It’s a new year, a time of new hopes and dreams… and I’m dreaming of Chianti and the day we can return.
I’m dreaming of the day we can travel again safely, of the day we can share special places in Europe with our groups. I’m dreaming of meals shared around a big table with others, passing dishes, sitting shoulder to shoulder. I’m dreaming of reuniting with our friends in Europe, greeting each other with kisses. And I’m dreaming of the day I can open my bedroom window in France or Italy or England to fresh air and the sight of miles of glorious countryside.
That day is still in the future, the timing uncertain, but I know it’s coming. Meanwhile, until that day I can return to Europe, I stay positive by savoring and sharing my memories of places I love– and I hope I’m also inspiring others to also dream of future adventures.
Right now I’m dreaming of Chianti, that beautiful area of Tuscany that’s grown so close to my heart. My dreams of Chianti have been especially strong these last two weeks.
Last Monday I presented a special Virtual European Experience, an overview of our Chianti Experience week in Tuscany. In preparing for the program, I reviewed all the photos I’ve taken in Chianti over the past 15 years: our first day trips into the area in 2005; our research trip in 2010; the thirteen groups we hosted from 2011 to 2019; and my personal trip in November 2018. I traveled back in time with the help of more than 10,000 photos, enjoying the memories of the people, the places, and the experiences that continue to be so special to me.
Remembering Chianti… the first time
In May and June 2005 our family spent five weeks in Tuscany as part of our 14-month “Grand Tour” of Europe. We began with four nights in an apartment in Florence and then based for a month in a tiny village in the Crete Senesi, an area south of Siena. Tuscany is a big region (about 8,900 square miles), and we explored much of it during that month: Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, Cortona, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca, Volterra… and Chianti.
We headed to Chianti for the day early in our stay, taking the “wine road” from Siena into the Chianti hills. After the barren hills of the Crete Senesi, Chianti offered a different landscape… vineyards, olive trees, and forests. All three of us were captivated with the beauty of the Chianti countryside. Although we enjoyed everywhere we visited in Tuscany, we felt a special connection with Chianti.
That first day we stopped in Fonterutoli for a wine-tasting, Castellina (where we had lunch), the Etruscan tomb outside Castellina, and the beautiful main square in Greve… soaking in the views, the miles of vineyards and olive trees, and the picturesque villages. Later in our month, we returned to Chianti on two more day trips, including a hike around Radda on a very hot day.
Charley and I had started developing plans for a small-group tour company we wanted to call European Experiences just a few months before, initially focusing on Provence where we lived for six-and-a-half months earlier in our Grand Tour. We always planned to expand to offer trips in other areas we enjoyed. After our month in Tuscany, we knew we wanted to host a trip there… and we thought Chianti would be the perfect area to base for a week.
New Friends in Chianti
We hosted our first European Experiences trips in Provence beginning in September 2006. And finally in July 2010 Charley and I returned to Chianti for three weeks to research our Chianti Experience trip. The first week we stayed in hotels around the area, and then we rented an apartment in a castle on a hilltop above Greve for the last two weeks. During that time we met a young winemaker running his family’s farm, an enthusiastic cooking teacher just launching her own business, and a hard-working American woman who owned a cashmere goat farm. We had a wonderful dinner one night at a restaurant way up in the hills with spectacular views. And we formed a special friendship with the two sisters who owned the castle.
Ten years later we still remember those three weeks and the discoveries we made. We remember our first meeting with Francesco (the young winemaker), Stefania (the cooking teacher), Nora (the goat farm owner), and Filippo (the restaurant owner). And our friendship with Rita and Rosita (the two sisters with the castle) has continued and strengthened over those years. All these people we first met over 10 years ago are still involved with our groups.
We’ve expanded our circle to include other friends in Chianti: Francesco’s family (father Guiliano, mother Anna, wife Angela, and daughter Allegra); the passionate couple Arianna and Alessio (now my co-leaders for our trip); Guilietta and Anna, two special women who work with Stefania on the cooking classes; Janet and Stefano, who welcome us for a memorable meal at their home in the hills near Impruneta; Antonella, the super-fun guide who leads our walking tour in Siena; and Monica and her team at our lovely hotel in Castellina in Chianti where our trip is now based.
Most of these friends joined us for a special Sunday lunch in June 2019 to celebrate Charley’s retirement. We gathered at Ristoro di Lamole, Filippo’s wonderful restaurant, always a special place for our groups.
We’ve hosted 13 groups in Chianti over the past nine years, and our week there continues to evolve and improve. A big change happened in 2014 when we switched our base location from a hotel in the countryside outside Panzano to a lovely small hotel (a 15th century palazzo) in the historic wine town of Castellina in Chianti. With the help of Arianna and Alessio, we’ve also introduced new experiences that offer our travelers more personal connections with local people and traditions. We’re proud of the unique week we offer.
Dreaming of Chianti
As I prepared for my program last week, reminiscing through my thousands of photos, I identified three themes that seem to summarize what makes this area and our Chianti Experience week so special.
I love the the long views of the Chianti hills, the endless fields of vineyards and olive trees, the medieval architecture, the simplicity of the villages, the terracotta pots filled with flowers, the bright yellow ginestra along the dusty white roads, the colorful produce in the food markets. This area is spectacularly beautiful.
Warm and welcoming people
I love the genuine and friendly people, happy to meet strangers and extend hospitality, who communicate their spirit even when the language is not the same. It’s so easy to smile in Chianti when the people who welcome you enjoy life and are happy to meet you.
Wonderful food and wine
I love the multi-course meals of local seasonal produce and products, often simple food, prepared by people who offer hospitality through their food. But it’s not just the pasta, the meat, the vegetables, the wonderful Chianti wine… it’s the camaraderie around the table (or in the kitchen)… and the setting. It’s the experience!
Can you see why I’m dreaming of Chianti?
To learn more about the Chianti region of Tuscany and our Chianti Experience week in Tuscany, watch our recent Virtual European Experience, Getting to Know… The Chianti Experience.”
Enjoy other blog posts with stories and photos from Chianti:
We hope a Chianti Experience trip in June 2021 is still possible. We’ll decide in early March if we can go ahead with this trip. If you’re open to the possibility of travel then, we’d be happy to add your name to our list with no deposit required at this time.
We’ll announce our 2022 schedule by April 1 and will include two Chianti Experience trips in late May and June 2022.
And until we can return, we’ll keep on dreaming of Chianti…
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has personally organized and hosted over 150 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, the Cotswolds, and Normandy. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host The Cornwall Experience and our Christmas trips with Kathy every year.
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.