Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sail Back: Touring Tuscany

October is a wonderful time to explore the rolling countryside and deep vineyards of Tuscany. Vendemmia is in full swing as the wineries of the region harvest the grapes to make the delicious Chianti and Montepulciano wines. Mark and I explored the area in October 2012 with the use of a hire car and a single map of Tuscany.

Flying into Pisa airport we quickly located the hire car and set off with our map in hand. Our destination was the agiturismo Borgo Casa Al Vento, a working winery with a few boutique rooms and a specialist wine spa in Gaoile in Chianti.
Borgo Casa al Vento

Once off the motorway we were treated to spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside, it's rolling hills and line upon line of vines fit to bursting with flavours which have put Tuscany on the map. We had to stop as we caught sight of a stunning villa across the valley, which was illuminated by a rainbow. We were stopped in our tracks, and we later discovered the Villa Vistarenni is a favourite on postcards and calendars in the area.

Arriving at the winery, we were warmly greeted by the team and shown to our room, which was typically furnished and had a beautiful view of the tall Cypreese and the valley below. No TV and very weak internet allowed us to really switch off, enjoy the wine and the delicious food punctuated by walks among the vines and reading on the lawn.
Helping to sort the grapes

On our first night we were treated to wild boar and a dessert of red wine panna cotta which simply blew my mind and I've been searching for closer to home ever since.The best bit was seeing the winery in action and even helping to sort the grapes, picking out the bad ones before they get pressed.

The wines produced by the winery were called Aria and Gaoile and we spent our afternoons nipping to the co-op in the village to pick up essentials for lunch, then relaxing in the afternoon sunshine with a good book (I was reading Peter Mayle's A Good Year) and a bottle of wine.

Radda in Chani

A short and windy drive from Gaoile was Radda in Chianti. Perched on a hill above the vines, the town was blessed with panoramic views and cobbled streets, each bend more beautiful that the last. We enjoyed a drink in a local bar with a tiny window that hinted at the view beyond, before an alfresco dinner in a shady courtyard - quintessential Tuscany!

An evening in Radda In Chianti

On our final day, we checked out early and started a three city tour in one day to make the most of the car hire before our late flight home.


We started the day in Siena, about 15km from Gaoile in Chianti. The hilly city is dominated by its narrow streets and tall buildings which make you feel very small. We stopped by the Piazza del Campo where horses race twice a year for the Palio di Siena. There was no racing there that day, just the autumnal sunshine.


We walked the steep steps to the Duomo, which was simply stunning. This was the first Duomo I'd seen in such a style (similar to Milan and Florence); I could have looked at it all morning. We grabbed a pizza slice from a nearby vendor and munched through the hot bread and cheese before heading back to the car.
Duomo di Siena

Sam Gimignano

Our next stop was the picturesque city of Sam Gimignano; the city of towers. Though very small, San Gimignano draws a lot of crowds for its panoramic views and medieval architecture. The town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990.
Piazza della Cisterna, Sam Gimignano

We wandered the streets and had lunch in Piazza della Cisterna whilst watching the world go by. Afterwards, we sampled the world famous gelato from Gelateria Dondoli on the steps of the Duomo before exploring the town more, winding down streets and enjoying the views. Before long we were passing back through the gates of the city and off to our final stop Pisa.

Endless Tuscan Views


The sun was beginning to set as we pulled into a car park in Pisa, beside the walls of the Piazza del Duomo. Home the Pisa's most famous sight, the leaning tower of Pisa, the piazza was different to how I expected it to look - it was wide, flat and grassy with the Baptistry, tower and church all in close quarters. The sun was casting a beautiful glow and we indulged in taking some touristy photos with the tower before grabbing a quick dinner at the first reasonable place we could find on Via Santa Maria before getting the car back to the airport.

Mark and I at the leaning tower of Pisa

We had an amazing time exploring the Tuscan landscapes and cities, and certainly wet our appetite for discovering more of Italy's wine regions, which would eventually see us living in Barolo country.

Other blogs from the Sail Back series: