“Come see us at my in-laws’ summer place in Castagneto Carducci, it’s on the Tuscan coast, around Bolgheri area, where the Super Tuscan wines are produced…..,” replied our beautiful friend Lynn, who just then moved to Italy from NYC with her Italian husband, when we e-mailed her about our plan to visit Italy.
The idea of seeing Lynn and visiting part of Tuscany we had not been to and heard about was certainly appealing. And of course, the idea of tasting Super Tuscan wines made it a no-brainer.
Tuscany’s coast, called the Etruscan Coast, is a narrow strip of coastline on the west of the region. It is so called because of the presence of the Etrruscan civilization that inhabited the beautiful coastal area from 9th century BC (long before the Romans).
Aside from archeological parks, Etruscan Coast boasts of lovely beaches and crystalline water, and is Tuscany’s gateway to the Mediterranean sea. But we found that its utmost charm lies in its hilly hinterland, where tiny, lesser known hamlets await to enchant your heart and your palate.
Castagneto Carducci is a hilltop hamlet dominated by a castle of the Gherardesca clan who once controlled the surrounding area. Situated in the middle of the Etruscan Coast, we found it a perfect base in exploring the area.
A relaxing walk in the quant city center of Castagneto Carducci reveals a lot of charm and history. Its web of steep and narrow lanes is lined with cafes, food and wine shops, historic buildings, churches, lovely piazzas, and handsome homes. Aside from the castle, one point of interest that the village is proud of is the childhood home of Giosue Carducci, a famous 19th century poet after whom the hamlet was named after.
The quiet streets of Castagneto Carducci becomes lively at night. Locals and visitors alike filled the street cafes to partake the delicious and traditional gastronomic offerings. We enjoyed the excellent pizzeria and gelateria where Lynn took us one evening.We found that we couldn’t go wrong anywhere we ate around here. We, of course, enjoyed the pasta dishes. In this lunch, I had a heavenly ravioli with seafood and Keith had a pasta with cinghale (wild boar), a traditional Tuscan delicacy which he enjoyed almost everyday during our time in the region. Paired with excellent local wine, every meal was absolutely divine.
Aside from the pleasure of seeing Lynn and meeting her new baby, we also had a great pleasure of spending a day at her family’s typical Tuscan home and garden, where we took delight in everything that was growing around it.
The road that goes down the hill of Castagneto Carducci rolls into rows of olive groves and into vineyards and wineries of Bolgheri area, where some of the best Tuscan wines are produced. Its Super Tuscan Sassicaia is considered one of the finest Italian red wines. Sassicaia actually brought Bolgheri to international prominence when it won over assortment of Bordeux wines in an international competition in 1974.
We visited several vineyards and wineries in the area, most of which were family owned and used organic winemaking process. Aside from Sassicaia, we tried other excellent produce of the area such as Bolgheri Superiore, Bolgheri Rosso, and Ornellaia among red wines, and the Vermentino Bolgheri and Bolgheri Bianco among the white wines.
Bolgheri is well-known among locals for its Viale dei Cipressi (Cypress Avenue), a 5 km scenic road flanked by ancient cypress trees that leads to the main village of Bolgheri. Poet Carducci actually immortalized this avenue in one of his famous poems.
Cypress Avenue ends in front of the Castle of Bolgheri, which serves as the gate to the village. It dates back to 1500 and belonged to the old noble family of Count Gherardesca.
Behind the castle is an enchanting hamlet, where narrow alleys and charming streets are lined with lovely homes, specialty shops, wine stores and bars, and trattorias.
Bolgheri also makes an excellent gastronomic stop. At Enoteca Tognoni. Keith and Lynn enjoyed the specialties of pasta with wild boar ragu and pork cuts, while I had a non-specialty but still delicious seafood pasta. This place serves more than 40 wines by the glass!
A drive on a winding, woody hill road from Castagneto Carducci leads to Sasetta, a picturesque tiny hamlet where the houses seem to be clinging on a hilltop overlooking the sea.
A further drive on an even more winding, heartbeat-stopping road led us to the medieval hamlet of Suvereto. Its origin is said to date back before year 1000.Suvereto is surrounded by ancient city wall and can be accessed through several arched gates.
We were happy to have discovered the charming hamlets of the Etruscan Coast. It’s a wonderful area to explore if you want to stay away from the heavily touristed area of Tuscany.
Linking to Travel Photo Thursday,