A typical trip to Italy focuses on the main hubs: Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. Many tourists have been-there, done-that in terms of the big cities, so in hopes of discovering life in the small towns, we spent a few days in Chianti Classico. About an hour’s drive from Florence, the area is rich with history, fantastic wines, and incredible trattorias.
We stayed at Castello di Albola, one of the most distinguished wineries in the area, and immersed ourselves in the local life, which feels a lot like a foodie’s version of heaven. From shopping at local farmers' markets, to making meals from scratch, to spending hours bonding over food and wine, follow along through our itinerary in Chianti Classico.
Castello di Albola (Albola Castle)
Castello di Albola is an 11th-century castle that, today, is a successful Zonin winery. Located in the heart of Chianti Classico, it’s not surprising that the majority of their wines are Sangiovese, although they do make a small batch of Chardonnay.
The wines alone will draw you in for a taste and a tour of the grounds, but a lesser-known fact is that you can stay overnight on the winery in various accommodations. You can book a night in the castle, and there are also villas surrounding it that can be rented out by the week. The private villas can host up to twelve people, so it’s ideal if a group of couples want to share the space and explore Tuscany together.
To book, you have to either call or e-mail the winery.
Castello di Albola offers cooking lessons with their star housekeeper, Sara, which are ultimately satisfying. Even with a language barrier, Sara is an excellent teacher. As they say, food is a universal language. She showed us how to properly make tagliatelle in a tomato-veal ragout, multiple bruschettas, chicken Florentine and a divine pear tart.
There’s nothing fancy or pretentious about the cooking class; it’s just a local expert gently guiding you in the kitchen. As you do the basics like kneading dough or peeling carrots, you’ll peek out the window into the Tuscan countryside. And the best part is sitting down to devour the finished product – especially the tagliatelle.
Call ahead to book a spot in the class. The recipes can be tailored to any type of dietary restrictions.
Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Dario Cecchini is an international icon when it comes to steak. He flies around the world from New York to St. Petersburg, doing pop-ups to share his passion for red meat. If you have a chance to visit the home base in Chianti, Antica Macelleria Cecchini is a must. His restaurant is the ultimate meat arrangement, taking you on a tasting tour of every cut.
The meat is not manipulated in any way (other than aging) before it hits the wood-fired grill. Afterwards, it’s hit with some sea salt and high-quality olive oil before service. The star of the show – and it is always a show, at Cecchini’s – is the Fiorentina, which has to have a thickness of at least four fingers. Make sure you get the bite off the bone, as that’s the prized possession.
Eating at Trattoria Volpaia makes you feel like you’ve been invited as a house guest to a local nona’s gathering. The vibe is homey and the prices are friendly. The family operation is now run by daughter Carla, but rest assured that her mother has a big hand in the process. Eighty-four-year-old Gina, who is followed everywhere by her dog Gino, wakes up at 4:30 in the morning every single day to make the pasta for the trattoria. Everything is local and seasonal, and much of the menu is based on what is grown either by the restaurant or nearby. Highly recommended is the cheese plate (paired with the in-house made chutneys), any of the vegetable dishes, and, of course, Gina’s pastas.
Radda in Chianti
There are all sorts of cute little towns in Chianti Classico, but Radda was a personal favorite. If you live in a bustling metropolitan city back home or came from the overcrowded tourist hubs of Italy (like Florence or Rome), then Radda in Chianti is a breath of fresh air. Life is quiet and simple, and everyone knows and cares about each other. Shops – like the butcher shop – are run by generations of families and food is prepared with love. It’s the exact type of perspective many of us need when we’re all too consumed by the daily lifecycle of stress and ambition.
One particularly unique place to stop and shop in Radda is Casa Porciatti. If you’re a charcuterie lover, this is heaven. Ask the man himself – Porciatti, a local legend – to walk you through the endless array of salamis and sausages. Paired with the fresh-baked bread, wine and local olives, and you’re set for a picnic.