It is easy to say that the identity of Chianti lies in its wine, but it would be a simplification. Yet it is absolutely true that we are in a terroir that is among the most important, fascinating and famous in the world.
Side by side with wine this rural wisdom has also preserved and then re-launched olive-oil, has brought back the Cinta Sienese breed and a certain amount of sheep-rearing with the production of excellent sheep’s-milk cheeses. Part of Chianti’s identity lies in its cuisine. Every dish is the result of a culture that harks back to the land and the bond established between man and environment, perhaps maintained more than elsewhere precisely because it has been experienced here more than elsewhere.
Castellina stands more than protected on its hilly bed. The village offers a series of patrician palazzos which are restored military garrisons built first by the associates of the counts Guidi who, originally from Garfagnana, pressed forward into the heart of Tuscany in the attempt to control it either diplomatically or militarily, and later by the Florentines who were constantly on their guard against the Sienese. The centre of the built up area is the ancient fortress designed in the second half of the fifteenth century by the great architect Giuliano da Sangallo.
In Via Ferruccio one gets the feeling of Castellina’s former opulence. Right at the end of this street, at the fork leading to the fortress, is the neo-Romanesque church of San Salvatore, rebuilt after being destroyed in the second world war.
A stop-off in Castellina may obviously include tasting at the numerous wine lodges, but you can also get to know the great art of Chianti pork-butchers whose charcuterie is highly prized for its unforgettable flavours.
Castelnuovo witnessed the battle of Montaperti, central to the history of Siena: in 1260 the Florentine army was defeated by the Republic of the Palio.
After Montaperti the Sienese Republic decided to supply its new outpost with new fortifications (hence the name, which means New Castle) but they were never completed. Evidently this stretch of Chianti was destined for peace and cultivation of the spirit rather than for military defence.
A visit to Castelnuovo Berardenga cannot exclude the Villa Chigi Saracini with its superb architectural elegance embellished by a formal garden. It is enriched above all by a 19th century park of considerable botanical importance.
Gaiole, founded between the 13th and 14th centuries, had trading rather than military origins. At first it was a market serving the many castles dotted around the surrounding territory. So the heart of Gaiole (which today is one of the Cinta Senese breeding centres) is a street-marketplace: via Ricasoli where the market was and still is held and which is the hub of local life.
Gaiole offers the chance to shop for fine wines and foods, and also has some quality hotels. And of course there is the fascination of the ancient houses, the riverside and the urban furnishings which recall mediaeval trading activities.
Radda is the vineyard village. From the high ground on which it was built in the middle ages, between the waters of the rivers Arbia and Pesa, you gaze over a very dense interweave of vineyards. The centre of the village, dominated from above by the remains of the original castle, is Piazza Ferrucci.
Don’t miss the view over the alleys of the old centre and the vegetable gardens, surrounded by dry stone walling, which supply the essence of Chianti: agriculture in the form of design of the landscape in a natural order of men and things. No other place than Radda would have been right for the headquarters of the Foundation for the Safeguarding of Chianti Classico Territory, which will be housed in the monastery complex of Santa Maria a Prato, just outside the walls. A very precious poliptych by Neri di Bicci belonged to the monastery church.