September 6-7, 2013: With another weekend upon us, that meant it was time for exploring again. This time we chose Tuscany in a snazzy Audi A6 cabriolet, thanks to an upgrade by Avis owing to a strike by their car jockeys.
Chris finished up class just after lunch and we loaded up our bags and pointed the GPS in the general vicinity of where we wanted to go. It was a fair drive from Sesto Calende, so we hopped on the toll expressways for a change and opened up the Audi to see how she performed. By far the sleekest, quickest and quietest of our rides thus far. Very fun (and far too easy) to drive fast.
Our destination was the town of San Gimignano, recommended to us by one of Chris’ work colleagues. Thanks Bill! We arrived early evening in this historic walled city perched atop a hill with views over the Tuscan countryside in all directions. The city is known for its well preserved medieval towers, but it’s also primarily pedestrian only within the walls, which is an added bonus as it is particularly popular with tourists.
We hiked in to our hotel, La Cisterna, from one of the parking lots outside the wall. The hotel is located on one of the town’s four main squares, so right in the hub of the action. But our room was peacefully located at the back of the hotel with a great balcony overlooking the valley. Wow!
We spent the evening people watching in the narrow streets before enjoying a great dinner at a little place just outside one of the city gates. Caprese salad, beef carpaccio, fresh pasta and a green peppercorn steak. Really tasty, but they maybe went just a little overboard on the peppercorns. Half the plate was covered in them afterwards.
Later on, I tried a little hand held night photography trying to capture the towers and old buildings. Not an easy feat. A tripod would have helped. But I still managed to get a few shots I liked out of the dozens I took. We celebrated with gelato.
Saturday we had our sights set on the Chianti region. We could drive around trying to find little vineyards open for tastings, or visit the Chianti Wine Festival, held each September on the first weekend in the little town of Greve in Chianti. We opted for Greve.
I really liked how they run this festival. You pay ten euros to buy a commemorative wine glass, which comes in a handy little bag you can wear around your neck. It seems far more civilized than having to stock thousands of wine glasses that all need repeated washing. You also get a festival passport entitling you to seven samples, three from the producers booths and four from a tasting room, where you can choose from more than 100 wines. The only drawback is figuring out which wines to try. There are so many options. We arrived around 11 and wandered around first, then stopped for an early lunch before the sampling began.
Most of the producers we talked to spoke really good English, so we learned a lot about the grapes grown in the region (mostly Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah), the blends that make a true Chianti, the order in which they harvest the grapes for each of the wines they produce, and the process for having a Chianti classified as a reservi. The small family run vineyards seemed to have the most interesting people on hand, but the history behind some of the old estates in the region was also fascinating.
With our arms laden with souvenirs and newly acquired bottles of wine, we made our way back to San Gimignano for an afternoon nap, followed by a late dinner of wild boar at another little eatery we found off the beaten track.