On our second trip out of Florence to explore Tuscany, we took our car to the nearby wine region of Chianti. In what is perhaps my favorite wine, especially when Italian pastas are involved, a trip to sample Chianti at a vineyard is like a dream come true. After our first trip out to explore the sunflower fields a few days before, Angie and I were a bit more confident in our teamwork of navigating (her) and driving (me). But even with this new found sense of confidence, my fear of driving in Florence and the surrounding countryside was still looming.
Luckily for us Chianti is just a short trip out of the city. Just a few exits off the road and a couple miles drive through the countryside later and the vineyards began to present themselves.
This is what Tuscany is supposed to be.
The “Heart” of Chianti
Our road trip into the wine region of Chianti ran mostly along Route 222, a country route that runs parallel to the highway on the way south to Siena. Where the idea of a back road would terrify us in any other region, this particular stretch is quite easy to navigate. This is due to the fact that most of the major towns are named “[City] in Chianti” such as Greve in Chianti (city Greve) and Castellina in Chianti (city Castellina). Where we found ourselves getting quite lost in some of the drives on our first day out, this one was much easier to figure out.
At the very least, we always knew we were in Chianti at every sign, and that isn’t a bad thing when you have no idea where you’re going.
The plan was to stop at two vineyards before driving aimlessly around Chianti and returning back to Florence before dinner. Shortly after setting out, we arrived at our first stop.
Castello di Querceto
Our first vineyard of the day was Castello di Querceto, located on the outskirts of the city Greve. In what is perhaps the only difficult driving moment of the day, we had many issues finding the turn to get to this particular vineyard. All guidebooks will suggest there are signs, but they are few and far between. Even the road is not properly marked at the intersection, making the turn quite impossible to find.
After a few turnarounds and a guess on which road was correct, we were in our first series of windy roads overlooking stunning vineyards! We made it to the chateau of course, but with views of Tuscany we would have been happy stopping just about anywhere.
The chateau at this estate is of modest size and doubles as a B&B for travelers. Perched on top of a hill, the building offers a panoramic terrace as well as a beautiful garden full of many amazing flowers and a peacock (or two). As with most vineyards, exploring the public areas of the grounds is always an enjoyable feature, and Castello di Querceto did not disappoint.
Before our visit we decided to not schedule a tour as we had many vineyard tours in Bordeaux one month prior. Instead, we came to sample. On this particular stop we tried one of the more budget friendly Chianti and a more expensive, yet similar, blend called Il Querciolaia for 2 and 4 Euro respectively. Each sip was more delicious than the last as we had our first taste of Chianti wine while actually being in the region of Chianti. As cliche as it sounds, it is worth it. A bottle of the cheap Chianti later (about 6.5 Euro) and we were on our way to the next stop.
For all those looking to drive to this vineyard, it is simple. In Greve there is one main crossroad with a light (the largest one in the city). If coming from the North, turn left. If coming from the South, turn right as if going away from the Information center in the opposite direction. From there drive about 7 kilometers until you see signs for Castello di Querceto!
The allure of Villa Vignamaggio is not so much for the wine, which is still quite famous, but rather for it’s history. This estate has been passed down by the Gherardini family over the years. That particular name likely has no meaning to anyone reading this blog, but perhaps we should phrase it in another way. A famous family member who likely frequented this region of Italy was Lisa Gherardini, often identified as the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; the most famous painting on the planet.
Whether or not you believe that Lisa actually existed is another discussion entirely. But for the owners of this estate it is one of the core components of their history and business. Of course, they even have a Chianti named for the Mona Lisa. Where other vineyards would fall flat in a such naming for the sake of marketing, this one excels. If Lisa were to have had some of this wine while being painted, then the age old mystery of whether she is smiling or not would be easily answered (as a most definite yes).
Tastings at Villa Vignamaggio are simple. An English speaking guide will pour a few tastes of wine as well as olive oils that are produced on site. Like the first estate, tours need to be booked in advance so we only left with the tastings, some olive oil, and a bottle Mona Lisa mentioned above for around 30 Euro total.
Our only minor complaint about this vineyard is that the property is off-limits for visitors and access to viewing areas is reserved for tours only. While the walk to the vineyard from the parking lot was pretty, we would have loved to see more.
For all those looking to drive to this vineyard, look for signs off of route 222 for Lamole. Follow the signs about 4-5 kilometers before you begin to see directions for Villa Vignamaggio. Once off 222, this one is particularly easy to find as there are little-to-no roads going off the route to Lamole other than to other vineyards on small roads. Be warned, the final kilometer to this estate is a gravel and dirt road!
Is It Worth It?
Any drive out in the region of Chianti is destined to be an enjoyable day. The windy roads, rolling hills, and vineyards at every turn is nothing less than what you would anticipate a drive in Tuscany to be. While there are many issues with driving in Tuscany, especially out of Florence (or next post in this series), there are many perks for those who want to make the leap to get out of the city.
When we return to Tuscany we will likely opt to stay outside of Florence for a few days; perhaps at one of the B&Bs located at an estate to truly get the most out of a car rental and visit more than two wineries in one trip. We may have only scratched the surface, and there is far more to explore that has our attention.
For now we must enjoy the wine we bought, remembering back on this incredible day.
We’d like to thank our friends at CarRentals.co.uk for the awesome car during our week in Florence! The quest for Chianti was just one of the many adventures we’ve gotten into with our car in Tuscany. Medieval villages, vineyards, and more? Tuscany is truly an awesome place!
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