of traditional wine presses, variety of vintage corkscrews and old farm machineries.
CASTELLINA IN CHIANTI
Half an hour drive south of Greve in Chianti is the medieval hilltop hamlet of Castellina in Chianti. The origin of this walled village goes back to Etruscan time. Relics found in the area suggest that it has been inhabited since 7th century BC. During medieval time, Florence took control of the village and used its strategic location to control the surrounding roads and valleys.
One of the impressive features of the town is Via della Volte, a vaulted passageway attached to the city wall and circles the town. The tunnel was used by military during medieval time. Today, it houses delightful shops and restaurants.
Castellina boast of many enotecas (wine shop). A notable one is Enoteca Antiquari, a 100-year old wine shop located inside a palazzo. It also serves as an important historical archive of local wine and helps preserve the original characteristics of Chianti Classico wine.
Also worth checking in the town is L’Antica Delizia, a gelateria that is hailed as one of the finest in Tuscany.
San Donato in Poggio
We ended our day in San Donato in Poggio, a small, tranquil hilltop village that is an ancient settlement in a fortified castle dating back to 11th century. The town retains part of its Medieval walls and original layout. Located between Florence and Sienna, a number of treaties between the two rival cities were signed in this town during their struggle in the Middle Ages.
The Romanesque Pieve di San Donato, the town’s main church.
I hope you enjoyed touring Chianti with us. Have you been to Chianti? Are there other towns in this wine region that you would recommend to visit?
- Like most of Tuscany, Chianti is best explored by car. However, most of its towns are accessible by public transportation from Florence or Siena. For tips on how to visit Chianti without car, visit this site. Private tours or bus tours from Florence are also options.
- For information on winery tour and wine tasting in Castello di Querceto, click here.
- For list of other Tuscan castle farms where you can visit for wine tasting, click here.
- Suggested travel guide: Lonely Planet Florence and Tuscany