A short summary
trip report will focus on the trip that my wife Nikki and I took to
Tuscany in the period from July 17th - 27th 2007. In Florence we checked out
places like Galleria dell'Accademia to see David, Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Pitti Palace (Palazzo
Pitti) etc. This part of the trip report will focus
on our 6 day stay in Tuscany in Castellina in Chianti. Please
get in touch if you have any questions or comments. All pictures are
taken by Nikki and Gard with our Canon Powershot S1 IS camera.
Click here to check out the
Tuscany Google map which will indicate where attractions are located
In 2003 we went to Milan and Venice and we had a great time there. After that we decided that it would be nice to visit Italy again and in 2005 we went to Rome and that was also great. So when we planned a vacation this year we decided to check out Florence and Tuscany as it’s short travel time from Norway and we had a limited number of days for vacation. In order to appreciate this trip report to the maximum it might also be useful to check out the other trip reports that we have made from Italy for some other useful tips.
The second part of our trip would take us into Tuscany. We booked a car
through Avis (class B for 275€ for 6 days) and we also booked a room at an
Agritourismo place called
Villa di Capovento near Castillina in Chianti.
The trip begins
After we had been to Florence and Pisa (please see separate trip report for this trip) we set the GPS for Castellina in Chianti and instructed the GPS to keep us off the highways. We started out in Pisa and we drove towards Florence again and as we didn’t have a good map we just had to trust the GPS. We were almost back in Florence when the GPS instructed us to turn south and we headed of into the Chianti area.
The Chianti area is famous for the landscape, the Chianti wine (made from the Sangiovese grapes), the food, the olive oil etc. Going out of Florence by car we soon found ourselves in a beautiful landscape of rolling hills. Our poor small rental car really had to struggle in some of the hills as it was very steep. As we were getting closer to Castellina we stopped at one lookout point and the first thing that I noticed was the serenity and how quiet it was, it just seemed like a very peaceful place as we were driving past olive trees, wine ranks, sunflowers etc.
Capovento – our home in Chianti
We were welcomed by a elderly man when we came there and I just assumed that it was the owner but it turned out to be Daniele, the father of the owner and the man who seems to make all the art for the place. Everywhere in the house there seemed to be paintings made by him and they gave the place a nice personal touch. We got the room Padone which is located on the ground floor and with a view towards the pool. The view was not the best as it was straight out to the “winter garden” and Daniele’s painting studio. The room was painted in light colours with the same colour on walls and ceiling and there were tiles on the floor. The bed and the rest of the furniture were of dark wood and seemed to be old family heirlooms and made it cosy. The small, tiled bathroom had a tiny shower cabinet and no amenities apart from the hand soap and the hairdryer. There was only a small window so it did get a bit “stuffy” in there.
The breakfast was served outside the house each morning from 9 am and at this time the temperature was still pleasant. The breakfast was a simple selection of some ham cheese, bread, fruit, a couple of different flavours of juice, some cereal etc. It was also possible to order coffee from the kitchen and it was nice to start the day with a real cappuccino, espresso or macchiato. We saw that others ordered eggs and we also ordered scrambled eggs a couple of days…later on it turned out that this was added to our bill. I would have liked to be informed about this in advance.
The pool was located about 20 meters from the house and it was very nice to jump in there after we had arrived. We had driven all day and it had been pretty hot and it was a nice way to cool down. The pool was larger than expected and it was deep on one side (it must have been 2.5 meters deep). But I assume that it is not heated in any way as it was quite refreshing (read cold). So I guess it can be pretty freezing if you visit the place in the spring time.
It is possible to get dinner at Capovento and we had dinner there on the first evening as we didn’t want to start driving around after a long day in the car. For 30€ per person we got ribollita (the Tuscan bread “soup”), barbequed meat on skewers, and some fruity pannacotta for dessert. They also have a nice selection of wine and we went for the Borgo Scopeto 2001 Riserva which I found to be excellent. We did have a snack at the house one evening. We were not that hungry so we just asked the manager Giulio if could served a bit of ham or cheese. He didn’t seem that eager by this sudden request but he did serve a very nice plate of ham and pecorino cheese in the end. I also asked him if it was possible for us to enjoy a bottle of wine that I had bought at a local vineyard near by as we wanted to sit outside and just enjoy it. But he was not very happy with that suggestion and I guess it has to do with the fact that it is run like a restaurant even if they just serve food for the guests. Their cat was worth hours of entertainment and when we had dinner and breakfast it would walk around hoping for a quick snack from some of the guests. But it would also play ‘Mission Impossible’ with an imaginary opponent and it ran around attacking leaves, pot plants etc :-)
Capovento also produces olive oil which is for sale. It looked like the reviews in the olive oil “bible” was pretty good (not that I speak much Italian :-).
Capovento was a really nice place, located not too far from Castellina and in the middle of Chianti which makes it ideal for a base if you are going to check out the Chianti area. The old house is the old family house of the owner Giulio and it did have an atmosphere as we were staying at someone’s home. The service was good and especially Daniele seemed to enjoy guiding and talking to the guest. There is a bit of room for improvement when it comes to information but all in all we had a wonderful stay there.
Sightseeing Tuscan towns
We made a short stop by Gelateria L'Antica Delizia which is located on the way out of Castellina before we set the target San Gimignano on the GPS and drove west. The gelateria serves wonderful gelato (ice cream) and it was great to have something cold in the summer heat. On the way we had to make stops along the road to look at the beautiful landscape so be warned: the roads are full of turns and ups and downs, and locals in a hurry, so make sure to keep the eyes on the road even if it is tempting to gaze at the beautiful landscape.
An example of an alternative to San Gimignano this is the town of Monteriggioni (check out this page for more info) which we drove to next. When we approached this town it seemed like a scene taken straight out of a movie: a big fortress on a hilltop complete with walls, towers etc. We parked at a parking lot and walked up to this tiny town. Inside we found a small square, some small restaurants (I have heard rumours that the porcini risotto at il Pozzo is supposed to be excellent), a few wine shops etc The big difference compared to San Gimignano was of course that there was not hordes of tourists :-)
On the way back to Castellina we were overtaken by a guy on a Harley-Davidson StreetBob. In the hot weather he was riding in a half helmet, jeans and a t-shirt. It looked dangerous but very, very tempting. I’m not spoiled with great, warm weather when riding my Harley here in Norway. The funny thing is that this guy passed us the day before as well.
In the evening we were back in Castellina and we had plans to eat at L' Antica Trattoria La Torre located on the town square. When we came there is was major crowd and we didn’t have an reservation of course. So we went for plan B, a restaurant called Albergaccio di Castellina, right outside Castellina but that turned out to be very closed. So we went for plan...eh...well, we just took off south and hoped for the best. We came to Osteria di Fonterutoli connected to the vineyard Fonterutoli. It is located 5-10 minutes drive south of Castellina on the left hand side. The Osteria was not huge but they had both tables outside and inside. As the temperature drops pretty fast in this area we choose to sit inside and started with sharing a mixed antipasti. It included ham, cheese, liver paste, bread etc. And what do you drink at a place like this? The Chianti Classico from Fonterutoli of course :-) I have to admit that this was not my favourite wine during this trip. It was a bit too spicy and too fruity for my liking but their olive oil was pretty good. Our primi piatti was red wine and tomato risotto and wild boar pappardelle. I had the red wine risotto and that was very nice. It is not very often that I get it this way and I have made it myself but I feel that I have not been able to get it just right (yet). Our secondi was stuffed pigeon for Gard and stuffed rabbit for Nikki and again very tasty but remember that you have to order side dish (see food "rules" in Florence eating and drinking report). After dinner the waiter asked if I wanted some Grappa (see Wikipedia for more info). I said no thanks but when he said that it was on the house I was like most good Norwegians and said "OK, bring it on" :-). I’m not into Cognac and although Grappa was strong as well it had a lot more flavours in my opinion but it is not like I’ll be running out to get a bottle soon :-) The bill for the meal was 93€.
The great vineyard adventure
Dievole was located quite close but when we came there we had to wait an hour for the next wine tasting tour. So we relaxed, had some lunch under a huge parasol, enjoyed the scent of the huge rosemary pot plants...ahhh...summer bliss :-) When I went to pay the 10€ per person fee for the wine tour I ran into another Norwegian couple living at Capovento...quite an coincidence. The wine tasting at Dievole started out with a white wine in the small restaurant but we soon moved down to a wine cellar to try the red wine. The wine cellar was cool (compared to the 35 degrees outside) and we got to try some nice red wine and they are also experimenting with mixing their own red wine with other grapes and wines that go well with the Sangiovese grape. I’m not sure that the wine called Plenum was worth the extra € compared to the regular Chianti but what do I know :-). We also got some nice prosciutto carved in thick slices and pecorino cheese during the wine tasting :-) The tour was rounded off with tasting of grappa also made by Dievole.
We continued towards Greve in Chianti and we just followed the GPS basically. To start with it did lead us to more dirt roads but eventually we got back on the tar and once again we got great views as we were driving north towards Panzano and Greve. Greve is only located about 15 km north of Castellina and once again we found a small town with a pretty quiet town square. I ended up at the butcher shop Macelleria Falorni and what a treat that was. Here I found big hams hanging from the ceiling, salami, pancetta, wild boar legs etc etc. They even had a selection of wine and also a wine tasting machine. You just have to buy a 10€ card and you use this to try about 10 different wines - each of the samples were various prices. I didn’t use all the 10€ and I just got the change at the cashier when we left :-) In the shop there was an old American couple and the guy saw some people coming up from the cheese cellar. He proceeded to ask them what was down there and it was pretty obvious that the people that were coming up did not speak any English. But this old guy continued to ask just a bit louder, as if that would help. I bumped into him again when I bought the wine card that I mentioned and there was a sweet, young girl with lots of freckles behind the counter. The old guy went over to her and asked her “Have you even counted your freckles” before he turned around to me and chuckled. The poor girl didn’t really understand so she was asking “Have I counted what?” I find it pretty rude to make fun of people - at least when you are making fun of them in a language that they don’t understand. In short, I did not chuckle with him, I just gave him the evil eye.
The stop at the butcher shop was very nice and I came out of the store with a big chunk of pancetta (Italian bacon), a packet of mixed, sliced meat and a kilo of parmesan cheese. I would have bought more but we also had to think about how to get it back home as well. The package of mixed and pre-sliced and vacuumed sealed meat was excellent. We are nibbling on it all the time at home now :-)
Sightseeing in Siena
We followed the GPS into Siena and parked near the fortress and met up with the guide outside San Domenico. Siena is a beautiful city and the view as you see the city from the church San Domenico is spectacular. The town is built on hills so there are some rather steep hills to manoeuvre whilst walking around in the city. For 2 ½ hours we got a nice tour of the city and we went past Piazza del Campo, the Duomo etc. The only problem with the tour was that we did have a few non-English speaking people with us so the guide had to do everything in both English and Italian and that resulted in a bit of waiting. We started out by going inside the church San Domenico. This gothic like church was built in 1226 and it is connected to St. Catherine as this is where she had many of her visions and stigmata. They also have some relics of her in the church. Her head has been on display here from 1460! A couple of the kids in our tour group looked very surprised when the guide pointed out this head :-)
We proceeded to walk through the city and on the way it looked like we were passing through various neighbourhoods (called contrade) because in one part of town there were lots of green flags with a goose on it while in other parts of the town there were different colours and flags. These are neighbourhoods that compete in the annual horse race that takes place on the main square Il Campo. On July 2nd and August 16th the horserace takes place around the square and based on pictures I have seen it looks spectacular. We stopped by Il Campo on our tour and checked out this shell shaped open piazza. It is amazing to walk across this open space and think about the fact that the stones were laid down in 1349! We did not have the chance to check out the buildings in the area but a building like palazzo pubblico might be worth a visit. This is still the city hall but it is only partially open to the public. If you want a great view it looks like torre del mangia is a great option. This bell tower next to the palazzo pubblico is 102 meter high and stands out in the city view. So if you can take the 500 steps to the top I’m sure you will have an excellent view of Siena and the surrounding area.
But I think the highlight of the tour was our visit the Duomo of Siena. Our guide bought some tickets at the back of the church so that we could skip the line (I think we had to pay about 3 € per person). The interior of the church was breathtaking and far more beautiful that the Duomo in e.g. Florence. The first thing we noticed was of course the beautiful marble floor with inlaid images with various scenes from e.g. the bible. Note that parts of the floor of the Duomo are covered up and it is only uncovered for a period of time in September / October. Another part of the church that I found beautiful was the Piccolomini Library. The frescos in the library show scenes from the life of Pope Pius II and according to our guide the frescos were made by Pinturicchio with a bit of help from Raphael and the room was sealed off for a long period of time. I guess this is the reason why the frescos looks like they were made recently as they still have bright and beautiful colours.
After the tour we just went back to Il campo and relaxed on the piazza and planned the dinner for the evening. In the guidebook we found a recommendation for L’Osteria on Via del Rossi 79. When we came there it turned out that the guidebook was correct: it was a informal place with simple but tasty Tuscan food. We got a bit of house wine and shared an antipasti consisting of bread, bread with liver paste, ham, olive, salami etc. The menu was completely in Italian so we did struggle a bit to decipher it but luckily we got some translation from the waitress :-) I had something called maremmani al ragu for primi piatti and that was huge ravioli with spinach and a meat sauce which tasted excellent. Nikki had Pici all'Aglione which turned out to be thick spaghetti with garlic. We both went for secondi as well and I had bocconcini di vitello al Chianti. This is a veal meat stew made with Chianti wine and I love stews like this and the meat was cooked until it was tender :-) Nikki had a similar stew but made with wild boar and she also seemed content with the dish. The meal cost us 52 € and we were stuffed when we came out of the place but "unfortunately" there was a gelateria straight across the road from the restaurant and I ended up going in there getting a ice cream for 2€ with 3 different flavours. Right there and then I was a happy chappy but I was pretty much stuffed to breakfast the next day.
So at about 10 pm we left Siena after paying the 13€ parking fee. We didn’t have too much trouble finding our way home thanks to the GPS. Siena is a beautiful place and I would really recommend that you use a couple of days to check out this town. Yes, there are also many tourists in Siena but unlike San Gimigano it seems like Siena is not completely overtaken by the tourists. It seems like the town still has “real” inhabitants that are proud to live here and they have history and traditions. If you have the option of the two above mentioned city there is no doubt in my mind - I would visit Siena.
Sightseeing in Brunello territory
On the agenda this day was a visit to Fattoria dei Barbi . I got a bottle of Brunello wine from this winery from my brother for my birthday this year. I had checked out their homepage before we went to Italy. Their homepage says “You can take the opportunity to have a guided tour of the cellars where the famous Brunello di Montalcino is aged. No bookings or payments are required (as long as there are no more than 8 in your group) just the pleasure of your company!”. But I had done one minor mistake - I had forgotten to print out the driving instructions. But on the way to Montalcino we saw one sign with Barbi on it so we drove back to this point and asked for instructions and of course it turned out we were in the wrong place. To make a long story short: we drove around for 1 ½ hours before we found it. Italians are not that great when it comes to putting up signs in intersections. So sad but true, we came too late to get a guided tour. But we did get to taste some Brunello wine and I did end up buying a bottle (40€ for a 2001 riserva). Make sure you study the map before you head off or print out the driving instructions.
That night we had dinner at Antica Trattoria "La Torre" in Castellina in Chianti. They had an excellent selection of local wine and we chose to go for a bottle of Tenuta Sant’Alfonso from Rocca delle Macìe. I had gnocchi as primi while Nikki had a mixed starter. As our secondi I had osso bucco and Nikki had veal stew. The food was pretty good but not the best we had on this trip and maybe a bit too salty. The bill was 57€ including the 18€ bottle of wine.
Last day in Tuscany
Time to go home
Once again we trusted the GPS and the 60 km towards to Florence airport took about 1 hour. We parked the car, dropped of the key at the AVIS counter and checked in. I don’t recommend shopping at Florence airport as it seemed like it was a lot more expensive compared to other prices I saw. One example is parmesan cheese that cost 29€ pr kg at the airport while I paid 16€ in Greve. And a bottle of Brunello wine from Barbi cost 62€ at the airport while I paid 40 for it at the Barbi winery.
We flew Air Dolomiti to Florence to Munich, Lufthansa from Munich to Oslo and then home to Stavanger with SAS. We left a sunny and warm Florence and landed in a damp, windy and cold Stavanger in the afternoon.