It’s a short drive from Radda to Gaiole. The ride starts to get hilly, as there’s a much more rolling landscape here than in central Chianti. Drive slowly and spend the 15-20 minutes looking at the countryside. Watch out for the bicyclists!
As in Radda, the value of being in Gaiole has more to do with where it is than what it is. The town is charming and the people who live here are friendly and grateful for your business. But from a visitor’s perspective, the beauty of the surrounding areas is the real draw.
As already noted, the scenery is spectacular. Bob’s photo up top was taken from behind Brolio Castle. This area of vineyards, rolling hills, ancient hamlets, and morning mists is a photographer’s dream come true.
What to do:
No place in Chianti compares to Gaiole for its historical structures and wine making history. In fact, Baron Bettino Ricasoli created the original Chianti recipe here, at Castello di Brolio, in 1872.
The three structures listed below shared common ownership early in their histories, some thousand years ago. All produce excellent Chianti Classico and related wines, as well as high quality olive oils.
- Badia a Coltibuono
– Translated as Abbey of the Good Harvest, the badia dates from the middle of the eleventh century. In 1051 the monks of the Vallombrosan Order, a Tuscan reform of the Benedictines, founded the Abbey and began planting the first vineyards in the Upper Chianti area.
The abbey today provides a number of functions. It’s an agriturismo with outdoor pool. There is also an excellent restaurant with a garden terrace, tours of the abbey, wine tastings and cooking courses. The wines are good, but the real standout is their olive oil. You can try and buy it, along with their wines, at the shop located when you drive into the complex.
- Castello di Brolio – Located on top of an isolated hill a few kilometers from Gaiole, the castle has been the property of the Ricasoli family since 1141. The Ricasolis were one branch of the Firidolfi family, which owned other local castles including the Castello di Meleto described below.
The only word that describes this castle is magnificent. The building, chapel and grounds are beautiful, and the scenery is Tuscany at its finest. (The photo at the top of this post was taken from the rear wall above the gardens. The close-by shot was taken from the same location, looking right.)
Besides simply walking the ground, there are lots of available activities at Brolio, including guided tours, picnics, cooking demonstrations, a well known restaurant, and on-estate lodging. (When viewing web pages, keep in mind that the Barone Ricasoli and Brolio names are used interchangeably.
- Castello di Meleto – The castle was first documented in the 11th Century as a possession of the monks of the nearby Badia a Coltibuono. It was entrusted to the di Meleto branch of the local Firidolfi family who were already in possession of several other area castles, including Brolio.
Tours run all day, and their shop is open all day as well. Learn more:
Wine and Art
- Castello di Ama – When it comes to highly regarded, quality wines from Chianti, Castello di Ama tops the list. Scoring a bottle of their legendary Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines is among Bob’s favorite past times. From a non-Chianti perspective, their L’Apparita merlot has a cult following, and rivals better known Bolgheri Super Tuscans like Sassicaia or Ornellaia.
For the past 15 years, the owners have been inviting some of the world’s most influential artists to the winery, to create legacy projects. These installations are built on-site and spread throughout the land and among various buildings in the village. You can read more about the contemporary artists program from the website, and also in this recent CNN writeup.
The wine, food, art, restaurant, and lodgings all receive exceptional reviews. It’s worth the trip off the beaten path for a visit!
Masthead photo: View from Brolio (Bob)