Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chianti, castles and the good life

The last four days we have been in Noce, a small town in the  Chianti area of Tuscany. It has been a time of driving through beautiful countryside, with vineyards and olive groves all around us. This area is famous for its great Chianti Classico wines, made primarily with the Sangiovese grapes that have made this region famous. We now know the difference between a DOC Chianti, a DCOG Chianti Classico, with the little black rooster that makes it a genuine wine with at least 80% Sangiovese, and the lesser (but still excellent) IGT wines. I suspect we will not retain much of this, as in the past we have forgotten much of the theory but remained in love with good red wine! We had a free tour of a beautiful vineyard owned by a Swiss couple that has been here for many years. Pierre enjoyed the wine tasting, the most generous I have ever experienced. I abstained as I was feeling a little ill (no details please). The tour was mostly in German, we being the minority English-speakers. But there seems to be a common language among those who enjoy wine and food, and the hosts were gracious enough to translate from time to time. Yesterday we spent another day on a nowhere trip through the area, stopping at little medieval villages, climbing towers for the best view, and then finally ending up at the Brolio Castle, dating from the 12th century. This was topped of by a simple meal in their osteria (restaurant) and a wine tasting of their Chianti Classico. This is one of many of the Chianti castles in the area, usually sitting atop of a hill from where the lord of the manor could see his enemies coming from many miles away.
                                                                     Brolio Castle
Our little apartment was lovely, in an old home overlooking the Chianti hills with a castle in the distance. There are many such places here. A lot of tourists seem to come here to enjoy the scenery, sample the wines, learn about the amazing history of the area while at the same time being able to cook their own meals and live a little bit like the people do here. In the evening we sat outside watching the sunset over the distant hills and listening to a cuckoo singing in the background. It was magical. We never did make it into the bigger town of Tavernelle Val de Pisa. The first night we tried, armed with a map from our host. We drove around the rotaries that are so popular here, taking the four that lead into town, and repeated the effort four times, each time arriving at exactly the same place. We never did hit the one that takes you to the village square, so decided that we should go back to our little place and forget about the town.
                                                          View of the Chianti Hills

There are vineyards here going back to the 1100s. We visited a little medieval village with a tower that seemed straight out of King Arthur. Both Siena and Florence were almost wiped out during the Bubonic Plague in the mid 1300s. I find that interesting! It reminds me of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Much of the history of modern Italy played out here, with wars between Florence and Siena for centuries and then finally in the 19th century the founding of Italy as a nation. Our heads are full of information.

We left this little paradise today, returning our rental car in Florence and then moving on to a new flat in town. Prior to returning the car we had to fill up with gas. It being Sunday all the stations that offer service were closed. We had no choice but to go to a self-service, much to Pierre's concern.There we found three other tourists all trying to figure out how the pumps work. It took many attempts at getting the machine to accept our Euros (face down, face up, frontwards, backwards) until finally an Italian couple arrived, took our bill and quickly inserted it into the machine that promptly gobbled it up and began to pump gas into our car. Pierre just did not have the magic touch, I guess. So our little red Fiat Panda is now safely returned and we will be on foot for Florence and Venice.

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