Chianti and San Gimignano – Tuscany, Italy

Wine and Landscapes to Make You Swoon

Chianti is Italy’s most beautiful wine region and its most important, producing premier red wines whose reputation today could not be finer. In Tuscany’s heartland, it stretches between Florence and Siena.

Wine production in the area goes back to the pre-Roman Etruscans. The serendipity of lazy vineyard-hopping drives and spontaneous wine­tasting stops is heightened by the region’s postcard-perfect landscape. Even designated drivers will swoon.

The old Via Chiantigiana links a string of wine towns that dot a history- rich area of forested hills, medieval castles, stone farmhouses, and wine-producing estates—both small, unsung wine producers and renowned names like Antinori, Freseobaldi, and Ricasoli.

Producing first-rate wines in a setting that could not be more pictur­esque, the tiny, family-owned 14th-century village of Gastello di Volpaia welcomes a lim­ited number of guests to it’s unique agriturismo establishment.

Optional meals prepared exclusively for guests highlight the region’s seasonal best, as well as the family’s own olive oil, honey, preserves, and aromatic vinegar. But meals here, good as they are, are just something to accompany Volpaia’s finest vin­tages, all of which manage to somehow taste better when consumed next to the vine-clad hill where the grapes are grown.

Just over another of those hills is San Gimignano, a name long synonomous with ‘Tuscan hill town.” San Gimignano has cap­tured the traveler’s imagination for centuries. Its distinctive skyline bristles with fourteen medieval towers dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries—a mere fraction of the original estimated seventy.

Try to arrive late in the after­noon, when the tour bus caravans have pulled out and given the town back to the people. Climb to the top of the Palazzo del Popolo’s 117-foot Torre Grossa, the highest of San Gimignano’s towers, for a bird’s-eye view of the town, its towers, and the Val d’Elsa beyond.

Then settle in at the Bel Soggiomo’s rustic and spacious restaurant, where the menu shares the spotlight with the glorious Tuscan countryside framed by the oversized windows. Wild game from the surrounding wood-covered hills is the house specialty, and a selection of Chianti’s best offerings completes the ticket.

Nearby, in two adjoining piazzas, there is an ambitious summer program of everything from alfresco ballet to opera. Imagine the plaintive strains of Tosca wafting up and over San Gimignano’s medieval skyscrapers.

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