A Chauffeured Guided Tour of Chianti by a Tuscan Tour Guide

6 décembre 2017

He Chianti region of Italy is known for its beauty and its irresistible fascination. Only the most discerning and expert sightseer can discover its hidden, important treasures. Every bend is filled with history, anecdotes and legends without which this important land would perhaps not be appreciated today.

Couple on a Tuscan Balcony

Beginning with the Southern part of Chianti and traveling North, you will note the various styles of Sienese and Florentine villas constructed between the late Renaissance and Buontalentian period; the former built with clear stone and bright plasters and the latter, designed by Peruzzi, with brick façades. During our excursion we will explore some characteristic Tuscan roads leading to the typical streams and brooks of the region where we can take photos.

Romantic CoupleAs one sets out on a trip through Chianti, one cannot neglect the history related to the interminable disputes between Siena and Florence. The defensive lines fell within the historical towns of Radda, Gaiole, Castellina (all part of the ancient alliance of Chianti) and Castelnuovo Berardenga which is home to the epic of Montaperti and all the splendid vineyards that offer the finest DOCG wine (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed). An essential stop for history lovers is Castellina in Chianti. Through the discovery of a large grave from the 6th and 7th centuries, we know it was populated by an Etruscan settlement. During the 13th century, a castle was built on a hill more than 500 meters Castle in Tuscanyhigh. The noble Guidi Family owned it until Florence took it under its dominion in 1193. In 1208, with the Treaty of Fonterutoli that formed the « Alliance of Chianti, » Castellina became the head of the three Florentine towns. It was the most strategic area for the defense of the land, since it bordered Siena, and therefore, it was the town most attacked by Sienese troops. In 1397, it was completely destroyed, but three years later it was wisely rebuilt.

The shape of the ancient town is oval. At its centre we will visit the historical fortress with its 14th century tower and its dungeon completed in the following century, the historical buried ramparts and watchtowers, and the neo-Romanesque church of San Salvatore, which was renovated in 1947.

Walking in a medieval townLeaving Castellina by way of the most well known panoramic road, we will head towards Radda in Chianti, a famous town between the Pesa and Arbia valleys. Under the dominion of Conte Guidi, it came under Florentine rule in 1203. The imposing fortifications surrounding the village are from 1400. In 1415, Radda became the chief town of the Chianti Alliance. We will visit the Palace of the Podestà, which was erected in the second half of 1400 and adorned with the coats of arms from ancient family lineage that ruled Radda. In 1478, Radda was destroyed by the papal troops led by the Duke of Calabria. We will observe remainders of walls and towers from the ancient fortified city and the medieval elliptic structure.

Tuscan Landscape

Continuing along, we will reach the ancient border between Siena and Florence, Borgo di Volpaia. This village historically held the primary strategic defensive position for the Pesa Valley. Today it has lost part of its walls, but we can still see the dungeon preserved in the centre of the characteristic square. Our next stop will be the Badia a Coltibuono, an abbey constructed in the 11th century situated at 628 meters in altitude. Not far from it is the Castello di Spaltenna located near the Pieve di San Pietro in Avenano, which was discovered in the « bubble chamber, » built in 1003 by Paschal Pope II, in proximity to the castle. We will also visit the Castello di Meleto. Because of its location, it is considered one of the most beautiful castles in this area. Constructed in the second half of 1200 it belonged to the Firidolfi family and was divided into three branches: (1) Firidolfi from Meleto (Known as Meletesi); (2) Firidolfi from Panzano; and (3) Ricasoli Fibindacci, from which the famous Bettino Ricasoli descended. In 1478, with the aid of the Aragonese troops, Siena succeeded in gaining control of the castle but only for a short period of time. The Florentines subsequently recovered it and restructured the southern defensive wall.

We will then visit the most renowned place in Chianti, Castello di Brolio, an ancient castle belonging to the Firidolfi family, situated on a hill approximately 600 meters high and on the borderline between Siena and Florence. It was repeatedly attacked by Siena due to its strategic position, and a few times Siena succeeded in destroying the wall and getting control of the castle. To challenge this threat, the Firidolfi family built a powerful defensive wall, and transformed Brolio into one of the first examples of a Renaissance fortress. During the 1600’s Ricasoli moved to Florence and the castle was abandoned. In 1929 Bettino Ricasoli decided to restructure the castle with the help of Sienese architects Marchetti and Partin. The baron, being a good agronomist, built the farm that is famous today for the Chianti Amabile table wine.

The main entrance of the castle can be reached by a long path through its wonderfully scenic park. The oldest and most central part of the building is the dungeon, built ten centuries ago and fortified by powerful watchtowers. The protective wall, 5km long in the shape of a pentagon, was built during the 1400s. From the ramparts is an extraordinary panorama, from the heights of the Amiata Mountains to Volterra. Brolio embodies the most important periods of Tuscan history; and like every good castle, Brolio has a legend related to none other than Bettino Ricasoli. It tells of the ghost of Bettino often coming to the castle to ride his horse, from which he was inseparable. Many people living in this area declare that they have seen or heard the ghost of this famous politician.

As we leave the outskirts of this Chianti pearl we will arrive at Castelnuovo Berardenga, built in the second half of the 10th century. Its name is derived from « Berardo. » It was a solid Sienese castle built to protect the surrounding area from the attacks of the soldiers of fortune. There are many cellars to discover in this area famous for the quality of its wines. One is the Villa Pagliarese, famous for its wine and its legend of a wizard who could cure the strangest diseases. People came from all over in hopes of being cured by the wizard’s hands of gold.

Our walk continues away from the great centres as we visit the small villages whose families perhaps can be counted on one hand. These villages tend to be more populated in the spring by foreigners who have bought vacation homes. And not to be bypassed are the Sienese villas that represent the history of noble families. Villa di Vicobello was owned by Chigi, a rich family of bankers and merchants that could be considered the first rival to the Medici family, the most important family in Florence during the Renaissance. This 16th century villa is thought to have been designed by the famous Sienese architect and painter, Baldassarre Peruzzi, and displays a wonderful façade facing Siena.

The Villa Bianchi Bandinelli was transformed from an old farmhouse by Geggiano in 1829 and given to Ranuccio Bandinell Paparone as part of a marriage dowry for his first wife. Paparoni reunited several parts of the old building and restructured it to its present look. The interior is considered to be the most beautiful part of the villa with its frescoes and 18th century decorations and furniture designed by the architect Augustin Fantastici.

La Villa la Suvera is a former castle in Pievescola which was transformed to a villa in 1507 by Pope Giulio II (Giuliano della Rovere) who received it as a gift from the Republic of Siena. He had it restructured by Baldassarre Peruzzi, who was considered to be a genius and certainly the most famous and sought after architect of his time. Another of his renovations is that of the Villa di Belcaro, owned by Crescenzio Turamini, a nobleman from Grosseto. Although he died in 1536, people considered him to be the designer of the luxurious Villa di Anqua from Siena, built in 1572 and owned by Count Pannocchieschi d’Elci.

If time allows, we can take a walk along the Via Francigena, an ancient route from the Middle Ages, 2500 km long, on which pilgrims once traveled from Canterbury to Rome. In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigerico Abbot, wrote that it took 79 days to travel its full distance.

An old manuscript preserved at the British Museum in London describes the entire route winding from England through France, Germany, and Switzerland, crossing the Alps in Padania and reaching Tuscany in Borgo san Donnino (Fidenza). From that point, it touched Lucca, crossed the Arno near Fucecchio and went to San Gimignano, Siena, and Viterbo with its final destination being Rome. Via Francigena touches the northern part of the Siena district near Porta Camollia and the southern part at San Martino. Inside Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico Museum, the fresco, « Effetti del Buono e del Cattivo Governo, » painted in 1338-1340 by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, depicts this road at that time. Remains of its ruins are all around Siena, in the Elsa Valley between Badia a Isola and Colle Val d’Elsa as well as near Montemaggio, Valmaggiore, Mandorla, Casella and Uccellatoio. In the southern part of the province of Siena, near San Quirico d’Orcia, we can see 500 metres of the original Francigena in the middle of a field. The best view of it is from « La Scala, » along the « Via Cassia. »

A lifetime is not enough to visit all the hidden treasures of these beautiful and historic places hiding treasures that sometimes not even the Sienese people themselves are fully aware of. With all the passion that the Tuscan history and beauty holds, we will do our best to escort you through the land that matches legend with good wine.

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