Ever wondered what it would be like to be transported to a place without fast traffic, Internet, incessantly ringing phones and the mad rush of life? A visit to the scenic Chianti region in Tuscany, Italy, could be the answer, as I discovered on my way to Rome.
Chianti is known the world over for its beautiful landscape and excellent wines. Every 2-3km, you will find olive oil and wine producing units where you can have a delightful wine-tasting while enjoying charming views of the Tuscan hills.
The Chianti region extends over the towns and provinces of Florence and Siena with green, gentle hills covered with vineyards and olive groves as far as the eye can see, small villages, parishes and quaint ancient homes in stone.
Landing in Florence, my husband and I took a taxi to Romitorio di Serelle, which is located in the heart of Chianti on a panoramic road that links the small towns of Poggibonsi and Castellina. The resort is a 12th century farmhouse that has been restored, preserving its original character using traditional materials of rural architecture prevalent in Chianti. Ours was a charming cottage overlooking vineyards and olive groves.
After a short nap, we decided to cycle down to Pestello, the only restaurant in the vicinity, but had to abandon the ride after a short distance as the uphill climb and long distance was too taxing for us city folks.
Not sure of the way, we wheeled the bikes to the first wine factory we saw and accosted the owner and his son for a ride to the restaurant. They only spoke a few words of English, and may have suspected us to be robbers or car-jackers.
After a sumptuous lunch of ravioli, fettuccine and some melt-in-the-mouth affogato, how were we to get back to the resort, more so because we had conveniently abandoned our bicycles at the wine factory?
In situations like these, you are surprised by the kindness of strangers when you least expect it. Maria Pia, the chef and the restaurant's co-owner, offered us a ride back. She also borrowed her brother’s SUV to accommodate the mountain bikes. When we thanked her – very profusely - she simply shrugged, “I try to help when I can,” with a smile.
The beauty of the Chianti area lies in the fact that it is amazingly quiet and peaceful, and you need to find ways to occupy yourself, or do nothing. I preferred the latter, and spent the rest of the day hanging around the farmhouse, soaking in the natural beauty of the place.
A lot of entertainment at Romitorio comes from two mischievous cats, Carmelina and Birba, who clamour for attention from guests and entry into their cottages when it rains. Dotto, a friendly retriever, is quite popular with children.
Tuscany is known for its distinctive cuisine, with recipes passed down centuries from generation to generation. For dinner, we chose to stay at the resort and Roberto, our friendly host, served a huge three-course dinner of antipasti (appetisers), pasta and a main course of fish and potatoes followed by dessert. After the appetisers, I threw up my hands and had to turn down the second course.
The freshness and flavour of Tuscan dishes, although simple ones, were unlike anything I have tasted before. Or maybe it is just that one forgets the taste of fresh food after living in a country where much of the produce is from cold storage, or ready-to-eat. “Do all Italians eat so much?” I asked Roberto. “Only when we go out, otherwise it is usually simple fare,” he said.
There is so much to explore on the farm that stepping out of it is a challenge. The next day, however, we headed straight for a cookery class (see box) and on our return walked in the surrounding woods among lavender bushes and cypress trees to savour the serenity. The light drizzle added to the ethereal experience.
The cookery class itself was an energising experience which led me to naively contemplate moving to the countryside and adopting a simple farming lifestyle. The rest of the day passed by in a haze, exploring different possibilities.
The next day, heavy rain and clouds alternated with sunshine and we had to wait till noon before we could venture out. A lovely lunch, again at Pestello, awaited us – frittatini (omelette) with zucchini and cheese, fettuccine and grilled chicken. I chose the rabbit with rosemary.
The fritelle di riso (rice fritters) we had for dessert were fluffy and light, like nothing I have tasted before. Our new-found friend Maria Pia drove us back to Romitorio again. Sad as we said our good-byes, I invited her to Muscat for a visit.
Since it was our last day in Chianti, we hung around the property and savoured the beautiful views on offer for one last time. From Florence, we took the Frecciarossa, a high speed train, to Rome.
My only regret was not being able to explore Florence, which is one of Europe’s most interesting cultural centres. But that could be an excellent reason to return.