When you visit the Renaissance city of Florence you’ll experience an assault on your senses in terms of art, architecture, food, wine and culture. This magnificent city is brimming with tangible history and there’s so much to see, do and experience that it’s quite often hard to choose just what you can and can’t squeeze into an itinerary. But even once you’ve ticked off all the highlights of the city, there is still plenty more to keep you occupied…
One of the most fun, fulfilling and exciting things to do when you visit Florence is to head out on a relaxing day trip into the beautiful Tuscan countryside, to get a taste (or two, or more!) of the wines for which this sunburnt region is famous the world over. This kind of tour will allow you to sample the products from the grapes grown in the rolling hills of Chianti, at small family vineyards and award winning famous estates. Even for those with just a passing interest in wine (or if you simply like the taste!), being able to see where and how the delicious drop is produced, and then getting to drink it right at the source, is an experience to be savoured – just like the wine itself.
Where is the Chianti region?
If you’re going to be exploring this world-famous region it will help put things into context if you understand exactly where it is. The stunning landscape that is encompassed by the name is set in the heart of Tuscany, a place that needs no introduction and rolls off the tongue as one of the most sought after and visited destinations in Italy. This picturesque, hilly region is renowned for its long history of viticulture and encompasses the provinces of Florence, Siena and Arezzo.
The bulk of the Chianti region falls between the towns of Florence and Siena and in some part up in the direction of Pisa. It’s not really possible to say exactly where the ‘borders’ are, because it’s not so much defined by its geography as much as where, traditionally, the wine itself has been produced. Roughly, though, it stretches around 160 kms from north to south, and is divided into sub-zones in order to differentiate the varieties.
The eight sub-zones are:
- Colli Fiorentini
- Colli Aretini
- Chianti Classico DOCG
- Colli Senesi
- Colline Pisane
Within the area there are many small towns or ‘communes’, which include Poggibonsi, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Impruneta, Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, San Casciano, Val di Pesa Tavarnelle, Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d’Elsa and probably the best-known, Greve in Chianti.
How far is Florence from Chianti?
One of the great advantages of a holiday in Tuscany is its accessibility, and this region is a classic example. A wine tour of the region ties in perfectly for those looking to base themselves in the city. It allows you to not only explore everything it has to offer in terms of art, history, architecture and culture (and shopping, dining, drinking, dancing…), but also to get out and explore the surrounding area on a range of day trips.
Here at Walkabout Florence we’re proud of our selection of tours that get you out into this gorgeous countryside on fun and highlight-packed experiences, and our wine safari tours are extremely popular for very good reason! Because who wouldn’t want to spend a day being driven around the gorgeous back roads of Tuscany, stopping for tastings and lunch?
Getting from Florence to Chianti is easy when you join one of our tours, basically because we do all the work! But it’s also because it’s so very close – which is why the Renaissance city makes such a wonderful and convenient holiday base. It’s really only about 35 kilometres from the city to the outskirts of the region, and less than 50 kilometres to most of the towns and cities within the area.
A Safari Italian Style!
By bus, car or, in our case, the specially adapted 4 x 4 vehicles we use for our safaris, it’s only around 30 minutes to reach the borders of Chianti. But it’s no hardship being driven through the incredibly scenic countryside, that’s for sure! We’ll venture through the classic Tuscan scenery of endless rolling hills, dotted with farmhouses and villas and, once we reach the wine growing region, we head on to unmarked back roads deep into the hills, to visit prestigious estates and small family vineyards.
Of course you can choose to explore the area on your own by car (although that might rule out the wine tastings!) and there are also trains and buses to the various towns. But if you’ve got limited time, as many people do, a full-day trip with a small group and an experienced local guide (with a genuine passion for the local food and wines) is the best way to make the most of it. We’ve got long standing relationships with some of the best vineyards in the area, so you can be sure you won’t just be ticking something off a list, but actually getting a thoroughly authentic experience.
What does DOC mean on wine?
The famous Chianti wine is always red and, traditionally, was bottled in what’s known as a fiasco, which is a bottle wrapped in a straw basket. The predominant grape grown and used in the production of the local offerings is the Sangiovese, blended with a small percentage of Canaiolo and Malvasia Bianca. (The rules have been slightly relaxed now so the name can encompass other blends and varieties.) Each sub-zone produces a range with various ageing requirements, with some released quite young, at only six months after harvest.
Back to the original question though: what does the DOC (and DOCG) that you see printed on the neck of a bottle of Italian wine mean?
The appellation is based on the French model of designating the quality of the drop – appellation d’origine controlee – which dates back to the 1930s. In Italy, we call it denominazione di origine controllata (DOC), which translates to ‘denomination of controlled origin’. The Italian system came into force in the 1960s and we have around 300 DOCs. But, because we’re Italian (and proud of it!), an additional classification was created with an added ‘G’, to denote a higher quality. It stands for ‘guaranteed’ – or as we say it, garantita.
The Italian system follows the French one, in that to be classified DOC both the area of production and the methods are specified; but in Italy it goes one better and also denotes the quality standard.
If you’ve ever heard the term ‘super Tuscan’, you may have wondered what it means. The term came about in the 1970s when a group of local producers broke away from using DOC approved grapes. Today, while Sangiovese still remains the predominant grape used in the Chianti, rules have been relaxed to allow for the use of other international varieties.
Top Tip: If you come with us on one of our Walkabout Florence tours, you’ll be accompanied by a guide who really knows their stuff, so you’ll learn a lot about how the wines from the region pair well with particular foods. If you want a head start to get you in the mood for your holiday, this post will give you some great inspiration!
Vineyards Near Florence
As you would imagine, the region is absolutely chock-full of vineyards and, being so close to Florence, you may be able to visit quite a few of them! The problem is choosing which ones should be a priority and, of course, that will depend on the individual. You’ll need to consider what kind of experience you’re looking for: whether you prefer the high-profile prestigious estates, think you’d enjoy a more intimate visit to a small family-run winery, or want a bit of both.
Everybody’s different, of course, but we think that the way to get the very best out of this gorgeous area is to visit a nice mix of establishments, so you can understand the difference in production methods and get a sense of how diverse the local industry really is. To that end, we work closely with numerous local vineyards to create our itineraries and they’re some of the most renowned in the area.
Villa le Corti
Owned by an elite aristocratic family, Villa le Corti is a truly beautiful place to visit. Along with the elegant Renaissance architecture of the villa, you’ll be entranced by the surrounding vineyards and olive groves. Along with tastings (but of course!) you’ll also enjoy a guided tour through the underground tunnels to explore the cellars and the olive mill.
For something completely different, we take you along unmarked back roads to visit the gorgeous and authentic Rignana. This typical Tuscan winery and restaurant shows you a very different side of wine making and you’ll be able to see their organic principles in action. With an incredibly beautiful setting and views to die for, this will be one lunch to remember!
Lamole di Lamoli
This Chianti Classico vineyard is deep in the Tuscan hills and is renowned as one of the best in the entire region, with two award-winning wines. You’ll be able to see the contrast between their historic vineyard and the experimental one, which uses state-of-the-art technology. Among others, you’ll have a chance to sample the famous Vinsanto, one of the most iconic drinks of Tuscany.
Of course, this is just three of the many, many vineyards you could go out to visit when you stay in Florence, but we think they offer a wonderful cross-section of both the region and the wine production industry itself.
Is Greve in Chianti Worth Visiting?
Before you read any further, spoiler alert: the answer is yes!
Located only 30km from Florence (and 40km from Siena) and surrounded by undulating, postcard-worthy hills of vineyards, Greve is a lovely small market town with an authentic ambience and a bustling local community. It is the gateway to Chianti Classico country and, filled with small shops, cafes and restaurants, it makes for a wonderful stop off for a few hours. The best way to get to know it is to simply wander around and become part of the daily local life – the town is extremely compact and getting around on foot is a breeze.
For such a small place it certainly has enough to keep you interested, but if sitting in a café in the main square (which is actually a triangle), Piazza Matteotti, watching the world go by is what you want to do, we can highly recommend it! The portico that runs around three sides of the square is filled with artisan shops, boutiques, cafes, delis and restaurants. There’s a particular butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Falorni, which has been in this spot since 1729, where you can window-shop or take the plunge and stock up on a selection of Tuscan salumi.
Markets & Culture
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a Saturday, the weekly open-air market is a very lively experience – packed with vendors selling their wares of food, clothes and handicrafts. For history and culture lovers, the Church of Santa Croce is worth a visit with its stunning fourteenth-century fresco and altarpiece by Bicci di Lorenzo.
Tuscan Wine Tours from Florence
There really is no better way to discover the heart and soul of a region than through its food and wine. Staying in Firenze (as the locals call it) gives you the platform to do just that in so many different ways and a wine tour is one of the best. Not only will you get to enjoy the scenery (while being driven around by someone else!), it will also give you the chance to learn a lot about the traditional methods and techniques that have been used for centuries.
Drinking wonderful wines in the very place they originated is a truly inspirational experience and one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Doing a full or half day tour is a fantastic way to get an overview of the area surrounding the city – and, believe us, there’s a lot to love…
We Are Walkabout Florence
Walkabout Florence is one of the most trusted operators in the industry and we’re proud of our reputation for delivering fun and authentic experiences that encompass the art, culture, history and cuisine of this wonderful region. Our range of tours includes everything from food and wine safaris to cultural tours and Vespa and Fiat 500 excursions, and our friendly and knowledgeable guides will make sure you have the time of your life!