Honeymoon, Day 3, May 25th: Exploring more of the Chianti Region.
Another gorgeous day with none of the forecasted rain. We decided to visit some of the other towns in Chianti. The rooster is the symbol of the region and its wine, and there were often statues in its honor.
On our way into Gaiole, we stopped at a gas station and I was struck by how pretty it was, complete with railing planters filled with flowers.
Gaiole hosts a couple of bicycle races and we stopped to look in this bike shop. One of their races requires the use of vintage bicycles and clothing.
I was very taken with the Piaggio Apes, three wheeled vehicles often used for maintenance. This was the Ape Cinquanta, and we also saw the newer Ape Ottanta models around. I want one.
We took a break mid-morning from all that difficult leisurely strolling to have a snack at La Cantinetta del Chianti, a little outdoor cafe.
We had a couple of glasses each of spumante brut and a plate with three kinds of local cheese, bread and fig and apple-cinnamon preserves.
At first when I noticed one of these door knockers in another town, I wondered why someone was decorating with Egyptians. In Gaiole I saw them again and realized the figures must be Etruscans, the ancient civilization of the region until they were absorbed by the Roman Empire by 100 B.C. The name "Tuscany" comes from "Etruscan."
A word about our clothing: We had read that Italians are particularly put off by the American penchant of wearing bright colors, slogan t-shirts, sports clothing and flip flops or sneakers while traveling. In an effort not to stand out, we packed only clothes in neutral colors and leather shoes. Did it make a difference in how we were treated? Who knows, but we were universally treated very well. And we enjoyed not being obvious tourists.
We picked up a brochure of wineries and castles in the area and headed to Rocca di Castagnoli, where the Etruscans first cultivated the farmland. A thousand years later, in the tenth century, vineyards began producing wines here.
The host was busy and let us roam on our own through the enormous labyrinthine wine cellar, with barrel after barrel of aging wines. The cellar was formerly the castle stables and maintains a year-round constant temperature without the need for any cooling.
I loved these glass airlocks on the barrels, which allow carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation.
Francesco, the host, gave us samples of five wines along with the history of the wines and the castle. Although the area is famous for their red wines, we also liked their Chardonnay which was, according to him, "not hoakey" because it was aged part of the time in steel and part in oak. Oddly, neither of us cared for the most expensive wine that we tasted, largely because the smell was off-putting. We also tasted their peppery olive oil, which Francesco said should only be used for flavor on food, not for cooking. In the end, we ordered a mixed case to be shipped home to us - four bottles of the Chardonnay, 4 bottles of a good Chianti Classico, one bottle of a very good Chianti Classico, one bottle of a Gran Selezione, and three bottles of the spicy olive oil.
From there we drove to Barbrischio, stopping briefly to walk around the outside of the ruins of a 11th century castle.
On our drive we passed this garage and I was again struck by how even a garage here managed to look elegant.
Next was Vertine, another medieval walled city with a castle, and we spent a good bit of time exploring there.
The cats were everywhere, lounging in the sun and cuddling up to be petted. I think they are still reaping the reward for their forebears' assistance during the time of the Black Death, when they killed many rats carrying the plague.
This fierce dog could not be bothered to do more than turn his eyes toward me and thump his tail on the tiles.
Vertine includes an 11th century church, guarded by stone lions with columns on their backs.
The inside of San Bartolomeo's Church was partially reconstructed but still contains ornate artwork, some of which date back many centuries.
We decided Vertine was the town of exceedingly friendly cats. When I would try to stop petting this one, it would grab my hand with its front paws and drag it back to its head for more.
And then it was time to wind our way past vineyards to Radda, for dinner. But that's another post.