Swoon over Chianti’s rolling hills covered in serried vines and bordered by pencil-thin Cypress trees. Explore exquisite medieval walled villages, and luxuriate in ancient spas, then release your inner gourmand with fine Tuscan DOP food and wine.
A tip: when eating out, or buying produce, look for the DOP (denominazione di origine protetta) label. Only products made to the highest standard, and within a designated area, can attain the status. For more, read Italian Heritage Food – Tuscany DOP
From Florence, make for Castellina in Chianti, a borgo that dates back to Etruscan times. The ancient medieval fortifications include a 14th-century tower, and may have been the work of Filippo Brunelleschi, the founding father of Renaissance architecture. An underground tunnel is now lined with artisan workshops and restaurants. Stop off at Stiaccini Macelleria (see below), to buy typical Tuscan meats, and for lunch or dinner, try Trattoria la Torre (see below).
Heading towards Siena, visit the medieval town of Monteriggioni. Wander the castle walls and drool at the views of the surrounding Chianti region, before you wine and dine at Antico Travaglio (see below).
Ancient hot springs will restore and revive you at the Terme Antica Querciolaia (see below), but don’t miss the Felsina Bottega & Mescita (see below), in Castelnuovo Berardenga (Siena). Tour and taste before you buy a fine selection of DOP wine and olive oil.
Finally, cruise on down to the World Heritage site of Pienza, a Renaissance city inspired and built by Pope Pius II, and admire the first public housing (still in use), the optical illusion in the town square, and, from the city walls, the vast Orcia Valley, now a UNESCO park.
This quality butchers opened in 1932, and products are still made according to tradition. The recipe for Finocchiona salami, for example, dates from when pepper was a a prohibitively expensive spice. So butchers substituted fennel, and it’s delicious. Every week, Riccardo makes particularly fine sausages according to grandfather Giovanni’s secret recipe. And Mama Silvana prepares a range of pre-cooked specialities, such as fegatelli (spicy pork liver chops).
Via Ferrucio 33, Castellina in Chianti, Siena, +39 0577 740558
Terme Antica Querciolaia
The Terme opened in 1850, when the beneficial effects of the natural hot springs were apparent. Visitors are advised to make a ‘circuit’ of the pools. Start with the coldest and wind up in the hottest pool (38 degrees). The spring water cures everything from psoriasis to arthritis, apparently. Even Giuseppe Garibaldi spent time here when he was wounded in the battle of Aspromonte in 1862. In spite of the beautiful location and facilities, entrance costs a mere €13 per day, even cheaper if you come in a group. There’s a range of face and body treatments available and, after all that hard work, a decent cafeteria.
Via Trieste 22, 53040 Rapolano Terme, + 0577 724091, https://www.termeaq.it/
Located within Monteriggioni medieval castle walls is a fine gelateria with a dozen different delicious flavours to choose from. It’s also a bar, but if you’re looking for something more substantial, head to the back, where a huge but cosy (thanks to the log-burners) dining room awaits. Specialities include certified meats, Tuscan classics, such as Florentine tripe, and Chianina beef, from the Siena region. Then finish it off with some delicious gelato.
Piazza Roma 6A, Castello di Monteriggioni, +39 0577 1651764, www.anticotravaglio-monteriggioni.com/
Within sight of the 14th-century tower, La Torre serves up typical Tuscan food and wine. Nothing is wasted in Tuscany: the leftover whey, from the production of DOP Pecorino, is heated to produce curds, or ricotta. Try the tortellini, stuffed with ricotta, served with butter and sage. Follow up with the manzo, and incredible desserts, apricot and fig tart, with more of that creamy ricotta.
Piazza del Comune 15, Castellina in Chianti, Siena 53011, www.anticatrattorialatorre.it
Chianti Classico wine is usually made from Sangiovese grapes grown within a very specific area within Chianti. Processing and bottling takes place in the same area. Fèlsina is a stunning vineyard and estate where you can take an informative wine-cellar tour before you try and buy. Sangiovese is ‘a horse that doesn’t like to be tamed’, according to our wine guide. Book in advance.
Via del Chianti 101, 53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga, Siena, +39 0577 1523789, https://www.felsina.it/en/