Arezzo Is Always a Good Idea

Arezzo, a town about 80 km south-east of Florence, is universally known for its gold-working (since the Middle Ages) and the medieval jousting contest La Giostra del Saracino performed twice a year in the main piazza.

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Arezzo is the capital of the easternmost province of Tuscany, which gets far less attention. The town was once part of the Etruscan League, then turned into the flourishing Roman Arretium, and later a medieval commune.

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Among its native sons and supreme citizens were the poet and educated humanist Petrarch (1304-1374) and the talented artist and architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Here Guido monaco taught music and went on to invent the basis of the modern system of musical notation. Roberto Benigni filmed in Arezzo the scenes of his Oscar-winning tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella, 1997).

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Start at the Duomo (Cathedral of San Donato), it’s magnificent. Facing the same piazza is the 14th-century Palazzo dei Priori.

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If you walk through the gardens, you’ll get to the 16th-century Fortezza Medicea. Situated atop the San Donato Hill, it was one of the three fortresses built to defend the city. It offers great panoramic views of the city and witnesses various periods of construction.

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A monument (1928) in the Prato Gardens honoring Francesco Petrarca.
A monument (1928) in the Prato Gardens honoring Francesco Petrarca.

Walk down the corso (Corso Italia), past the shop windows, cafés, and the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve with its unmistakable bell tower called “of the hundred holes”.

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From here you get to the most beautiful square of Arezzo (and one of the most beautiful in Italy) –Piazza Grande, with fine medieval buildings and the Vasari Loggia.

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Here the Giostra del Saracino takes place twice a year (in June and September). A historical re-enactment of a medieval knights’ competition between the four districts of the town.

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Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici in Piazza Grande.
Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici in Piazza Grande.

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Basilica of San Francesco
Basilica of San Francesco

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Inside is an amazing fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca – the extraordinary Cappella Bacci with the Legend of the True Cross;  not to be missed!

Numerous Etruscan tombs as well as remains of ancient Roman buildings have been recovered within the modern town. A trip to Arezzo wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum: an interesting itinerary, where you can walk amongst the amphitheatre ruins and discover Arretium through the gems of the museum.

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You may also wanna visit Casa del Petrarca (in via dell’Orto, not far from the Cathedral, now the seat of Petrarch Academy of Arts and Science) and Casa Vasari (in via XX Settembre, rebuilt and frescoed by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century).

Around every other corner I stroll past there is something to explore and discover, like this interesting Fauna Selvatica exhibition.

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Envisioned by the province of Arezzo, the project owes its existence to the group of experts. 600 different pieces from birds to mammals represent the local fauna as well as the exotic wildlife. An insight into the biodiversity of our planet, with particular regard to environmental problems. The museum is a few steps away from the Cathedral, at n.3 of Piazza della Liberta. Open every first Sunday and the preceding Saturday of the month, free entrance, 9:30 – 13:00 and 15:30 – 19:00, or by appointment.

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Wine-Surfing in Tuscany (Cantine Aperte 2016)

I happen to love May and everything that comes along with it: the sunny days, the verdant hills, the many events, the balmy air and.., of course, Cantine Aperte. Italy wouldn’t be Italy if there was no wine involved!

Since 1993, member wineries of MTV (Movemento Turismo Vino) open their doors to personally meet the public on the last Sunday in May.

Tuscany, where outstanding wines and olive oil have been produced for centuries, is chock-full of great wineries. I wrote about some of them in my Cantine Aperte 2015 posts last year.

This year’s visit takes me  first to the gorgeous part of Tuscany near Florence and the bordering Chianti Classico region, Figline Valdarno. This medieval town was once known as the barn of Florence. Il Palagio estate, in the countryside, surrounded by vines and dark green, at-attention cypress trees, has been lovingly restored by Sting and his beautiful wife Trudie Styler.

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You can stop by, to taste and buy gorgeous wines, olive oil and more. Their Sister Moon is among the best 101 Italian wines.

The farm shop sells everything made or grown on the estate.

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What a stunning setting and beautiful winery! Surrounded by Chianti Classico vineyards, planted on steep hillsides to Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes.  They produce some gorgeous wines here. We lucked out and had postcard style weather.

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Tasting quality Carpineto wines: Dogajolo, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva and Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon.

Castello di Querceto

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This is one of my favourite estates, located in the northeastern corner of the Chianti Classico region.

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It’s an unforgettable place in the heart of Tuscany, one of the fabulous castle wineries of the area.

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We had a wonderful experience here, and I can highly recommend this family owned and operated winery for lovely wine tastings, or even accommodation in the Chianti Classico region.

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Peacocks in the park
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Beautiful garden, tended with love and care.

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Radda in Chianti

Not too far away is another Tuscan wine mecca – Radda in Chianti. The road to Chianti is picture perfect Tuscany. This landscape with vineyards and olive groves has become familiar through its depiction in Italian Renaissance paintings, and every corner of it is rich in Tuscan authenticity.

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Located halfway between Florence and Siena, the Castello di Radda wine estate lies atop a hill facing the town of Radda in Chianti.

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This winery is one of the biggest in the area, and the surrounding scenery is simply gorgeous!

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The view was amazing and the estate maintained impeccably.  In the glass: Castello di Radda Toscana IGT Rosato.

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Vittoria gave us a detailed explanation, a true immerson in the world of Castello di Radda and its working philosophy.

Il Borro

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I previously wrote about this estate a year ago, I like it so much and I visit several times a year.

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A great stop for winetastings!

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The stunning pool overlooking the undulating countryside. Life should always be like this…

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The village of Il Borro – a journey into medieval Tuscany.

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Tenuta La Pineta

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A big reason for visiting Tuscany is to not just sample the great wines, but to have it served to you by the families who make it. We spent a lovely afternoon touring the vineyard and heard Luca share with us his love and passion for winemaking.

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And here are some of the gorgeous products you can take home to remind you of your visit to this beautiful region.

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Cheers! And, a presto!

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San Gimignano – Monteriggioni

Val d’Elsa… there’s something seductively charming about this area, full of humble but beautiful hill towns with quite a few TCI orange flags on the way, immersed in the picturesque surroundings. It’s quintessential Tuscany at its best. I would certainly recommend a drive through this beautiful countryside, as this will give you an opportunity to explore the area at your own leisure.

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San Gimignano is a one-of-a-kind hilltop town in the province of Siena, spiked with fine medieval towers, or rather – medieval skyscrapers. They really form an unforgettable skyline, for which it is known internationally.

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The historical centre with its unique tower houses, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Piazza della Cisterna and its beautiful buildings
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Church of St Francis

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In 998 San Gimignano was still a village along the Via Francigena and belonged to the bishop of Volterra. In High Middle Ages The Franciscan Trail became the route of Catholic pilgrims who travelled to Rome, and the town of San Gimignano was one of the most important transit and stopping points. In 1199 the town gained its independence from the bishops of Volterra and established a podestà.

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The town walls, destroyed in the war against the Florentines in 1255, and reconstructed a few years later.

The world’s first ‘Manhattan:

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Today we can admire 16 of the 72 towers of the thirteenth century, when every well off family would build a stout tower. In medieval times the tower was the higher symbol of power. The house served a defensive function. Workshops occupied the ground floor: this is where they would have had a store. Then there were bedrooms on the first floor, and the higher level consisted of the kitchen, following security rules, as this was the place where the fire was usually lit. There was no interior staircase, so ladders and rope-ladders were used to get inside and reach the upper floors. The front door was narrow and no one wearing armour could possibly enter.

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Piazza del Duomo with its mighty main buildings

Palazzo Comunale, built between 1289 and 1298, is one of the most ancient public buildings in Tuscany. It offers gorgeous views (of the town and the whole Val d’Elsa region) from its 54-metre-high tower – La Torre Grossa – San Gimignano’s highest tower. The two upper floors house the town museums: you can visit the Palazzo, the Picture Gallery, the famous room ‘Sala di Dante‘ (where the poet in his role of ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany was hosted in 1300), and finally, admire the courtly frescoes and prestigious works by the great Sienese and Florentine artists dating back to the 13th and 17th centuries.

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Palazzo Comunale

The Romanesque Duomo is a temple of faith and art. The cathedral’s highlight are the walls, entirely lined with frescoed scenes of the Old and New Testament by Bartolo di Fredi and Lippo and Federico Memmi. They are truly beautiful. And so is the famous Chapel of St. Fina, featuring Domenico Ghirlandaio’s frescoes. The chapel was built in 1468 and houses the shrine of the saint born in San Gimignano in 1238.

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The “Twin” towers, erected by the Salvucci family to bypass the Communal Statutes of 1255, according to which no tower in town could be higher than the Podestà’s Tower Rognosa. But the two towers, if put together, were definitely higher!

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Piazza della Cisterna, a building-lined triangle, with an octagonal travertine well (that gives the name to the square) and redbrick pavement with irregular triangular patterns.

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Salvucci Towers, Palazzo Podestà with its huge arched loggia and La Torre Rognosa (51 metres high). In 1298 the podestà moved to the new Palace, while this building was used as a hotel for distinguished guests.

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Rocca di Montestaffoli, a beautiful place. Its only turret open to visitors offers unforgettable views, of both the town’s skyline and gorgeous countryside.

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Savouring local produce at Caffè Giardino in Viale Roma 17: here you can taste typical Tuscan dishes, coldcuts, cheeses, wine, as well as pasta, salads and homemade schiacciata, all of this accompanied with a stunning view!

Of course, no visit to San Gimignano is complete without trying its famous wine. Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG is one of the best white wines in Italy, said to inspire popes and poets. Its typical straw-yellow colour with golden nuances and an elegant and delicate bouquet is a journey through the wine of San Gimignano, produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grapes which grow on the sandstone hillsides of the area.

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On the town’s festive calendar is The Ferie Delle Messi, an annual medieval festival held on the third weekend of June.

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Another brilliant example of medieval architecture in the area is Monteriggioni. Erected to keep the powerful neighbours of the Florentine Republic at a safe distance from Siena, its fifteen towers and the encircling walls are the symbol of its former power.


Today, walking down the main street that connects the two gates – La Porta Fiorentina and La Porta Romana – means uncovering legends and panoramas of the past, when the town represented the Sienese gate into the Elsa valley.

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Piazza Roma lit by the sun, where vines and olive trees fill the area with gentle twinings.

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Walkways along the top of the castle walls with its original 13th-century architectural features, which are oh-so-familiar to all the passionate fans of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

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Breakfast at Il Feudo, Monteriggioni
Rocca di Montestaffoli, San Gimignano
Rocca di Montestaffoli, San Gimignano

Despite the passing of the centuries, both San Gimignano and Monteriggioni managed to preserve their medieval architecture and charm, able to impress the travellers so deeply.

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Caprese Michelangelo

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Situated in the green of the God’s Little Valley – as they call it, Caprese Michelangelo with its remote beauty is where the Renaissance God Michelangelo Buonarroti was born.

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There’s something emotional about this atmosphere that welcomed the artist more than 500 years ago. Beech, chestnut and oak woods make the uncontaminated area particularly healthy, decidedly far from the busy city.

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After having acquired the county of Arezzo in 1384, the Republic of Florence sent its nobility, the podestà (judicial administrators), to act as representatives in its new land. The areas of Caprese and Chiusi used to be under the same jurisdiction, so that the podestà in office had to reside alternatively six months in the Palazzo Pretotio in Caprese, and six months in the Rocca di Chiusi. Nearly a century later, in 1474, the nobleman Ludovico Leonardo Buonarroti was awarded the office of Podestà, and it was in this very period that the Renaissance genius Michelangelo Buonarroti was born, in Caprese on 6th March 1475.

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Palazzo del Podestà, the birthplace of Michelangelo. Here the life of the most famous artist of all times began.  The Museum in his childhood home now houses a documentation centre and a collection of photographic reproductions and plaster casts of the artist’s works.

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The building with the double sloped roof, the masonry in irregularly shaped ashlars and the bell-gable with bells dating back to 1297 is the Church of St. John the Baptist. Michelangelo was baptized here. The church also houses a 15th century tabernacle by Cristofano di Landuccio.

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If you like an autumn sagra, you should pay a visit to the chestnut festival held in October and try the famous Caprese chestnut, as well as lots of other delicious produce: mushrooms, honey, gorgeous cheeses, and even chestnut beer!

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Monterchi, an Autumn Invitation

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One of the great reasons to visit Monterchi is the extraordinary fresco of the Madonna del Parto (1455-1460) by Piero della Francesca (1415-1492), recently restored and now exhibited in a special display area in his mother’s native town.

Monterchi is a little Tuscan town, perched on a hill on the border with Umbria. It originated as a holy site for the Ancient Romans. The name derives from Heracles, ‘mons Herculi‘, who, according to the legend, founded the town after defeating the Hydra (the 9-headed monster, reproduced on the municipal coat of arms).

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Visit the picturesque Piazza Umberto I at the top of the old village. It is often turned into an open-air stage with bars, food stalls and souvenir stands during the local events like the polenta festival, Sagra della Polenta, which occurs annually in September. It’s a three-day event with dining and entertainment, as well as walks, concerts and contests. On the menu: sausages, mushrooms and polenta, of course.

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Montepulciano, Bravo!

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Our Tuscan stay-cation led us to Montepulciano (Siena) last week, a charming hill town in southern Tuscany that was important to both the Etruscans and the Romans. Like many Tuscan towns, Montepulciano sits on an Etruscan foundation.

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The town lived a period of splendour in the 15th century, when Florentine nobility built gorgeous ‘palazzi‘ as their summer residences.

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The Town Hall in Piazza Grande pretty much resembles the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.


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Recently, Montepulciano has attracted even more attention for its connection to the Twilight series of books and movies. Most of the second movie, New Moon, was filmed here.

The Bravio delle Botti, a fun barrel-rolling event takes place in Montepulciano on the last Sunday of August and it’s among Italy’s most curious festivals. This must-see event is a historical celebration of a challenge between the eight contradas, who once used the horses to compete. The colours, the coats of arms and the same ceremonial routines have been maintained since the ancient times.

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On Sunday morning in Piazza Grande the draw to determine the barrels’ starting positions takes place, followed by the offering of the votive candles to St. John in the Cathedral. In the afternoon 300 participants march in the historical parade. The barrel race begins at 7pm. The barrels, weighing 80 kg, are pushed and rolled between two athletes (called ‘pushers’), along the uphill route for about 1800 metres, winding around the picturesque streets of the historical centre, finally arriving at the top of the Cathedral steps in Piazza Grande. The winning contrada will be given the ‘bravium‘ (hence the name of the festival), a panel with an icon image of St. John, the city’s patron. Winners 2015: POGGIOLO, colours white and blue, coat of arms three mounds.

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You’ll get passionate about the local wine. The region focuses greatly on terroir – the unique characteristics of the soil and climate, which give their wine a sense of place.

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The Ercolani Winery in Via di Gracciano nel Corso welcomes visitors in the 14th-15th century Underground City with connection between seven historical buildings. The cantina offers free tastings of wine and local products (cheese, salami, extra virgin oil) and free visits of the ageing cellar, the medieval museum and the Etruscan tombs.

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It is run by two brothers, Carlo and Marco, who have been agricultural entrepreneurs for 30 years and who maintain the tradition of the Nobile di Montepulciano using the four native grapes: Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), Canaiolo Nero, Mammolo and Colorino, which are hand harvested at maturation in October.

The wine is aged in oak barrels in the cellar of the underground city.
The wine is aged in oak barrels in the cellar of the underground city.

The Ercolani brothers’ winery, at the elevation of about 450 metres, is on 150 hectares of land, of which 14 are vineyards, 4 olive groves and the rest a combination of arable land, pasture and woods.

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Slow down...
Slow down…

Tuscan hill towns are best enjoyed by adapting to the pace of the countryside.

The Church of Sant'Agnese of Montepulciano
The Church of Sant’Agnese of Montepulciano
Piazzetta del Buonumore/ The Good Mood Square
Piazzetta del Buonumore/ The Good Mood Square

A presto!

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Anghiari, Overlooking History


Anghiari is a medieval town lying between two rivers, the Tiber and the Arno. It is listed in the Most Beautiful Towns of Italy, and is famous for the battle of 1440, where the Milanese troups were defeted by the Florentines, setting the present day borders of Tuscany. The Battle of Anghiari was captured by Leonardo da Vinci, who ‘decorated’ the hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, commemorating the Republic’s important events.

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The Rocca was the first fortified core from which Anghiari was built. The powerful 13th century walls made the town an invincible fortress. The setting is really breathtaking, with a sweeping view of the valley below.

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There are two museums right in the heart of the historic centre: the Battle Museum in the 16th-century Palazzo del Marzocco, which tells the history of Anghiari through manuscripts, glazed ceramics and ancient firearms, and the Palazzo Taglieschi State Museum with a collection of sculptures and frescoes from Anghiari and the neighbouring towns. Artisan workshops and antiques restorers enrich the enchanting streets of the town.

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Castello di Brolio

Castello di Brolio is now home to the descendants of the Ricasoli family, who still live in the castle, so you can visit the gardens and the museum, but also admire the great view. All this followed by the wine tasting at the Ricasoli wine shop (included in the entry ticket).

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Did you know that Baron Bettino Ricasoli was the first to create the recipe for what became the great Chianti wine famous all over the world?

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Here you get the opportunity to unwind and enjoy a different rhythm. Definitely worth a trip!

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Cantine Aperte (Open Wineries 2015), Part Two

Another important estate I highly recommend visiting is Il Borro.

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The Ferragamo family have preserved this picturesque area of natural beauty.

Here we got a chance to taste gorgeous wines accompanied by local specialities. My pick? I really enjoyed the elegant tannins of Il Borro, with its ruby colour, dry taste and its good body and consistency.  The broad and silky texture of this wine made me want another sip (and a piece of prosciutto, too)!

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Another wine producer, Tenuta Vitereta, have offered their best wines that express their strong personality through the balance of various sensations and wide scents.


And since you need something to go with your wine, some local produce, like excellent salame and prosciutto, directly from the tree! (Should definitely plant one of these in my garden…)


And, finally, here we are!.. In front of the Ponte Buriano, a seven-arch bridge I bet you are all acquainted with. Want a hint? This bridge was used by Leonardo da Vinci in the lower-right quadrant of one of his paintings. Another hint? No, I guess you all recognize ‘the Bridge’ behind the Mona Lisa.

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