Lost in Castellina in Chianti
SR222 is the “Strada Chiantigiana” , the winding road that takes you through the bevy of wineries throughout the beautiful Chianti region. Between Florence and Siena, the white roads of Chianti beckon you to seek out her secrets. The roads are called Strada Blanca because of their color. The white sand that was infused into making them make the streets look like powder.
Delicate and winding, like a staircase it weaves its way through the vineyards and the olive groves. The area is a hazy color, muted and shaded by the silver of the olive leaves. There is a perpetual hum….the combination of bees, sunshine and heat. Can’t you feel it on your eyes?
Leaving Florence, you can decide to take the shortcut on the Auto Strada, or you can choose to take The Chianti Road. Once you navigate through the traffic circles and the esoteric arrows that are supposed to be directions, you are on your way. Like tiny streams off of a river, there are “roads” that break off from here. Some of the roads are not really true roads at all. In fact, they are washed out river beds that run parallel to the street.
Tiny wooden arrows entice you to turn towards the side roads. You can veer onto one of them, complete with ancient stone bridges at your sides and bounce along through the silver leaves until suddenly you come out into the sunlight and behold, there is a Fattoria in front of you. It was hiding from you, but now that you have found her, she welcomes you inside.
Within the walls of these wineries, you may notice Il Gallo Nero, The Black Rooster. Like a secret handshake, you know you are Someplace Special. These wineries are at once isolated and inhabited. You feel as if you are stepping into a museum, or a movie set because it is so beautiful and there is no one around. Suddenly, like an apparition, the hosts appear to share their wine, olive oil, grappa, biscotti and hospitality.
The Fattoria that are peppered along the way may also offer lunch. In Santa Maria a Grignano in Castellina in Chianti, there is “Bar Ristorante Pizzeria Grignano.” You can find this treasure by winding around the turns of the strada, high up on the hills is the Santa Maria Grignano. After you arrive up the hill, they will ask you where you would like to sit. Then, they literally carry a beautiful wooden table to the very spot. We chose to sit under a spectacular Gelso next to a huge pink hydrangea bush.
They offer traditional foods of Toscana “Cinghale” (Wild Boar) served with Tagliatelle, Risotto with Truffles and Champagne, and the famed bread of Toscana that is made without salt. When the food arrives, you suddenly realize that you were starving. The energy and excitement of the ride fade as you focus in on the works of art that are brought to your plate. (By the way, the also have wine) The wild boar dish is much like a Chicken Cacciatore, tomato based sauced with long simmered meat that fell off the bone. It’s delicious and filling. It has a hearty flavor that is not at all gamey. A definite meal of comfort. Risotto with truffles is a decadent dish that has a fragrance that could almost overtake the scent of grapes and olives in the air. The truffles are shaved so thinly and then dressed with an additional bit of truffle oil. Cooking it with champagne gives it a sweet flavor that plays well against the earthiness of the truffles and the cheese. It is a beautiful place, complete with flowers, umbrellas and a beautiful front room.
It’s as if you are a guest in their home. Other people may fritter in and out. Yet, somehow, they managed to make us the only people in Tuscany. Looking out over the hill top at the olive trees and the grape vines, we could see for miles and trace the Strada Blanca up the hill beyond the sun. The expression of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” could be tweaked to “When on the Chianti Road….” The pace is slow. The wine and the windows are open. The breeze is blowing and you can smell the flowers. It is a good idea to take some time to sit and savor. Anywhere in the world at all, you can draw up to a table with someone you love, share a meal and a bottle of wine and feel that very same sun on your face that shines down on the hills of Tuscany.