The Chiantigiana loses something when called by its real name, the SS222. Is it just another highway?
The SS222 doesn’t sound very exciting, just another superstrada in Italy’s cobweb of highways. However, when you refer to it by its original name ‘via Chiantigiana’ you realise that this is one of the most important roads in Tuscany.
Taking you through the countryside from Florence through to Sienna the road meanders 100km through the towns of Chianti. As soon as you pass the oldest golf course in Italy, Ugolini, you’re on your way to the real Chianti.
Travelling from Florence, you first come to the valleys of Val d’Elsa and Valdarno. Val d’Elsa has a wonderful glass museum that takes you way back into history with crystal and plain glass. It’s worthwhile taking a small stop and visiting, it’s very interesting. Get back in your car, or if there’s a group of you, your mini-bus, and travel along the road to Greve in Chianti, Panzano in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti. ‘In Chianti’ is part of the name, not some sort of literary stutter.
Greve in Chianti is a beautiful little town with a lot going on. In the town square, Piazza Matteotti, there is the amazing butcher’s shop, ‘Macelleria Falorni’, which sells every kind of cold meat available in Tuscany. This fascinating shop has become a tourist mecca and at times you must fight your way in – look out for the stuffed cinghiale (wild boar) at the door (a great photo op). Stay a while and grab a cup of coffee and watch the world go by. The town is very pleasant and just the place to while away some time if you have some to spare.
Panzano, an Etruscan town built on the remnants of a castle, also has a famous macellaria owned by the well-known Dario Cecchini. After you have been to his butcher’s shop, stop by his restaurant Solociccia for dinner. You then must go through Castellina in Chianti which has some wonderful wineries: Cecchi, Guiciardini Strozzi and Castello di Poppiano. There are many more but these three are well known and good examples of the area. Castlellina also has a few castles but there are only a few that you can go into. Castello de Poppiano is open by invitation only and normally only journalists and guests of the Count can visit.
Taking a few side trips on either side of the road will lead you to Lamole, where Chianti wine has a particular fragrance (try Fabbri); the tiny borgo of Volpaia, where the winery is hidden from sight and Signora Giovanna Statti , who owns the borgo, conducts cooking lessons; and Radda in Chianti where you will find Livernano, a winery owned by an American impresssario who produces shows on Broadway. Signposts and roads that link each one together makes it easy to find your way.
Gaiole in Chianti is the next stop and it is here that you can visit Badia a Coltibuono, an old abbey now turned into accommodation and a cooking school. Staying there is a real experience, especially as they have their own restaurant outside the grounds which serves wonderful food. The town of Gaiole is close by and if you plan your trip well and end up in town on market day you will be amazed at the array of goods for sale. Head south and you arrive at the Iron Castle – Castello di Brolio, recently restored from where you will be able to see your final destination, Siena.
Getting back on the Chiantigiana and the last 30 kilometres to Siena pass quickly. Your final destination is a city of an infinite number of things to do and see. Visit the Piazza del Campo and imagine the Palio, a horse race held twice a year at a breakneck pace or Enoteca Italiana, a museum of wine for all of Italy.
Tuscany seems to be most people’s first stop, the Chiantgiana winding its way through Tuscany’s most important wine area should be next.