Down below, in a post entitled Poppiano Castle and the Colli Fiorentini, I wrote about the experience I had in Chiant Colli Fiorentini. Since then, I’ve been looking at the pictures and turning the whole experience around in my mind. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Let’s say you want to take your sweet honey on a vacation. Let’s say you have to sense not to envision the kind of vacation where you trudge around all day looking at beautiful buildings full of art or artifacts of ages past while stopping every once in a while to spend a major fortune on food at a restaurant.
Let’s say you promise him a week of living like an Italian. Furthermore, I promise it won’t cost as much as that other, more hectic kind of vacation that everyone seems to expect today.
First off, you want to stay in a place that reflects the style of Tuscan vernacular architecture. We’re talking about living in a stone building with big, old, chestnut roof beams, tiled floors, crazy angles and steps everywhere—with a good view, of course. It should be close to things Italians would want to be close to. It should be rural—preferably in the midst of vineyards—but not boringly so.
We found that Le Torri Vacation Apartments, shown above fit the bill nicely. We stayed in an apartment there that had everything—from television to dishwasher—that that Italian with a bit of money might have. But there was an added bonus. On Saturday, the day you probably arrive, they lay out a big buffet a dinner time, made up of traditional foods cooked by an Italian mom. Imagine. Well, you can’t if you don’t have an Italian mom. Trust me then, it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.
So suddenly instead of being in a dreary hotel, you have an apartment in a building that functions kind of like a rooming house of the type that pre-war Brits in old, black and white movies might have favored. There were enough Brits at the dinner to set the tone. And they were a group of some of the most interesting people I’ve met. There were musicians, painters, professors, and even an ancient manuscript photographer (I’m kidding, he wasn’t that old). There were also well-behaved children. Imagine.
(Oh, and just in case you think you might miss the info a hotel might give you, Gabrielle, the guy who runs the place, can give you a map and tell you what’s going on in the region.)
Ok, so here’s the good part. After you eat dinner and watch the sunset, you go to bed to wake up on a beautiful Monday morning. The Chianti you let slide down your throat the previous night is gone, but the bottle remains with the cork beside it. After your coffee, you grab the bottle, the cork, and the arm of your sweet honey and amble down a country lane lined with cypress, just like you might expect to see in the Tuscany art you would have been looking at with a blank stare in a museum in Florence if you took one of those onlooker vacations that everyone takes.
After 20 minutes or so you arrive at a castle and borgo. The castle is called Castello di Poppiano. You walk up to the little shop on the lower level of the castle and peer in the windows. Someone’s there. Good. You push open the door and find the spigots for the wine. Yes, you’re going to buy some wine from Chianti’s legendary vineyards. Furthermore, you’re going to buy it like you would gasoline; you’re going to grab the pump handle and pump three quarters of a liter into your bottle and then, hopefully stop, especially if you’ve chosen red. You will cork your bottle and pay less than €2 for the whole deal. It’s way cheaper than gasoline for the rental car, especially a rental car in Italy.
If you are thinking of having a great meal, you might also pick up a bottle of Castello di Poppiano’s famous dessert wine, Vin Santo. They make it the old way, right in the big tower of the castle, in what they call the Vinsantaia. It’s quite a process, starting with Malvasia grapes that dry on mats at the base of the tower and continuing with the wine that’s aged for years in chestnut and oak barrels stacked along the walls of the tower like you see in the picture below.
Then, after dropping off your bottle at your little love nest, you might continue ambling into the nearby town of San Querico for the rest of your supplies for dinner. Don’t want to cook? Well, you can always wait until the evening and go to the alimentari con forno, the little grocery store that happens to have an oven that cranks out all manner of good breads and pizzas after dark.
You can go out for dinner, of course. This is wine country after all. Wine and good food goes together. You won’t likely get a bad meal in this part of the world—and the house wine here is a big cut above most house wines in Italy. It will cost you €4 or so for a half liter.
Admit it, this isn’t a picture of a bad life, is it? This time of year Le Torri is a steal.
But wait, with all this eating and drinking, we might as well think of a little exercise. Sure, in early spring you can walk the vineyards as we did, hunting for wild asparagus like real Italians, but you can also bike. In fact, you can get a tour of Poppiano castle and its wine and olive oil facilities at noon, then hop on a bike and tour the countryside for fewer Euros than you might think.
Tuscany Bike Tours runs an amazingly cheap bike tour through this corner of Chianti. They charge a mere €80. You don’t even have to have in your possession a pair of brilliantly colored spandex shorts; you’ll still get lunch and a cafe break, the tour, use of a bike and a helmet to wear. If you’re a wimp like me you can hop in the sag wagon any time you want, all included in the low price.