Greve (GRE-VAY) is the first large town you reach when heading south from Florence on one of the world’s most beautiful and famous roads, the Via Chiantigiana (SR222). The town is ancient, settled before the Etruscans and later dominated by the Romans.
You’ll quickly notice that Greve is a working town: While tourists are welcome and economically important, there is a strong underlying agricultural economy based on food (meat, cheese, produce, olive oil, truffles) and wine production. The local wines are quite well known in the U.S. Reasonably priced Chianti Classico wines from Greve available at home include Verrazzano, Querceto, and Gabbiano. (By the way, the Verrazzano name is local – North American explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was born in Greve in 1485.) Three of our local favorites that are harder to find, but worth looking for when back in the U.S., are Nozzole, Vignamaggio and Lamole di Lamole. You might also consider bringing home some olive oil from these last two producers as well – they’re excellent!
The best way to get a feel for Greve is by spending time in the Piazza Matteotti. (I can’t call it the town square, because it’s actually a triangle – take a look!) If it’s early in the day, you can probably park right in the piazza. Otherwise, there is plenty of parking just outside, including a good-sized lot just down the street.
Here are our primary Piazza hangouts, and other attractions located here:
- Caffè Lepanto – Locals are downing espressi e cappuccini inside (lower prices), tourists are eating bruschetta and sipping prosecco outside (higher prices). Grab a coffee, pastry, and newspaper in the morning. In the afternoon, you can get gelato for the kids – but it’s not made here. Note: You may be able to buy bus tickets for Florence here.
- La Bottega Del Pane – A real bakery, with long lines of locals snaking out the door first thing in the morning. Great bread and pastries. Try the lemon filled cornetti.
Antica Macelleria Falorni – A world class butcher and cheese shop that put Greve on the tourist map. They produce their own salumi and sausage from local cinghiale (wild boar), sell fresh local cheeses, and stock goodies such as prosciutto di Parma and high quality balsamic vinegars from Modena. Grab lots of samples (fresh pecorino from local sheep) and vacuum packs for travel. (Ask what’s legal to bring into the U.S. Many Italian meats are cured, not cooked, and can’t be imported here.) It’s a foodie and gourmet heaven!
- Albergo Ristorante “Giovanni da Verrazzano” – After a full week of adventuring, our three kids all wanted to eat something simple and familiar. We laughed when we saw french fries on the menu here. The kids ordered and we ate. And ate. And ordered another serving – maybe the freshest, best damn frittes in the world. Walk into the hotel, head upstairs and sit on the covered veranda overlooking the Piazza.
- Market Day – Virtually every decent size town has a market day: Booths, tents, stands, and trucks. Fresh produce, meats & cheeses. Clothing, Shoes. Flowers. Housewares. You name it. It’s where the locals have shopped for hundreds of years. Every Saturday morning.
- Chianti Classico Wine Festival – You buy a a wine glass for around €12 and then sample all you want from the local producers! Second weekend of September and the Thursday & Friday just before it. Open 5-8pm on Thursday & Friday, 11am-8pm on Saturday & Sunday. (If you miss this one, maybe you can catch the similar Vino al Vino Wine Festival the following week in nearby Panzano.)
- Flower Festival – Beautiful to see if you’re already in the area. First weekend after May 1.
City Park – It’s not in the Piazza, but just down the street on the way toward Florence. Travel down the main road (SR222) and turn left just past the Esso gas station onto Via Linao Fasettacci. You’ll find a leafy park with swings, benches, a sandbox, and other play equipment. The local kids quickly took Noah under their wings – he’s the little guy on the right.
Also, if you decide to take the ride up to Montefioralle, Rignana and/or Badia a Passignano (see Restaurants and Related Attractions below), you will be going right past the park and up the very steep hill.
Wine Tours and Accommodations:
- Wine tour & lunch at Castello di Verrazzano – This is one big, beautiful estate. Both the wine and food are worth the trip. (Book the tour here.)
- Wine tour at Castello di Gabbiano – Another large and well known castle and estate, with a good wine tour and lovely guestrooms, which you can book here.
- Wine tour & dinner at Villa Vignamaggio (plus hotel, spa & gardens) – A great tour, loved by all, especially Noah, who was fascinated by how they turn grapes into wine.
We stayed here for Bob’s 60th birthday and absolutely loved it! Rooms are airy and spacious, many with excellent views. (The photo on the right was from our room.) Breakfast is included and very Tuscan with meats, cheeses, breads, and eggs made to order. (You can book rooms here.)
The gardens and pools are very enjoyable and relaxing, as well. Besides their wines, Vignamaggio olive oil is also excellent. Both are available at meals and for purchase in the lobby.
My favorite activity was the Lavender Therapy package at the spa, which included a special face and body scrub with lavender oil and flowers.
One final note: The hotel will not deny that the Mona Lisa was born here, which in fact, she wasn’t. However, there is documentation indicating her family once owned the estate, and that she was a visitor.
The Villa can also arrange horseback rides through their vineyards. Novices and expert riders will have a great time – we all did! (You don’t need to stay here to ride. Contact the riding team at Poggio Asciutto.)
Nearby Restaurants and Related Attractions
- Ristoro di Lamole – This is our favorite restaurant in Tuscany. The food is world class, with wonderful service, warm breezes, and two very friendly, accommodating owners, Filippo and Paolo. It is the top-rated restaurant in Greve (out of 83) on TripAdvisor. Call for reservations: +39 055 854 7050. Open lunch 12:30 -2:30 pm and dinner 7:00-10:00 pm. (Check on TripAdvisor for their shorter late winter hours and early winter closings.)
They’re great with kids – that’s Noah when he was a baby with our server, Vera. In fact, a few years later we went for Sunday lunch without a reservation. Filippo came over to the car to let us know they were full. He sort of recognized Bob and me, but upon looking in the back seat of the car exclaimed “Noah!” and found us a table.
Note: The restaurant is in the tiny town of Lamole, about half an hour from Greve and 15 minutes from Villa Vignamaggio. The road is very narrow, windy, and steep – drive carefully and keep the road in mind when you’re enjoying the excellent local Chianti Classico – Lamole di Lamole. Watch out for cinghiale (wild boar) crossing the road – Bob almost hit one!
- High up on the hill overlooking Greve is the village of Montefioralle. The town carries on the local tradition of North American exploration, as it is sometimes claimed that Amerigo Vespucci was born here. It’s a very steep drive up from Greve, and you’ll learn how to downshift and double clutch if you’re driving a manual transmission.
It’s worth the trip, as the village is well preserved and quite pretty. Park outside the walls and walk the circular main street. Tell the kids to look for a doorway identified by the wasp (vespa) and V of the Vespucci family – they can tell their social studies teacher when they get home and probably get some extra credit!
A few doors down from the Vespucci door is the Taverna del Guerrino. It’s a great place for lunch, serving one of my favorites, ribolita, as well as Bob’s favorite, cinghiale (wild boar). They have a very good wine list, with beautiful vineyard views. Best for a peaceful, even romantic, lunch. Call for hours: +39 055 202 9821.
For a slightly less formal lunch, especially with kids, walk across the street from the parking lot to Ristorante la Castellana. It’s excellent typical Tuscan cuisine, with specialties including fresh pasta, beef, and cinghiale.
We’ll never forget walking into a full restaurant and having one of the just-off-the-clock waiters get up from his not-yet-touched pasta, and offer the table to us and his lunch to Noah. Grazie mille, signor! Ristorante la Castellana is rated #2 on TripAdvisor, just behind Ristoro di Lamole. Call for hours and reservations: +039 055 853 134.
If you keep driving past Montefioralle and are willing to traverse windy, dusty, bumpy dirt roads looking for signs to Rignana, you’ll eventually come to a group of farmhouses and barns. Tucked behind them is La Cantinetta di Rignana. We found it by sheer luck while looking for someplace new to lunch, and then came back for dinner.
The restaurant is filled with Italian families drinking Tuscan wines and eating typical Tuscan cuisine – especially beef (HUGE servings), pasta, truffles, and porcini mushrooms. Consider sharing main courses, as they are quite generous, even by American standards. The outdoor setting is breathtaking during the day, and can be quite romantic in the evening It’s rated #5 out of 83 in Greve on TripAdvisor. Closed Tuesday. Call for hours and reservations: +39 055 852601.
- On your way to Rignana, you’ll soon come to the Montefioralle winery. The Sieni family would be happy to give you a tour and set up a wine tasting. Contact them well in advance of your trip. They’re available every day from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.
- If you’re ready for a truly Michelin stellar dining experience, keep going even further past Montefioralle and follow the signs to Tavernelle Val di Pesa. As you approach the commune, you’ll come upon one of Tuscany’s first abbeys – Badia a Passignano (built prior to 1049) – peaking through the trees (photo below).
Bob took this photo on our first visit. We were still feeling adventurous after visiting Montefioralle and kept driving, through a brief rain shower. As the sun reappeared and the trees thinned, we caught this unexpected glimpse of the abbey. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)
Next door to the abbey is the Osteria di Passignano, a Michelin-star restaurant owned by the Antinori family. The food and wine are outstanding, featuring many Antinori wines. Try the very local Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico – you can walk up to some of their vineyards just across the street.
The beef florentine is amazing, and Bob loved the Risotto a Piccione (Pigeon Risotto)! Closed Sunday. Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. Make reservations by calling +39 055.807.1278 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Wine tours and cooking classes are also available.
Note: Dress is at least business casual. Meals are expensive.
Bob’s college roommate, John, just spent a few weeks in Greve with his family. He’s a painter, and captured this stunning scene from the veranda of the villa in which they stayed. (Click to enlarge.)
Masthead photo: Farmhouse Near Greve (Bob)