On with the reporting!
Wednesday 9th May
I had booked an organised tour called "Tuscany Castles Tour with Chianti Wine Tasting" by City Wonders. Love castles. ❤ And we wanted to see the countryside. Chose Chianti area because it's reasonably close to Florence.
The group met 8:30 just a block from our hotel but ended up walking behind the SMN station where the bus actually was waiting. (Don't know why we just couldn't meet there.) We got to experience a few moments of tour group embarrasment when the guide held a purple flag and lead us through the very busy station area. Guess that serves us right because we're always giggling at the groups that are being herded through whatever sightseeing... 😀 There were only 14 of us plus the guide and the driver and we had quite a new and comfortable minibus.
Our guide Matteo was the best from the minute one. Kept us entertained throughout the whole day and he knew so much about Florence and other Tuscan cities and towns. The guy is a star. 😊 For example he told us about Siena's contradas and the Palio race and how big of a deal the Palio is to Sienese... And the ancient rivalry between Florence and Pisa... all flavored with jokes. 😀
The first destination was Castello di Verrazzano. We took a very scenic route from Florence and I believe it was the road 222 I'd seen mentioned on the forum so many times. 😊 It was a curvy road and everywhere was just green fields, green forests, flowers, vineyards, olive trees... Beautiful. Just beautiful. I'd read a few years ago that the first two weeks of May is the window of time if one wants to see green fields before they start going yellow. And that was the reason for the precise timing of this trip when we decided last fall to go to Florence. :)
We stopped to take photos once. First it looked line there would be clouds but the sun was making it's way through. Matteo said there's always sun on his tours because he's so beautiful the sun follows him. 😀
After about 1 hour drive we arrived to Castello di Verrazzano. It's located on a hilltop and is surrounded by the vineyards. On another hill across the Verrazzano is another castle (Castello di Vicchiomaggio maybe...?) and Matteo told us they are rivals. Apparently back in the day they used to shoot each other with catapults just to say good morning. 😀 Now they just compete in wine making.
Verrazzano was such an amazing place I couldn't believe it. A small castle but so pretty. Everything was kept immaculate. Even the gravel in the yard was spotless little pebbles! :)
We were met by an employee of the castle, a very nice woman, and started the tour. First a little garden which was like a tropical oasis on a warm day. We learned about the history of the castle. Giovanni da Verrazzano was a expeditionist who discovered New York and the US east coast! :o Is that impressive or what!
Then we went to the cellars and got to see the wine barrels and stacks of dusty bottles. They like the dust because it adds another layer of block from the light and helps to protect the wine. :) There were little barrels and then there were HUGE barrels, something like 2 meters tall at least. On top of those were these glass airlocks that were an invention of Leonardo Da Vinci himself! The guide told us a lot about their wine making and different grapes.
Lastly it was time for tasting which took place in a lovely restaurant. There was an outside terrace too but we were seated inside. I have to say that even though I don't drink wine it was a nice leisurely tasting. There was no rushing and everyone took their time. Nicely dressed waiters served us and the guide explained about the wines and presented them one by one (three different wines).
I wish I could tell you more about the products but being a complete wine ignorant I'm afraid it's not right up my alley. 😊 Hubby enjoyed them though and kept nodding when listening to the guide. But I was very much looking forward to the olive oil and the aged balsamic vinegar tasting. All their products. :) The oil was tasted with Tuscan bread and the balsamic with cheese - manchego I think or something similar. The balsamic was so good! Omg. It was even better than what I bought in Rome. This was 10 or 12 years old, can't remember for sure. Then it was shopping time and of course I got that balsamic. Matteo had said beforehand that we're gonna say oh my god twice. Once when we taste it and second time when we hear the price. 😀 It was 45 euros per 100 millilitre bottle but I didn't care. Should have gotten two bottles, blimey. Quite a few Americans from our group bought and shipped the wines home.
After we left Verrazzano it was lunchtime and we headed to the nearby small town of Greve in Chianti. We had 1 hour 30 minutes free time there. Hubby and I went to the butcher's shop to eat. Yes, there were options for vegetarians too. 😊 I didn't go to the shop side though because the smell of meat was a bit much... I stayed in the restaurant side. I had veggie lasagna which was tasty but very small. Luckily I wasn't too hungry. Hubby had a green salad that had huge chunks of meat in it. It was something like overcooked pork, hmmm? He said it was good. He bought from the shop some disgusting looking sausage and 600 grams of prosciutto to take home. Thinking of our Rome trip 600 grams was very moderate of him. 😀
Then we visited the little shops in the piazza and had dessert in a cafe and sat outside (obviously). We ordered coffees and mille feuille and torta della nonna. I confess I had mille feuille almost every day at hotel breakfast so maybe could have ordered something else... Greve looked nice and I wish we could've had an hour more to see beyond the main square. :)
When everyone was fed we continued to the second destination, Castello di Brolio. I can't remember how long the journey took but it was at least 1 hour. Matteo was preparing us and told us to try to keep our jaws up when we see the castle. :) Wowzie what a castle it was! Huge compared to Verrazzano and "grander". Located on a hilltop of course and surrounded by vineyards. It was like a fortress. No wonder it's been so coveted over time. There was no guide from the castle like in Verrazzano so Matteo guided us. He is very knowledgeble so it was perfectly fine. He talked us through the castle history and told us about the family (they still live there, the current baron's family). The castle is something like almost a thousand years old. :o We got to walk the yards, visit the pretty little family chapel, admire the views... and what views! Unbelievable green as far as the eye can see. We could also see Siena from there. 😊
Brolio's wine tasting wasn't so nice as in Verrazzano, not even close. It was not located in the castle grounds but in a place a bit further where they had their shop. The tasting was just standing up holding glasses in the shop. The room had echo and because there were other people too it was hard to hear what the lady was saying. So while Castello di Brolio was a grander castle the tasting event was a bit underwhelming. Some of the Americans from our group shopped for the wines again though. 😊
After that it was time to head back to Florence. Not quite a scenic route like in the morning, this was a highway. :) Good time to take a nap.
We arrived back just before 6 pm.
All in all it was a great trip and I'm going to write an excellent review! Loved the scenery, the castles, the group size and the guide. None of those horror stories of huge groups and rushed itinerary I'd read about.
For dinner we went to Trattoria da Guido just a block from the hotel. I had vegetable tagliatelle which was a little blah. I mean the pasta was good but the veggies were very unimaginative. But the other half had a steak and he said it was even better that in Trattoria al Trebbio. :o
We'd decided before that we'll just eat there and have dessert somewhere else. So I suggested a cafe from my notes, Cafe Pazkowski. It's located at Piazza della Repubblica that is currently under construction, they're working on something on the ground. Disturbing the piazza view a bit but no matter. 😊 Pazkowski has a lovely roofed terrace and sofas. We had coffees there with tarte tatin and a piece of cake that was their signature cake (whipped cream on top if I recall correctly).
After dessert we popped to a book store Red that was open late and there was a little dvd section too. I found The Picture of Dorian Gray adaptation (the one with Ben Barnes) for 5 euros. :o That was a good find, it's sold out in my country!
That was about it for Wednesday, went back to the hotel after that. :)
Thursday was Duomo day, I'll write about that next!