This road passes Greve, Radda, Giole, Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardenga and winds its way through some of the most stunning and easily recognisable Tuscan countryside – the Chianti region.
This has been one of the most important wine producing regions in Italy for over two centuries. In fact it was the Lorena family who began cultivating the grapes that would become ‘modern’ Chianti between the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Since the 1920s it has been the official area of production for the Consorzio Chianti Classico/Gallo Nero (the Chianti Classico Consortium). It was under the Lorena government during the nineteenth century that Bettino Ricasoli, local land owner and agriculturalist, began ‘inventing’ the formula of Chianti wine.
Many of the dirt tracks that ran between Florence and Siena were opened up and turned into proper roads and this really helped the development of local agriculture over the following century, especially wine production. Until that time, the lack of decent roads had been a severe impediment to agricultural growth in the Chianti region, despite reforms instigated by Grand Duke Leopoldo. These reforms had aimed to empower local farmers and limit the power of monasteries over the countryside.
The typical Chianti landscape that we see today is the result of these reforms as they encouraged farmers to extend their fields at the expense of local woodland and wild life that grew over much of the area. The classic picturesque views of the Chianti countryside that we see on so many postcards today may seem timeless, but in reality have only existed for the last two hundred years. Before that, the region was much more wild and overgrown.
One important town to visit in the area is Greve in Chianti which is named after the river that runs through it. This town is the regional capital and home to the largest wine fair in Chianti which is held every September.
At the end of the Middle Ages, Greve grew up on the flat plain around the river Greve and was a market place and trading centre for many of the surrounding fortified villages, castles and farms. In 1325 the town was razed to the ground in an attack by Castruccio Castracani who was the Duke of Lucca. Nonetheless, the town came back to life and continued to grow during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. After Italian unification Greve became the most important town in the Chianti region.
The reconstructed Santa Croce church is in the asymmetrical town square (Piazza Matteotti) and is home to several beautiful paintings by the Fra’ Angelico school. Old documents demonstrate that the town square was originally square shaped but over time many buildings have been added around its edge with portico and loggias and today it has more of a triangular shape. One point of this triangle points towards the neoclassical façade of Santa Croce church. On one side of the piazza is a statue of the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano (also spelt ‘Verrazano’) who discovered the bay of New York. The family home of Amerigo Vespucci is in the nearby town of Montefioralle.