I am sitting facing Chianti countryside on a balmy, cricket-filled September night. Like a triptych painting in a portrait gallery a ripple of hills stretch before me, lit up by sparkling villages along its crest.
The peace is resounding. My only companion is a fir tree rising up like a lollipop over my deck chair. Wafts of rosemary, lavender and thyme scent the air.
Tuscany’s organic winemaking cradle, Panzano di Chianti, is tucked amid bottle green hills and valleys some 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Florence.
Organic wine pursuits were the big hook of my first trip here a few years ago, and I keep coming back. The vineyards are dotted by graceful sentinels of cypress trees stretching to the horizon. This was the first organic wine district in Italy.
Many of the area’s agriturismo winery farm stays have only been open since July, after the long Italian lockdown. This was always going to be my first post-Covid trip.
Here are some of my favorite places for bedding down in the region:
Renzo Marinai is a pioneer of vino biologica, organic winemaking. I get the pleasure of finally meeting him during Panzano’s Vino Al Vino festival just prior to the harvest. He’s delighted to share his little piece of paradise with guests.
The newly renovated self-catering rural apartments pair wood beams, Tuscan furnishings and stone walls with mod fittings (air con, memory foam mattresses, free Wifi, sat TV, security alarms). Evocatively named La Volpe (Fox) and Lepre (Hare) are niched between the wine cellar and other farm buildings, so there’s a real sense of being in on the action.
Sleeping 4, each has a separate living room and kitchen/dining area plus double bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms decked with local tiles. BYO all the goodies you need to self-cater and go to market and farm gates to buy more.
The winery also arranges seasonal activities for guests: so wine harvest in September/October, new oil in November, thrashing of the wheat in July (Its small batch artisan Cappelli pasta made from a heirloom wheat variety can only be bought on-site).
All guests here get to enjoy an infinity swimming pool and outside area with tables, chairs and BBQ.
A new ultra-luxury villa on the hillside has its own private infinity pool soaking up the Chianti hill sunsets. The two-level “Cicadas’ Lodge” has an elegant kitchen with a central island and top-notch appliances; a large living room with farm table, double sofa bed and massive hearth; and a terrace overlooking its own gardens. The villa lies at the end of the road – so the only thing you will hear are the crickets. It’s perfect for a family stay or group of friends.
Open March until the end of December. From €1200 for the week for an apartment sleeping 4.
At Il Palagio In Panzano we sleep at La Capanna–a rustic chic old barn of the original farmhouse with wood beams, whitewashed walls and cushy sofas. Outside there’s a hedged-terrace with a chunky wooden table, perfect for cricket-humming warm nights. I know I’ve come to have a bit of a cricket hang-up in Chianti. Their sound drills through the dolce sea breezy air.
Other self-catering lodgings–La Torre, Belvedere, Il Piccolo–are also stone-walled historic with minimalist luxury (dishwasher, microwave etc) … All you need and more when the real luxury is the landscape. There’s also a villa sleeping up to 20. The apartments start at €140 per night.
Run by winemaker Giovanni Manetti’s sister Giovanna, the Tenute di Pecille villas lie on the Fontodi estate. Before wines, the family was deeply involved in the production of Florentine terracotta tiles (seen in the dome of Florence’s Cathedral as much as in the farmhouse accommodation).
Grey sandstone pietra serena (as used in Renaissance Florence architecture), period upholsteries and local artisan furniture create an atmosphere of “elegant sobriety” – in keeping with characteristic Tuscan countryside says Manetti.
Here you’ll get to play tennis and swim in the pool, as well as peddle up and down Chianti hills.
Even with GPS we got lost finding this place. Tucked in forested folds further south, near Castellina in Chianti, Il Piaggione di Serravalle is set among the vines and gardens full of biodynamic plants and outlandish sculptures. The winery is run by French-born Siena tour guide, Camilla Curcio, and her husband sculptor, Alberto Inglesi.
In the upper part of the farmhouse the family-size “Belvedere” apartment has panoramic views over the pool and valley. “Hunting Lodge” is a cozy little abode nestled in the gardens. While former manor house “La Nostra” has a massive hearth, kitchen table made from a 13th century church door, and a private terrace with barbecue.
As well as self-catering, you can also count on ordering meals made with garden-fresh ingredients and buying wine on site. The Chianti Classico drop from here was pure velvet and we drove off with a dozen.
Don’t miss at least a half day trip to Siena. It’s one of the absolute gems of medieval Italy, with gorgeous flavors to boot. (Such as the Panforte di Siena, a chewy spiced fruit and nut cake).
Where & What To Taste:
Renzo Marina’s Chianti Classico and deep ruby red flavored Chianti Classico Riserva are 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Gran Selezione on the other hand is 100% Sangiovese. The Conca d’Oro 100% Cab Sav.
At Il Palagio di Panzano, Piccini and husband Franco are making a pure Sangiovese Chianti Classico. “I love it because I can taste my land,” she says. From Monday to Friday, a tasting menu in the cellar pairs local flavors with different vintages.
All Fontodi vino is made from hand-picked organic grapes. From the ripe fruity 100% Sangiovese Chianti Classico and Flaccianello della Pieve to Pinot Nero’s and Syrah’s.
The villa and winery L’Orcio a Ca’ di Pesa like many here also produces olive oil. You need to book a wine tasting ahead, outside of festival time.
In Panzano centre, Dario Cecchini, “the greatest butcher shop in the world”, has its accompanying restaurant, Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Despite the name it’s not all meat here–there are plenty of seafood and pasta choices too.
The Enoteca Il Cardo is a popular little buzzing wine bar on Piazza Gastone Bucciarelli serving wines from all the vintners’ association members.
Getting there: Panzano in Chianti is 21 miles/35 km from both Florence and Siena. The nearest main town is Greve in Chianti. San Gimignano, Pisa and Lucca are other possible day trips. The closest airport is Florence Vespucci.
Further Reading: How Chianti Winemakers Adapt To Covid, American Wine Sales Rule.