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Top Things to Do

Tiny Volpaia makes a quiet and timeless base that is hard to leave, despite the limited range of obvious activities on tap. The hamlet lies just off the Chiantigiana, the Chianti Way wine route, so is well-placed for forays to neighbouring Chianti bastions, such as Radda and Castellina. If you are a culture-lover, also consider day trips to San Gimignano, Siena and Florence, all within reach.

This is just a taster to the Chianti. See our specific guides to top Chianti outposts, all accessed through our Destinations listings, For starters, check out our guides to Greve, Panzano, Castellina, Radda and Castelnuovo Beradenga. Our additional Chianti guides cover Castagnoli, San Gusme, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliagli.

Top Things to Do

Visit Castello di Volpaia

Castello di Volpaia is far more than a winery: it’s the hub of a sustainable community. Its success shows that medieval villages can be saved and repurposed for modern living. It’s done almost invisibly, without sacrificing the soul of the village or even its surface sheen of antiquity. Nor has the village sold out to outsiders: the locals are in charge, even if tourism sustains their way of life. The Castello di Volpaia’s owners, Carlo and Giovannella Stianti Mascheroni, own about two-thirds of the village, not just the winery. Theirs is a long-term project, to keep this medieval hamlet alive for future generations. To this end, most of the estate workers have been housed within the village walls. Given its agricultural lands, the village is virtually self-sufficient. This is a sustainable community at its best.

Volpaia was founded in 1172, with its redoubtable castle acting as a defensive outpost for the Florentine Republic against Siena. Today, this battered castle acts as the hub of a successful wine estate that has saved the village from ruin. Medieval buildings, deconsecrated churches and underground passages have been quietly converted into high-tech wine cellars or olive oil mills, with bottling plants and olive presses. Parts are connected by ingenious underground tunnels. An underground labyrinth of steel pipes runs below the village. Known as a wine-duct, this maze of pipes allows the wine to move by means of gravity from higher to lower parts of the village.

The Castello di Volpaia cellars start from a sacristy and end up in cellars below churches which are now given over to wine-making. Plan ahead and book a tour and tasting with Castello di Volpaia for a behind-the-scenes experience. The wine-tasting shop is housed in what was once the main tower of the ancient castle. The barrels of wine are aged in cellars beneath ancient village buildings, such as the churches of San Lorenzo and the Commenda di Sant’Eufrosino. After bottling in a high-tech plant, the precious wine continues to age in the bottle in the dark, cool cellars below Palazzo Canigiani.

All this would be nothing if the wines themselves didn’t deliver. The estate’s standard Chianti Classic Riserva is elegant, with aromas of black cherry, tobacco and leather. Instead, Coltassala is a pricey Chianti Classico Riserva of great complexity which some have likened to a Super Tuscan. Enraptured reviewers talk of “aromas of salami, fennel bulb, peppercorns and wildflowers.” The estate also produces an entry-level Chianti Classico, made with ten percent Merlot, which is lightly tannic but not overly oaky. Finally, there is also a smooth Super Tuscan blend called Balifico that boosts the portion of Cabernet Sauvignon. Book a visit to the olive press and wine cellars, with a tasting of Volpaia wines and olive oil along with a sampling of local produce. Castello di Volpaia honey, speciality vinegars and Extra Virgin Olive Oil are also on sale. Cellar visits are usually conducted at 11.30am, 3pm and 5pm but it’s best to check directly.

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Creative dining in L’Osteria Volpaia

Volpaia is lucky enough to boast several decent inns, both on the main square, and both serving traditional Tuscan home cooking. Instead, L’Osteria Volpaia seeks to surprise rather than to soothe. This is a games-playing gourmet restaurant that aims to deconstruct Tuscan staples. Even so, this gastro-inn is not so much faddish or whimsical as seeking to reconfigure Tuscan ingredients in tantalising new ways. The creative cooking relies upon the freshest local ingredients, often from the estate’s kitchen gardens or vineyards, all owned by the same local landlords. The family owners are fully committed to sustainable practice and follow this through in both the restaurant and wine estate.   

This gastro inn reinterprets Tuscan produce in novel ways. In the cannellini bean ravioli with saffron and sour cream, a typical Tuscan side dish of white cannellini beans is transformed into a puré in a saffron sauce marbled with sour cream. The chef’s tribute to Tuscan ribollita soup becomes a mix of black cabbage and ricotta balls served with local finocchiona salami made with fennel seeds. Other dishes include a wild boar and olive risotto and, for dessert, cantucci mousse, goat’s cheese ice cream and Vin Santo coffee caramel. L’Osteria naturally serves organic wines from Castello di Volpaia. Prices are fairly high but reasonable, given the sheer inventiveness and the quality of the ingredients.

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Vignamaggio – Renaissance villa estate and gardens

Vignamaggio, a magnificent Renaissance villa estate, is linked to great art. Set north of Volpaia, the wine estate is delightful enough to have starred as a film set, based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The romantic villa lords over its Italianate gardens and vine-clad hills. The serene landscape supposedly inspired Leonardo da Vinci. The castle was remodelled as a patrician villa in the 14th century and belonged to the Florentine Gherardini family. Monna Lisa Gheradini, better-known as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, married into this family in the 14th century.  The villa boasts a crenellated tower, 16th-century corbelled arches and courtyard, with the top of the tower remodelled in Neo-Gothic style.

Centred on the lovely Renaissance villa, this tenuta is an established 65-hectare wine estate, and one of the oldest in Tuscany, dating back to 1404. The award-winning wines range from Chianti Classico and trendy Super Tuscans to a fresh Rosé, a Cabernet Franc, Vin Santo and grappa. Orchards, herb gardens, wheat-fields and thirty hectares of olive groves reflect the estate’s commitment to biodiversity. The villa grounds showcase Italianate, Renaissance-style gardens, complete with cypresses, clipped box parterres and rose-draped statuary. French owner and architect Patrice Taravella has recently spruced up the grounds, adding orchards, classical pool fountains and pergolas.

Vignamaggio now offers garden and cellar tours, as well as a free wine-tasting. The farm-to-table Ristorante Monna Lisa means much of the produce comes from the surrounding organic estate. Wine-pairing lunches are on offer, as are guided tours of the estate, ending in a sunset dinner. The seasonal menu celebrates Tuscan produce, from vegetable platters drizzled in home-produced olive oil to pasta with pistachio and garden-mint pesto. The pork and cured meats come from the estate's happy herd of cinta senese pigs.

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Easy e-bike rides through the Chianti

This is cycling country so make the most of it, even if you are not a fitness fiend on a racing bike. The reason the Chianti is so scenic is because it's so hilly. If you lack thighs of steel or the desire to face steepish ascents, then consider an e-bike. Based in Gaiole, south of Volpaia, Tuscany E-bike Rental run guided or self-guided e-bike tours in the Chianti area. These power-assisted bicycles are easy to use, even for first-timers. On downhill slopes, they work like a conventional bicycle but on long, flat runs or if you’re going uphill, the electric motor cuts in and provides the help you need to reach your destination without breaking into a sweat. The e-bikes can be rented for as little as an hour or as long as a week.

One typical guided route from Gaiole could take in the rolling hills of the Chianti, the Castello di Brolio and distant views of Siena. All this including a light lunch and simple wine-tasting on an atmospheric estate. This particular tour is a three-hour, 46 km affair reaching an altitude of 518 metres. There are plenty of easier or more challenging routes that can be suggested.

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Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm

If you’ve got young children in tow or are simply tired of wine estates, then visit a quirky Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm, north-west of Gaiole. Run by American-born Nora Kravis, this long-established cashmere farm goes from strength to strength. It’s fun but also represents sustainable farming at its best. Founder Nora Kravis left New York’s Long Island for Italy long ago and never looked back. She knows all the shepherds, herders, growers and weavers and cares for her goats as if they were family. At this stone farmhouse with a view, the kids can hold, pet and bottle-feed the kid goats. The goats are guarded by fluffy white Abruzzo shepherd dogs who act as guard dogs to keep any wolf pack at bay.

After getting your fill of cute goats and puppies, turn your attention to the cashmere itself. In colour, the superior cashmere goats are shades of cream, hazelnut, brown, grey and charcoal so the yarn can be used undyed in its original shade. Cashmere is the fine, fluffy, downy undercoat produced by a cashmere goat and is apparently ten times lighter and warmer than wool. Knitters can choose some lovely fibres and sustainable cashmere yarn. You can also buy home textiles hand-made in Tuscany as well as hand-woven, scarves, shawls, throws, hats, socks and baby blankets.

If you’re won over, the farm can organize spinning, weaving, knitting or embroidery classes with local Italian artisans who already work with them. Best of all, there’s the new `be a shepherd for the day’ experience. This is fun for all the family, with full-immersion in the life of a cashmere goat shepherd. Guests get to accompany a herd of goats through the fields and woods surrounding the farm, stopping for a wine-tasting at a neighbouring farm, and coming back to the cashmere farm for a lavish farm lunch. The farm and gift shop are open in the afternoon from Easter to October.

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Indulge in a meat fest in Panzano

Panzano, west of Volpaia, is the place to indulge in a passion for Tuscan meat, including Florentine T-bone steak. Panzano is the meaty preserve of Dario Cecchini, a cleverly eccentric celebrity butcher with a mini empire in these parts. No one can wield a bloody meat cleaver better, still less while reciting Dante. Part butcher, part showman, Dario keeps his audience entertained as well as over-fed.

With several restaurants in town, all clustered round his famous butcher’s, Cecchini is still doing a brisk trade. The restaurants are fairly priced so there’s no sense of being caught in a tourist trap. The winning format appeals to most visitors, as does the conviviality and showbiz side.

T-bone steak predominates, at least in one restaurant. For any beef-loving Tuscan, bistecca alla fiorentina – a huge, tender T-bone steak, grilled over an open fire and seasoned with nothing more than crushed pepper¬corns, salt, and a hint of garlic and olive oil, served very rare – is the ultimate steak. Bear in mind that all is not bleak for vegetarians: there are strong meat-free menus for those of a more squeamish disposition. Basic wine is included in the price but you can also bring your own.
See our Panzano Eating & Drinking guide for full suggestions.

To work up an appetite, walk to the Pieve di San Leonino, Panzano’s loveliest church, set on a hilltop just outside the village. Inside the Romanesque pieve are precious artworks, including della Robbia terracotta tabernacles and a medieval triptych of the Virgin and Child.

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