San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano was a small village during the 10th century. Travelers on religious pilgrimages stopped there during medieval times. The town flourished during the 12th and 13th centuries. The townspeople sold produce grown in the countryside around the town. Several of the town’s towers were built during that time. The Black Plague decreased the town’s population and it came under the rule of the city of Florence. The town flourished again when it became a tourist destination in the 19th century.

The Collegiate Church of San Gimignano in the Piazza del Duomo is also referred to as the Duomo. It dates back to the 11th century. It was transformed from a small village church into a basilica between the 13th and 18th centuries. The Chapel of St. Fina in the church was built in 1468. The church is adorned with artwork from the 13th and 14th centuries.

San Gimignano, ItalyThere are more paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries in the Palazzo del Podesta. The palace is also in the Piazza del Duomo. It has a tower that was built in 1300. There are four other medieval towers in the Piazza del Duomo.

The Palazzo del Popolo is on the south side of the Piazza del Duomo. The entrance to this palace is in a courtyard from the 14th century.

Visitors can see items dating back to the 14th century in the Museum of Sacred Art. Religious items from the 12th to 19th centuries are on display here. This collection includes paintings, sculptures and reliquaries.

The Etruscan Museum has items found in the countryside around San Gimignano. Jewelry and pottery are displayed here.

Items made in Tuscany are available at some of the shops. Beconcini sells painted ceramics. Items made from olive wood are sold at Casa & Cose. Olive oil, wine and cashmere items made at a local farm are available at Ai Quattrorsi.

Local ingredients are used in dishes served at some of the town’s restaurants. The cookies at Bristot are made from natural ingredients from Tuscany. Fresh fruit is used to make the ice cream at the Gelateria dell’Olmo. Tuscan dishes served at Dulcisinfundo include white boar and pork meatballs in a saffron potato cream.

Visitors can stay in hotels or farmhouses. The Relais Cappuccina hotel has a wellness center with a heated pool, a sauna and a solarium. The farmhouses at Sassi Bianchi were built in the 16th century. They are close to woods and a lake. The farmhouse at Poggiacolle is on a hill overlooking the town.

The closest international airport to San Gimignano is in Florence. Travelers can take a train from Florence to the town of Poggibonsi. There is bus service from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano.


Radda, Italy

The municipality of Radda, located in Chianti, Italy in the region Tuscany, is an area that is famous for its archeological sites, historical landmarks, and the production of Chianti, a celebrated red wine. Radda is situated on Route SS222, which features outstanding scenery and landmarks. The municipality can be reached by car without much difficulty; however; three buses each day run from Florence and the Siena Train Station to Radda’s town square. Radda is quite small and one can do all his or her sightseeing on foot if desired.

Radda has a strong Etruscan origin, although it was only in the previous century that excavations, carried out at Malpensata and Poggio La Croce, uncovered a significant number of Etruscan artifacts. In Medieval times, powerful feudal families constructed impressive castles and forts in the town; however, many of these structures were seized when Florence took control of Radda in the 13th century. For the next several centuries Radda was a major source of conflict between Siena and Florence, the two most revered cities in Tuscany at that time. This situation continued until Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina were constituted in 1774. After the city-states were unified, Radda became the municipality it is today. In the 1970s, a surge in the wine industry in Chianti helped the municipality of Radda to thrive, which is still the case to this day.

Piazza of Volpaia, Radda, Chianti, Tuscany, ItalyThe first castle of Radda was a residential dwelling constructed at the beginning of the 11th century, but when the Republic of Florence organized the small communities in the mid 1200s, this castle was taken over and used for state purposes. The Castle of Radda was once the capital of the entire League of Chianti. All such structures in the Radda municipality were preserved to retain at least part of their original appearance. Certain buildings, including the Monterinaldi, were transformed into apartments, farmhouses and villas, and some were partially preserved to serve as tourist attractions.

The municipality’s religious history can also be seen in the town’s architecture and design. The Pieve di Santa Maria Novella is a primary example of such architecture, and this structure looks much the way it did when first designed in the Middle Ages. Romanesque features can be seen in the architecture of Radda’s other churches as well, including the Livernano and Albola cathedrals and the church of Saint Eufrosino at Volpaia.

The stunning landscape that can be seen from the town’s promenade is an attraction all by itself, and one can easily spend an hour or more capturing the beautiful landscape on film. There is also a modern, well-maintained playground for children in the town’s small square, which can be used free of charge by locals and visitors. Many parents enjoy having coffee in the square while their children play, as the cafe is located close to the playground. In addition, there is a farmer’s market opened seven mornings a week just outside the town square, where one can purchase fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables from local harvesters. With such impressive architecture and historical sites, it is not surprising that Radda is a favorite destination of those who enjoy wine, history and ancient architecture.


Perugia, Italy

Nestled in the heart of Italy in the province of Umbria is the ancient city of Perugia. Predating Etruscan civilization, this lovely walled city has been the prize in battles by such notable historical figures as Mark Antony and the great Octavius Caesar who conquered the city. It later came under the control of various rulers including the Papal rule of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1861, Perugia was united with the rest of the province and became a part of the Kingdom of Italy.

While relatively small by European standards, Perugia is the largest city and the capital in Umbria. It is perched atop one of the many hills in the Umbria region of Italy affording a beautiful view of the region from nearly any vantage point. Umbria is also known as the Green Heart of Italy due to its expanse of woodlands and rolling green hills.

Panoramic view of Perugia. Umbria, ItalyOne of Perugia’s most notable festivals is the Eurochocolate, the annual chocolate festival that takes place each October. Perugia is renowned for its delectable chocolate and the festival attracts visitors and participants from all over Europe. The city also hosts the International Umbria Jazz Festival each July and features the biggest names in jazz music.

Throughout the city’s turbulent history, surprisingly many examples of the architecture of centuries past have managed to survive, including the ancient city walls that served as protection from invaders. These walls date back as far as the 6th century BC and are still relatively intact. There are six gates remaining of the original seven that allow access to the city.

Perugia is known for its many outstanding churches thanks to its long association with the Papacy, oftentimes serving as an alternative location to Rome for the Popes due to the safety afforded by the city walls. Within the city there are several churches of note that should not be overlooked when visiting.

One of Perugia’s most famous churches is the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. A magnificent Gothic structure built in the 15th century, it is said to house the wedding ring of the Virgin Mary and is where a copy of the 12th century Stone of Justice is kept.

The Basilica of San Domencio is a fine example of an early 14th century church with outstanding Gothic and Renaissance detailing. It is also the location of the tomb of Pope Benedietto XI.

The Church of San Pietro is a Benedictine abbey that features frescoes from the 14th and 15th century, beautiful marble columns and a series of paintings of Biblical scenes from around 1600. It is also home to one of the most significant collections of artwork in Perugia and features the works of such artists as Antonio Vassilacchi, Giorgio Vasari, Raphael, Guido Reni and many others.

In the city center is the Piazza IV Novembre, the beautiful town square. Located in the center of the square is the Fontana Maggiore, a Medieval fountain in exquisite Gothic design crafted from white and pink marble. Nearby is the Palazzo dei Priori and the National Gallery of Umbria, home to a stunning collection of works from Medieval times through the present.


Panzano, Italy

Panzano is a charming town located in the wine region of Chianti, Tuscany. It has an elevation of at least 400 meters so the climate is generally temperate and perfect for agricultural production. Panzano and nearby villages cultivate excellent farm produce, most notably grapes and olives used in processing the region’s most famous products. The region shares its name with Chianti, the bold red wine traditionally packaged in a basket or fiasco, and masterfully produced in the wineries and vineyards of Panzano.

A familiar site in town is the Panzano Castle, a fortified structure built between the 11th and 12th century by the Firidolfis, a local Chianti aristocratic family, as a stronghold against enemies and invaders. The Panzano Castle is situated in the highest point in town, providing an interesting focus for travelers entering the town for the first time. There are three impressive churches in Panzano. Next to the castle is the Santa Maria Assunta church, a Neo-classical church constructed in the 19th century. The oldest of the three is the Pieve di San Leolino, a Romanesque style structure with a foundation built sometime in the 8th century. The third is a 15th century oratory which has a stone shrine holding the relics of Saint Eufrosino.

Panzano, Chianti, Tuscany, ItalyPanzano hosts several festivals that highlight the region’s history and gastronomical traditions. The local wine festival, Vino al Vino, is held during the second week of September. During the festival, all of the wineries in town set up tables in the main square and provide free samples of their finest wines. Every year, butchers from all over the region travel to Panzano to celebrate Festa dei Macellai or Butchers’ Festival, where only the finest meats are prepared and sampled. La Vendemmia is another popular Panzano festival. Dates for the La Vendemmia vary every year, depending on the grape harvest season.

The charming countryside and rolling hills of the region beckons visitors to explore the sights and stay for more than a day. Panzano, like other small towns in Chianti, offers a limited number of hotel-type accommodations. An alternative living arrangement popular in the Italian countryside is Agriturismo or agricultural tourism. In Panzano , Grieve, and nearby villages, an agriturismo experience may include staying in accommodations situated in farms, orchards, or vineyards These accommodations range from cozy country apartments, farmhouses, bread and breakfasts, and Italian-style farm villas.

Panzano is about 30 kilometers away from Florence. Travelers from outside the region may book a flight to Florence, which has the nearest airport in town, the Amerigo Vespucci International Airport. From Florence, travelers can take a SITA bus to Panzano or rent a car and drive south via the Chiantigiana Road State Highway, otherwise known as the SR222. The scenic drive takes an hour and passes through other charming Chianti villages before arriving in Panzano.


Gaiole, Italy

Located in Italy’s Tuscany region, Gaiole in Chianti is in the Province of Siena. Named number one in Forbes magazine’s list of “Europe’s Most Idyllic Places To Live”, it is easy to see its charm when visiting the town. With sizzling Summers, fresh, dry Spring and Fall weather, and brisk Winters, the region showcases the four seasons gracefully. Visitors can participate in wine and balsamic vinegar tastings from locally grown products, and guests will enjoy enticing meals with vegetables picked straight from local growers.

Originally settled by the Etruscans and Romans, the area ultimately came under the control of the Florentines and was used as a center for government. The border between Florentine and Sienese land ran directly through Gaiole in Chianti, and as arch rivals, the two parties continually contested this boundary. This led to the construction of numerous castles and fortified villages, keeping enemy parties from infiltrating. Gaiole was also an important point in the road connecting Chianti and Valdarno, and the town became an important center for commerce and trade.Brolio Castle,Gaiole, Italy

Present day Gaiole offers a pleasant mixture of history and comfort. Travelers interested in learning to create regional meals can visit Toscana Mia Italian and Tuscan Cooking School. With classes held in their very own kitchen, the owners help guests to prepare authentic Tuscan dishes and teach about Italian culture and traditions in the process. From the rustic farmhouse location to the engaging teachers, visitors will leave with full stomachs and warm hearts. Those looking to extend the experience can make arrangements to stay in the home with the family, helping guests to get a better sense of Italian homesteads.

Wine lovers won’t want to miss PoggioBrandani winery. Operating since 1234, the Brandani family has produced high quality wine that is unique to the Chianti region. With spectacular views of the vineyard and countryside, guests will be taken on guided tours, offered wine and balsamic vinegar to sample, and taught the processes used when making wine.

Considered one of the most beautiful castles in Tuscany, Castello di Meleto was built in the early 13th century by the Firidolfi family. With beautifully manicured gardens and nestled into Chianti’s peaceful countryside, guests can take tours of the castle, taste the wine created from the surrounding vineyards, and even stay the night behind the stone walls. Future brides and grooms can make their dreams come true by marrying on the property.

Another historical vineyard is contained within the Abbey of Coltibuono. Initially constructed as a monastery, it was converted to an estate and farm in the 1800s. Parts of the monastery are still maintained and daily tours are given to showcase the frescos and gardens around the property. After exploring the property, guests can participate in a wine tasting and purchase bottles of wine and extra virgin olive oil made on the property. Visitors to Gaiole in Chianti have a wide variety of vineyards to visit for wine tastings, fortified castles to discover, and homestyle meals to prepare and eat.


Greve, Italy

Where is Greve, Italy? Deep within the province of Tuscany, lies Greve, Italy or as it is most recently called, Greve in Chianti. Located just 31k south of Florence, the city is known for the Chianti wine it exports, as well as the delicious olive oil and foods that make Tuscany the destination of many tourists who enjoy lovely scenery, delicious food and hearty wine.

It is located in the Val di Greve and named for the flowing river; Greve is the main town in the district that is known for Chianti wine. Connected since ancient times to Rome and Florence, its farmers and traders had easy access to sell their goods, and the town thrived. It was settled before the 11th century, when an monastic settlement was begun on a hill nearby called San Francesco. Later settlement became more widespread in the 13th and 14th centuries, and in the 15th century the Franciscans established a monastery in Greve.

City Hall , Greve, ItalyWithin the old part of the city, the Franciscan monastery is one of the sites that visitors enjoy, as well as the triangular piazza, known for its fabulous marketplace since ancient times. Other well known sites around the piazza include the Chiesa Santa Croce, a medieval building, which before burning down, was originally built in the 11th century. Rebuilt, it now has a facade in the neo-classic style and is home to a large selection of paintings from the school of the artist, Fra Angelico. Nearby in the piazza is a statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, the explorer who navigated North America, and for whom the Verrazzano Bridge in New York is named. The piazza presently hosts restaurants and shops, where one can people watch, as well as visit historic landmarks. Nearby Montefioralle has the flavor of a medieval village, fantastic views, and the church of Santa Stefano, with a Madonna and Child painting from the 13th century.

Visiting Greve in Chianti is a chance to take a tour of the area, by bicycle or walking, exploring the majestic rolling hills of the region, as well as enjoying wine tasting and hearing stories of the area’s agricultural tradition. More chances to explore the food of the area are right within the piazza, with wine tasting and olive oil tasting, as well as local cuisine available from the assortment of restaurants located there. If you love villas, a visit to Vignamaggio is the call: It is a Renaissance villa which was the site of a film, Much Ado About Nothing, and is part of a wine estate and gardens.

With lots of wine tasting and flavorful fresh Italian food, Greve in Chianti is a wine and food lovers choice in the Tuscany province and will enchant and delight. One can even take cooking classes there and repeat the dishes savored in Greve when they return home.


Chianti, Italy

The most popular tourist destination in the region, the Chianti area lies just south of Florence, Italy and draws visitors from around the world, not only for the beauty of the landscape and the medieval architecture but the famous wines produced by the local vineyards. Although the area known as Chianti is loosely defined, it can be thought of as the easternmost part of Tuscany, bordered by Florence to the north and the city of Siena to the south.

The Geography Of Chianti
This region is comprised mostly of gently rolling hills, the many wine vineyards and olive groves. A photographer’s dream, the area draws many visitors simply because of the peaceful nature of the landscape, which is dotted with many small villages comprised of stone houses, churches and historic fortresses. The climate is very mild, with no extended rainy period and little variance in temperature from one season to the next. The area is easily reached by automobile from downtown Florence, and visitors will find numerous byways that branch off from the Superstrada highway and enter the very heart of the Chianti region.

Vineyard in Chianti, Tuscany, ItalyThe only difficulty for visitors traveling by car is the decisions to make regarding what villages and landmarks to reach on a day trip. There are a myriad of smaller country roads traversing the area and it is best to take an updated guide book along on the trip. Most of the villages and wine vineyards are clearly marked and planning ahead will save time when multiple destinations are visited.

The Famous Chianti Wine
The village of Greve is one of the more popular stops for tourists on day trips from Florence. Here can be found a number of restaurants and smaller pubs offering all the best known wines produced in the region. The Wine Museum is also located here and is worth at least two hours for visitors. Near the town is the famous Castello di Verrazzano, birthplace of the famous explorer who discovered New York Harbor. Here organizers offer visitors free wine tastings of the famous Chianti Classico and conduct guided tours of the Castello itself.

Panzano, another village in the Chianti area is famous for its local wine brands and also the popular Florentine steak. Just two kilometers outside of town is the Panzanello estate, which is a must stop for wine tasters. The remarkable cellars are accessible to tourists daily and there are a number of appetizers available at the estate to complement each one of the brands.

Guided Tours From Florence
There are numerous bus tours leaving downtown Florence daily and traverse the Chianti region. Most of these include a stop at multiple wineries but also take visitors to the nearby farmhouses and villas where there is ample time to rest, take pictures or video, and visit the local shops in the towns. Each village has its own unique personality and including several of them in the itinerary is not difficult. Of greatest interest to visitors are the towns of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve and Radda.

The region can also be reached by public bus service from Florence using the SITA line, by trains departing from both Florence and Siena, and by rental car. There are many rental car agencies in Florence and most can be contacted with help from hotel front desk personnel.