Ripertoli has a fine library of guide-books to Tuscany and Italy; this is not an attempt to duplicate them, just to mention some of the local visits we have made that have given us the most pleasure.
Chianti itself (Il Chianti in Italian, the hilly countryside between Florence and Siena) is startlingly beautiful, and almost any town, village, or country road is worth a visit. It has four main towns: Greve, Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina; the first and the last are actually on the Via Chiantigiana, or SS 222, the old road which connects Florence and Siena.
Before you start planning excursions further afield, our advice is to see lots of Chianti itself. There are plenty of excuses for driving around – visiting restaurants or wineries, following the “Strada dei Castelli” (Castles trail), visiting some of the charming smaller villages (Volpaia, Vagliagli, Lucolena), or climbing Chianti’s highest peak, Monte San Michele.
All the guide books cover Florence and Siena in great detail so I shan’t say anything about them here other than to recommend parking at the Garage Ponte Vecchio (www.garagepontevecchio.it) if you decide to drive to Florence – it’s the most convenient car park near the centre, they pay the congestion charge for you, Â and your car will not get boiling hot in the sun as the parking is underground. When you visit Siena, do go inside the Palazzo Pubblico and see the famous frescoes of Good and Bad Government, each with both town and country sections. The resemblance of the 14th century good countryside to today’s landscape is remarkable, and a tribute to Tuscany’s planning regulations, which make it almost impossible to change anything.
Most tour guides recommend visiting San Gimignano. Frankly, we don’t. It’s small, and over-crowded with coaches and tourists. Volterra is somewhat better, but it still wouldn’t make our top ten. And we have not found Pisa particularly interesting either – the Leaning Tower, Duomo and Baptistery are within a few yards of each other on the outskirts of town, and we don’t recommend searching for any Pisan sights beyond these three.
Lucca is a charming and interesting town, the only one in Italy with a complete set of city walls which you can walk along – it’s worth the trip, about a 90 minute drive from Ripertoli. Welcome Tuscany has lots of helpful information and pictures.
There are two trails which we have always enjoyed. First is the Piero della Francesca trail, taking in the beautifully-restored frescoes in the Duomo at Arezzo, the wonderful pregnant Madonna at the little town of Monterchi, and the main picture gallery in Piero’s home town of Sansepolcro. Second is to visit the 3 towns of Montalcino (home of Brunello wine), Pienza with its architectural gems, and Montepulciano (home of Vino Nobile). All 3 are about 30 miles south-east of Siena; each is individually worth a visit, and seeing all 3 at once is an uplifting experience.
For the hardy and determined: it is possible to do day-trips to Venice or to Rome in a single day, and if you are staying at Ripertoli for two weeks or more, then it’s worth considering either or both. Venice is far smaller and easier to encompass; Rome is big, notoriously built on seven hills so not ideal for walking around, but you can hit the main sites (Colosseum, Vatican, Pantheon, Forum, Capitol) in one day if you leave Ripertoli around 7 am and are prepared to get back by midnight.
We don’t in general recommend seaside visits from Ripertoli – Italian resorts are over-crowded in the summer, and the drive to anywhere worth visiting is at least two hours – but for specialist interest it’s worth considering visiting the Cararra marble-mining region on the coast north of Pisa. There are dozens of marble workshops, each with a “Mostra” (exhibition) of its best work, and it’s good fun to buy something that takes your fancy & have it shipped home, or even have something made to your design and specification – as we did with the marble table on the Terrace at Ripertoli. It took 6 people to get it on the roof rack of our Volvo estate, but it was worth it!
Nigel, July 2016