THE CHIANTI VALLEY
A journey amidst ancient villages and good wine
The Chianti, the area of rolling hills stretching between Florence and Siena, Arezzo and hills of Pisa, has long been considered the 'heart of Tuscany'. Its splendid landscape is dotted with dense vineyards, chestnut forests, oaks and maples, attractive medieval villages, romantic castles and charming colonial farmhouses. It is also the birth place of one of the world's best red wines Chianti.
Travelling through the Villages of the Chianti
The Chianti is the ideal getaway for those wanting to experience medieval villages and romantic vineyards tucked away amongst rolling hills. In every small village wineries, country castles and farms may be discovered and fine local wine tasted in the numerous enoteca (wine shop) . The legendary origins of the Clante (named for a stream during the Etruscan era) along with its winemaking tradition have made it famous world-wide.
Coming from Florence, the natural gateway to the wine country is Impruneta, featuring important monuments such as the 13th century crenellated bell-tower and the Basilica of Santa Maria with its Treasury Museum. It is also the venue for two internationally known autumn festivals: the grape festival with its parade of allegorical floats and the Festival of San Luca.
After leaving Florence, on the way to Siena, not to be missed is the medieval village of Greve in Chianti, with its unique triangular piazza, lined by buildings, porticoes and loggias all converging on the Church of Santa Croce. In September, the piazza hosts the most important winemaking festival in the Chianti. Looking out over the city is the castle of the ancient, walled village of Montefioralle.
Next is the tiny, picturesque medieval town of Volpaia, also an ancient winemaking centre that sprung up around a castle. Further on is Radda, built around the 14th century church of San NicolÃÂ² and its majestic Praetorian Palace (1415 ca ). It is also worth visiting the church of San Giusto in Salcio, emersed in a lush valley among the vineyards, and the church of Santa Maria Novella,with its characteristic Roman faÃÂ§ade. Another mandatory stop is the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, housing the Chianti Historic Studies Centre, just outside of Radda. Continuing on towards the Chianti mountain pass, you first come to Gaiole, one of the most well-known landscapes in Italy, and then countless farms and castles, such as San Leonino and Fonterutoli.
After passing Siena, you come to two sites of particular historical importance: the 13th century town of Monteriggioni, built atop a hill and surrounded by a massive wall, and Castellina, the Sienese outpost of Etruscan origin, with its lovely central piazza crossed by the medieval via delle Volte.
The final stops are splendid Poggibonsi, where in October an event is held to demonstrate the ancient grape-crushing technique of the hill areas, and Montespertoli for the annual Chianti exhibition.
All Chianti wine is classified as DOCG (i.e. Guarantee of the Origin and Quality of Selected Wines), however, each Chianti is different and its characteristics vary according to its territory of origin and winemaking tradition. The blend of grapes is always the same, though the percentages vary: Sangiovese (75-90%), Canaiolo (5-10%), and Malvasia del Chianti (5-10%). The perfect recipe was developed by Baron Ricasoli in the 19th century, with the later addition of Trebbiano Toscano. So deeply rooted is this tradition that Tuscan producers plant the various grapevines together in the right proportions needed to make the wine.
Here, cultivation in Tuscan arches is benefited by the porous and permeable marlstone soil, which does not allow water to collect around the roots.
After the autumn grape harvest, it is not unusual to see clusters of grapes left drying on the vines, evidence of the "official" practice passed down over the centuries of adding fresh must made from raisins to the fermented wine. This reactivates the fermentation process, ensuring the sugars are completely transformed into alcohol, resulting in a dry, stable wine.
Following fermentation, the wine is left to age in steel or cement tanks until March. Once bottled, it is ready to be marketed.
If a Chianti is aged for many years, at least three months of which are in a bottle, it may qualify as a Reserve as long as its total alcohol by volume is at least 12% at the time it is released for consumption, compared to 11.5% for the Chianti Classico.
Chianti is bright ruby red in colour and has an intense bouquet with notes of violet, iris, and vanilla. Its flavour is balanced and dry with notes of vanilla and almond. As it ages, it becomes soft and velvety. Almost 63 million bottles are produced annually.
At the Table
Young Chianti and all the simple DOCG wines make perfect table wines. Aged and Reserve wines pair well with red meat, wild game, and aged cheeses.
Bottles should be stored horizontally and the wine should be served at room temperature.
Typical dishes of the Tuscan cuisine are: ribollita. made from leftover cooked vegetables all "reboiled" together with the addition of stale bread and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Other regional "classics" include: crostini with chicken liver pate, bruschetta with tomatoes, and Sienese capocollo, more commonly known as finocchiata.
PADOVA AND ITS PATRON
Basilica of Saint Anthony: between chapels and cloisters full of masterpieces
The city of Padua is inextricably linked to the figure of St. Anthony, a Franciscan friar of the thirteenth century, venerated all over the world and patron of the city itself. Strenuous defender of Catholic doctrine, he fought the Cathar heresy, especially in France, with great energy and considerable success. He moved to Padua, where he died aged 36, and due to the miracles attributed to him, he was canonized less then one year after his death by Pope Gregory IX. His relics are preserved in the little church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, next to the monastery he founded in 1229. This church represents the nucleus from which started the construction of the actual Basilica of Saint Anthony that now includes it as Chapel of the Black Madonna. The building of the Basilica began in 1200, but renovations and changes to the structure continued throughout the twentieth century.The main feature of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua is the harmonization of different architectural styles: in fact the facade is Romanesque, the spurs have Gothic arches, domes are Byzantine, while the two twin bell towers resemble Arab minarets. The high altar is of undisputed value and it was made by Donatello in the middle of the 15th century.The main altar, which has lost its original architectural features, is characterized by numerous bronze sculptures, among them seven statues and 22 reliefs. The most important relief is the The Entombment of Christ, the only one that is not in bronze, but in limestone partly burnished with polychrome inserts.
Among the places of great interest we can include:
The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament
This is the first chapel the visitors can find on the right aisle, it has a squared shape, with four columns at the corners. It preserves the Eucharist. It is also known as Chapel of Gattamelata, because the family of the commander Erasmo da Narni (nicknamed Gattamelata) commissioned the its building in order to place there the commander's tomb, which can be seen in the left wall. The chapel in Gothic style, was completed in 1458, but suffered several changes throughout the centuries.Continuing along the right aisle, there is the transept of the Chapel of St. James and San Felice. Built in Gothic style in the 70s of the fourteenth century, the chapel was originally dedicated to St. James. However in 1503 there were also transferred the relics of San Felice. Many frescoes, among them Zevio Altichiero masterpiece "The Crucifixion", attract visitor's attention. Continuing on the left it is possible to reach the first chapel of the ambulatory: The Chapel of Blessings, with attractive frescoes by Pietro Annigoni.
Over the centre of the ambulatory, the visitor will reach the Baroque Chapel of the Treasury. built by sculptor Filippo Parodi and containing many relics, including those of the Saint, gifts of gratitude or devotion offered by illustrious pilgrims as well as liturgical ornaments.
To the north is the Chapel of Luca Belludi Beato, containing his tomb, who has been the successor of St. Anthony.
The Chapel of the Tomb of St. Anthony
This Chapel also known from the beginning as the "Ark" is the work of Tiziano Aspetti. The altar has three statues: the St. Anthony's one is at the centre, flanked by that of St. Bonaventura and St. Louis of Toulouse.The tour ends with a visit to the beautiful cloisters in the Basilica, starting from the Cloister of the Novices. Made in the fifteenth century in Gothic style it offers a splendid view of the Basilica.
Magnolia Courtyard: so called because of the great and beautiful magnolia tree planted in the middle of the nineteenth century cloister.
The General's Cloister: also in the Gothic style, to which the rooms of the Ministers General over look On the west side is housed the Anthony Exhibition.
Cloister of Blessed Luca Belludi: spectacular Gothic cloister, whose present form dates back to the late fifteenth century.
IT IS INTERESNTING TO KNOW:
Inside the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua is preserved the Mascioni organ opus 417, built in 1929 and restored in 2011. It has a pneumatic transmission, three keyboards of 61 notes each and a concave-radial pedalboard of 32.
In Padua, the lure of St. Anthony festivity, is strongly felt and annually attracts hundreds of visitors. The event, preceded by a long period of preparation,takes place on 12th and 13th of June, with a procession in traditional costumes, a torchlight procession on the river Bacchiglione and spectacular fireworks.