Tuesday 21 June 2011

Tuscan village holiday - vacation in a wine village in Tuscany

Tuscan borgo of Tignano
Tuscan borgo of Tignano
Tuscany is dotted with tiny inhabited nuclei known as "borghi" (singular "borgo"). These are villages or, even better, hamlets, and are ideal for a Tuscan village holiday if one or two of the houses are available for rent. These Tuscan villages usually take the form of a large farmhouse or villa, the original manor, with a number of smaller farmhouses clustered around it or stretching along a short road. It is this short road that, strictly speaking, characterises a true "borgo", hence the use of the word "borgo" in the names of suburbs of quite large towns (e.g. Borgo San Lorenzo), reflecting their rural origins. Other hamlets originate from castles or fortified villas and typically lack a road but are clustered around a small piazza or a house built in the remains of the keep. These hamlets are often referred to as "castelli" (singular "castello") - castles. A classic example of a borgo is Castellinuzza, while a typical castello of this kind would be Tignano or Montefioralle. These borghi offer great opportunities for a vacation in a wine village in Tuscany since a great many of them are still active wineries or are the locations of wineries. They are usually very quiet with almost no traffic so that children can safely run free. They are also very frequently high up in the hills, providing spectacular views and cool breezes in summer.

Gaiole in Chianti - main sights

Gaiole in Chianti is a favorite place for lunch during wine tasting visits to the Chianti Classico wineries east of the Chiantigiana road.The town of Gaiole itself is quite attractive, with the Castello di Barbischio visible above it on the forested slopes.

Gaiole in Chianti - main sights
Gaiole in Chianti
The surrounding hills are mainly woods with vineyards and terraced olive groves near the villages. The entire area is dotted with interesting sights including castles, fortifed mediaeval villages, abbeys and tower houses. One of the most famous is the former abbey of Badia a Coltibuono which is now a well-known winery and offers a quite original restaurant. It's possible to take a tour of the Badia that includes its italianate herb garden. The area of Chianti around Gaiole is well-provided with tourist accommodation in the form of agriturismi.

More about Gaiole in Chianti.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Radda in Chianti - things to see

The small town of Radda in Chianti, along with Gaiole and Castellina, is one of the three original members of the Chianti League which dates back to at least 1384. All three towns are worth a brief visit while you explore the castles of Chianti and other things to see in the surrounding territory. Radda in Chianti is surrounded on every side by vineyards and almost every winery has a "degustazione" sign at the gate, making it easy for those of you who wish to organise your own wine tasting in Tuscany.

Radda in Chianti - things to see
Radda in Chianti - fountain

The area is dotted not only with castles, some ruined, some still inhabited, but also by abbeys, Romanesque parish churches and tower houses. There is also plenty of economical accommodation in the area around Radda in Chianti, most of it in the form of agriturismi, meaning accommodation offered on working farms (usually wineries) in the form of farm houses or farm house apartments. These agriturismi are almost univerally beautifully restored and comfortable locations for your vacation in the area. Some of them have swimming pools. There are restaurants within Radda in Chianti and also several out in the nearby countryside.  

More about Radda in Chianti

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Sunday 12 June 2011

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

In Tuscany, Italy, bistecca alla fiorentina rules as the most popular and delicious beef dish. Bistecca alla fiorentina, as its name implies, is a grilled beefsteak in the Florentine style. Outside of Tuscany, it's commonly referred to simply as a fiorentina. It is, in fact, a porterhouse or T-bone steak, traditionally from calves of the chianina ox but these days very likely Spanish beef, grilled at high heat over charcoal so that it has a brown, almost charred exterior while being quite rare in the middle. (Don't ask for a well-done bistecca alla fiorentina - even if the chef agrees to cook it that way it will be tough.) It should be brought to your table on a very hot, iron serving tray or a block of wood and then cut off the bone and into strips in front of you. It should be salted after being grilled and might be flavoured with rosemary and/or some olive oil. The traditional accompaniment is a bowl of fagioli, Tuscan white beans.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina as cooked in Tuscany
Bistecca alla Fiorentina as cooked in Tuscany

It's actually not that easy to find a good bistecca alla fiorentina, sometimes because not enough care has been taken in selecting the meat, but more often because it hasn't been grilled exactly as it should be. Ask local people for a recommendation on where to go to try this great Tuscan treat.

More about bistecca alla fiorentina.

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Porcini mushrooms

Although porcini mushrooms grow throughout the northern hemisphere and are very popular in France (cèpe), Germany and Switzerland (Steinpilz), perhaps it is in Italy, with its myriad local cuisines, that you have the chance to try the widest variety of porcini dishes. And in fact if you stay at an agriturismo in the Chianti countryside, you can easily go out and pick your own porcini and cook them up at your accommodation. In Tuscany, porcini mushrooms are served alongside fried meat dishes (vitella, for example) and as the flavouring constituent of pasta sauces and ragouts. Porcini risotto is also commonly on the menu even though risotto is a speciality of Milan and its environs. While on holiday in Tuscany, on no account miss trying one or more dishes containing porcini.

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