One of the advantages living in the UK is that you constantly have the feeling you are close to everywhere in Europe. Just a 4 day-3 night long weekend is enough to find yourself winding along the Chianti valley and Val d’Orcia.
We flew to Pisa having in mind that the shot ‘I am trying to hold the tower from falling down’ is enough for now. We saved the tower and soon we were all on board in our Italian looking Lancia Ypsilon.
First stop is Lucca, Puccini’s birthplace, still framed by its medieval city walls. We may have not had the urge for wine tasting yet but the smell of the Italian limoni and fresh style hit us straight away.
On board again and a few miles later we entered without even realising, Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci. You can see that there is a pattern here. Italian piazzas all look the same, but you never get enough. It is already lunch time and we could not resist the mozzarella- tomato-basil combo, taking a break on the medieval stones of the central square here, before heading down to the Centro Storico of Firenze where we are going to park for the day.
No matter how many love stories you have read about Firenze, the romantic vibes that dance taking you with them towards Ponte Vecchio cannot be described with words.
This is where you close your eyes overlooking the sunset over Arno in the melodies out of the accordions and you get lost in your own fairytale…
Awoken by the sunbeams, we took the rural road to the valley of Chianti with the first stop being the Greve in Chianti. Poppies paint the valleys in red where lands are physically bordered by lines of cypresses. The scenery is mythical as you approach the main village of the area. Driving across the valley we have been invited to visit one of the monasteries of the area, for lunch and tour of the wine making process. The atmosphere here is spiritual, the deafening silence breathtaking and you have the impression that there is a very religious process for the wine making.
Siesta brings us at San Gimignano. This well known picturesque village lives up our expectations. We get lost amongst the towers of the ‘medieval Manhattan’ as melodies coming from every corner guide us around and this was enough to make us want to come back again. The stopover is over and we are again on board for our final destination for the day completing the route across the Chianti Valley. Home for tonight is definitely a must for this kind of road trips where we have been hosted in one of the numerous agroturismo cottages of the area near Siena.
The feeling of sleeping in the middle of nowhere is priceless. It is just you, the cypresses and unlimited land of vine leaves ready to produce the most expensive drops. Breakfasts are seasonally altered with what the everyday production of the area brings you. Time is up and we cannot wait to visit the Val d’Orcia, the region from where the most famous wine cards are taken their name.
We could not have been accused of alcoholism for a late morning wine degustation at Montepulciano. The Sangiovese density here gets greater, the red redder and the flavors wrap your inner self around. We stocked up the car with some bottles and a few dozens of cypresses away we entered Pienza.
The wine in our blood settles down as the sun sets on the hills of Orcia. This is where pecorino cheese is produced and we cannot resist to some testing of focaccia with pecorino taking down the cobbled streets of this lovely little town. We had all heard about the infamous café/bar lying by the corner of via del Cuore and via de l’Amore. The order was already made and we could not tell what is brighter here, the sun or the orange blitz of our spritz’s…La vita e bella we say in chorus and we rest under the spring Italian sun…
Next stop is scheduled for the Sant’Antimo monastery. It is something so special happening here that you cannot miss it. Still wrapped in awe we drive away reaching Montalcino. Visiting the Castello Banfi we get to meet the luxurious bottles of Brunellos which stand in every connoisseur’s bar, that also match our dinner dishes one by one.
It’s dark already and before heading home we all wanted to feel young again. With colourful icecream cones in hand from the local gelateria we made our way to the Piazza del Campo. Sitting on the warm medieval grounds we mixed our dreams, voices, laughs and tears with the ones of so many others experiencing the same magnetic energy exactly the way that the flags meet each other in the skies during the horse races at the Palio di Siena.
We had to explore more of the city and its magnificent terracottan centro storico the following day. Hand made pasta for lunch and the last panini were all we needed before heading back to Pisa.
Our road trip terminated where it actually started and we flew back to the front end of the wine consumption. …Viva Italia!
- Buca dell’Orafo – set in a cellar by Ponte Vecchio, Tuscan menu at its best.
- Cibreo Ristorante – Local celebrity chef serves the famous T-bone steak, the bistecca alla fiorentina, cooked very rare.
- Il Santino – for prosciutto, cheese and wine on the go.
- I Due Fratellini – pit stop for freshly made paninis on the go
- La Carraia – best gelato by the river ever
- Chianti area
- Badia a Possignano – try a table outside overlooking the tuscanian landscape
- Pizza e Bottega – pizza by the slice
- La Bottega – in Radda in Chianti for the best bistecca fiorentina
- Val d’Orcia area
- Castello Banfi – pricey but totally worth it
- Enoteca La Fortezza di Montalcino – wine testing with lunch
- Osteria dell’acquacheta – casual restaurant in the centre of Montepulciano, small plates to share to accompany your wine
- Wine. Espresso. Wine. Spritz. Wine. Repeat.
- Volume – cocktails in a vintage bookshop in the Santo Spirito area where all the hipster Italians hangout
- Rivoire – drink hot chocolate overlooking David in the Piazza della Signoria
- Caffe Fiaschetteria, Montalcino for coffee in an old school lyxurious environment
- Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella – one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, with handcrafted products in a beautiful, fresco-lined building
- Buy cheese and local products from the small towns. Turn a restaurant reservation down to have a pic-nic in one of these towns. The alfresco feeling is memorable.
- Get lost in every one of the small towns you visit. Take a gelato in hand and sit on the warm medieval stones in the piazzas. Breathe the smells of the wine mixed with the tuscanian landscape.
Visit the region’s websites to see if there is any wine testing event taking place in any of the small villages. Local producers often organise wine testing days in stalls around the small towns and villages.