SOME ITINERARIES IN THE CHIANTI REGION
THE CHIANTI REGION
The "Garden of Europe" does not need an introduction as it is already famous in the whole world for its sweet beauty, so famous that many people consider it the most beautiful existing countryside. Rolling hills with olive-trees and vineyards, where the famous wine, that since centuries has conquered delicate palates, plotted with villages, parish churches, castles and restructured cottages to offer the tourist a dream holiday. Then you have the mild climate and the enchanting landscape which makes this countryside between Florence and Siena so unique.
For foreigners the Chianti region is much more than a simple place on earth, it is a model of life quality. In the Chianti region the pace is slow, there is no place for stress, you eat well and drink even better, sitting down to eat for hours without hurrying, perhaps chatting with the family members or just with some friends. A magical countryside, full of unforgettable atmosphere which catch all your senses. The landscape satisfy the educated eye for its sober elegance, the excellent wine conquers even the best sommelier, the perfume of the land, which changes from one place to another, gives a relief to noses that have forgot the smelling of the countryside.
Since about one year Greve, the "capital" of the Chianti region, has tried to give a name to these extraordinary characteristics, giving itself an identity which is more efficient than any slogan. The name of the idea is Città Slow (Slow City), which has become an international movement leaded by the Chianti. The cities of nice living are those where the territory and the air quality are safeguarded, where the average life span is longer and there are no marginalization or poverty, where the landscape is not destroyed but considered a value. The whole Chianti region can be called "Slow" and first the foreigners and then the Italians have realised this.
The tourists have demonstrated their love for the Chianti region and many of them, after having spent their holidays here, have decided to purchase a house to live. There are many adopted inhabitants, most English and Germans, often artists, who have fallen in love with the beautiful landscape and have bought an old cottage to make it their dream residence.
You can not actually call it Chiantishire, as that would mean that there are only Englishmen living here. Once it probably was true, but today the tourists are not only Englishmen but also Dutch, German, American and Italian.
A big part of the fascination of the Chianti region is due to the architectonic and artistic heritage with lots of history from the past. A history made of bloody and cruel battles between Florence and Siena during the Middle Ages in order to acquire the leadership of the region. It is believed that the name Chianti comes from "Clante", the Etruscan name for a stream close to the river Arbia. In the 13th century the region which today comprehends the municapilties of Radda, Gaiole and Castellina was conquered by the Florentines who organised it in a Lega del Chianti. The symbol of the municipalities in the Chianti region was already the Gallo Nero (the Black Cook), which is still today the logo of the Consorzio del Marchio Storico Chianti Classico. In the 18th century it became necessary to redefine the borders of the Chianti region, starting with the wine producing areas. Greve and parts of the territories of San Casciano Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d'Elsa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Castelnuovo Berardenga were added to the already existing municipalities of the Lega. Still today these old borders delimit the area where the wine Chianti Classico del Marchio Storico Gallo Nero is produced. The rigid regulations allow the member producers to obtain the identification mark Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin).
The Chianti region comprehends part of Valdelsa. So therefore the municipality of Barberino, though its vineyards produce the Chianti Classico Dogc Gallo Nero, is included in the section regarding Valdelsa. The other seven municipalities of the Chianti region are located between the provinces of Florence and Siena. But it is still possible to talk about this region as a geographic, historic, cultural and productive unity. The homogeneity of the region has pushed the local governments to create a confederation, through the foundation of a Distretto Rurale del Chianti which is under process.
THE WINE CHIANTI CLASSICO DOCG AND OTHER TYPICAL PRODUCTS
The documents in possession of the historians testify that butts with the Gallo Nero wine travelled to England in the 16th century. The exportation grew even further in the 18th century, but the radical transformation of the agriculture into a highly specialised wine producing district was carried out in the 60's.
The Chianti Classico Gallo Nero Docg, among the most precious wines in the world, is produced with grapes such as Sangiovese (between 75 to 100%), Tuscan Trebbiano and White Malvasia up to 6% and other grapes up to 15%.
The wine is bright, the colour is lively ruby red that goes towards garnet red when ageing. The perfume has a violet nuance and acquires a delicacy when ageing. The flavour is harmonious, dry and tends to mellow velvet with the time. The Chianti Classico Gallo Nero has 12 degrees, which reach 12.5 if it is a Riserva, which is obtained with a 2 year-ageing and 2 months of refining in bottles. The excellent flavour of the Chianti Classico is best appreciated with roasted red meat or wild meat. The exportation of fine wines is one of the leading sectors for the economy of the Chianti district and the main markets is the Italian, the USA market which recently became the main importer, followed by the German and the UK markets. Even the farm holidays, which in the last couple of years have experienced a boom, have favoured many of the local businesses, which certainly is reflecting the interest in the excellent wine production as most of the visitors come here for the wine and the wine district. Try the Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, an amber-coloured dessert wine which is available both dry and sweet. The great extra virgin olive oil of the Chianti district recently acquired the mark Dop, denominazione di origine protetta, (denomination of protected origin). But this area also produces delicious salamis and cheeses, and the cuisine, with "poor" ingredients, reserves many surprises for gourmets, There are lots of restaurants and inns where you can taste the wine and eat typical dishes.
GREVE IN CHIANTI
A tour around the Chianti region departs from Greve in Chianti. The Chianti region comprehends the whole wine district with the Docg certificate and reaches the province of Siena in the south. The road that leads to Greve in Chianti is plotted with historic residences and castles which have been transformed into wine vaults. You find for example the Castello di Vicchiomaggio, from the XIII century which was transformed into a villa in the 16th century, the Castello di Uzzano and the Castello di Verrazzano, a villa/farm which was the home of the family of Giovanni da Verrazzano, a navigator from Greve who discovered the Hudson Bay, where New York now is situated.
The "Capital" is a town which has developed around the spectacular triangular square, paved with stone and surrounded by elegant loggias. The Piazza Matteotti was during the Middle Ages the market place of the Castello di Montefioralle which still today dominates Greve in Chianti. In the centre of the town you should visit the Chiesa di Santa Croce, founded on the remains of a medieval church but with a 19th century look. Inside you find a nice triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo which represents the Madonna con bambino e Santi (Madonna with Child and Saints) from the first half of the XV century, and a wooden Crucifix from the 17th century. Also have a look at the Museo di Arte Sacra di San Francesco, located in what used to be a Franciscan monastery along the road that goes from Greve in Chianti to Montefioralle. The chapel of the monastery preserves a precious Pietà in polychrome terracotta that goes back to the 16th century and the collection housed in the museum hosts sacred artworks from the 14th century to the 18th century from different parts of the region. At Panzano in Chianti you can visit the Pieve di San Leolino, which goes back to year 1000 and restructured in a Romanesque style . The portico in a typical Tuscan style was added in the 16th century. Inside there are numerous paintings from the Florentine school and a stone decorated with geometric pattern from the Early Middle Ages. Over the modern centre of Greve in Chianti you find the Castle/town of Montefioralle, very fascinating for its paved winding streets which leads you up to the top of the hill. The town preserves its medieval buildings. The Chiesa di Santo Stefano holds a table from the 13th century representing the Madonna e il Bambino. A nice itinerary in the surroundings of Greve in Chianti starts at Strada and goes to La Panca, immerged among a lovely landscape and majestic architectonic buildings. Stop at Castello di Sezzate. The Borgo di Cintola still preserves its aspect from the 13th century. From here you reach the imposing Vallombrosian Abbey Montescalari, today transformed into a farm. A nice excursion from Greve in Chianti is the one to Monte San Michele, the highest mountain in the Chianti region and often is covered with snow in wintertime. The forests of San Michele are protected and offers lots of tracking paths and areas suited for picnics, a running path and a small hotel-restaurant where you can taste the typical dishes of the Chianti region.
SAN CASCIANO IN VAL DI PESA
San Casciano di Val di Pesa is an important wine district and the historical centre preserves great parts of the boundary wall which were raised in the 14th century by the Florentine Republic. Do not miss the Collegiata di San Cassiano from the 18th century, where a Crucifix from the workshop of Baccio da Montelupo is preserved, and the palaces along the antique road Via Cassia.
TAVARNELLE VAL DI PESA
Tavarnelle di Val di Pesa is a town that lies along the road Via Cassia, and is actually the fusion of numerous small towns plotted along the ancient Roman "via regia". In the centre of the town you should visit the Chiesa di Santa Lucia al Borghetto, built in the XIII century and is one of the finest of gothic architecture in the area. Inside you can see parts of a cycle of frescoes from the second half of the 14th century.
CASTELLINA IN CHIANTI
Castellina in Chianti, in the province of Siena, is a medieval town located in a panoramic position, on a hill that dominates the valleys of Arbia, Pesa, Elsa. The settlement has Etruscan origins, as the tumulus from the VII-VI century testifies, which was found at Montecalvario. Castellina was during centuries the last Sienese outpost, but had to surrender to the Florentines who built the boundary wall in the 15th century.
The only construction of the fortifications that remains today after the fall of Siena is the Fortress, built with an embattled tower from the 14th century and a keep from the 15th century, which dominates the town. Today it is the seat of the municipality where you find a small antiquarium with Etruscan findings from the surroundings.
RADDA IN CHIANTI
Radda in Chianti is located at the watershed between the valleys Pesa and Arbia, in the centre of the countryside covered by vineyards and forests. Already in 1203 it was part of Florence and was fortified in the 15th century, with massive walls which are only partly preserved.
But the medieval centre is on the other hand intact, where paved streets design an ellipse around the chiesa di San Niccolò from the 14th century.
Visit the Palazzo Pretorio, built in 1415 and today the seat of the local government, and the Fattoria di Vignale, historical headquarter of the Consorzio del Chianti Classico Gallo Nero and also headquarter of the Centro Studi sul Chianti. At the farm of Montevertine, just outside the village, you find the small Museo del Chianti, dedicated to the peasant tradition.
Going back to Radda towards Greve in Chianti you reach the Pieve di Santa Maria Novella and the Castello della Volpaia, two architectonic masterpieces surrounded by the thick forest. The Pieve di Santa Maria Novella is what is left of a medieval village and, though it was restructured in the 19th century, it still preserves part of its original structure. The Castello della Volpaia is an enchanting place. Built by the Florentines in the XII century, it preserves its medieval centre and the atmosphere. Do not miss the Badia a Coltibuono, a monastery founded in the beginning of year 1000 and inhabited by the Vallombrosian monks from 1115 to 1810. Today it has been transformed into a villa and farm and only the Romanesque church and its bell-tower remain of the old cloister. The monastery is surrounded by a fir-tree forest which were planted and taken care of by the monks for centuries.
GAIOLE IN CHIANTI
Gaiole in Chianti is an ancient market town developed in the Arbia valley, surrounded by sweet hills with olive trees and vineyards. In the surroundings of the town there are two small fortified villages. Spaltenna, where the Romanesque church of Santa Maria from the XII century is preserved, and Vertine, an old village owned by the Ricasoli family, which has preserved intact since its founding in the 13th century.
Close to Gaiole you should visit the Castello Meleto, a beautiful example of a fortified farm from the XII century. It lies on a hill, protected by two fortified towers and features halls with frescoes, loggias, courtyards and a nice small theatre from the 18th century.
The Castello di Brolio is majestic and imposing which was built around year 1000, but today only preserves the imitation of the Gothic style wanted by the Baron Bettino Ricasoli in the 19th century, It is the headquarter of one of the biggest farms in Chianti and features the Capella di San Jacopo, with two polyptychs from the 14th century, and the crypt with the tombs of the Ricasoli family. During the Middle Ages the Castello di Brolio was often in the centre of the battles between Siena and Florence, and it was conquered by these cities in 1533. The Ricasoli family owns the Castle since the XII century.
Do not forget to visit San Gusmè, an enchanting medieval fortified village, named since the IX century. The medieval buildings, the boundary walls built by the Sienese in the 13th century, the antique gates crowned with armorial bearings have been preserved during the centuries and offer the visitor a moment of intense fascination.
Castelnuovo Berardenga lies on the top of a hill that dominates the Ombrone Valley and the river Malena. A tower and part of the walls is what remain of the castle built in the 14th century by the Sienese. The Villa Chigi was built on the ruins of the castle, at the end of the 18th century. The parish church preserves a Madonna col Bambino by Giovani di Paolo.
Who is fond of history and Dante's Divina Comedia could not miss an excursion to Moonteaperti, famous for the decisive and cruel battle between Florence and Siena the 4th of September in 1260 which was won by the Florentines.