Last summer celebrating a friend's birthday, a group of us collaborated on where to have this celebration. We like wine. We like good food. We enjoy friendly people. The dart landed on Italy with stops in Rome, small towns of Chianti and Tuscany, Florence and Fiesole. I've been to Italy many times, but never the Chianti region. We all know the image of the straw encased bottles with it's black rooster seal, but this area offers much more than your average table wine.
Most international travelers will arrive into FCO, the major airport in Rome. We arrived late in the afternoon with enough time to check into our lovely 4 star hotel Hotel Romanico Palace and step outside in the warm summer night to stretch our legs. Our hotel was a 5-10 minute walk from the majestic Trevi Fountain, vast Borghese Gardens, the ancient Pantheon, and stunning Piazza Navona. Ready for a welcome cocktail? Make a stop by the famous Harry's Bar for a refreshing aperol spritz. You can stumble into so many options for fabulous food your first night, including Roman style pizza at Pizzeria San Marco, but for a gastronomic experience, try the not-so-stuffy 3 michelin starred La Pergola
If you plan to rent a car from Rome to explore Italy, I recommend renting from the Rome Termini Train Station as it's right in town and you won't have to head back to the airport. Once we picked up our car, we headed Northeast towards our villa in Radda, with stops in Orvieto - a gorgeous hilltop town worth a stop right off the freeway. Orvieto sits 1,000 feet above the valley floor on top of a bed of tufo, a type of rock made of volcanic ash. Here you'll discover a uniquely designed cathedral, Classico wine and ceramics.
Nestled perfectly between Florence and Sienna is the town of Castellina. Visit its cobbled streets, and if you're looking for an adventure below ground, check out the Etruscan Tombs; one of the most notable archeological discoveries in the Chiani region dating back to the 6th century. When it came to food, we consulted with a sommelier friend of ours who suggested Sotto Le Volte Restaurant and Wine Bar. We sat under the ancient stone vaulted arches and tunnel escaping the summer heat for several hours savoring every bite and every sip.
Recommended by the respectable Wine Enthusiast and other wine resources, Casa Emma, offers a lunch and wine pairing out on their terrace that commands a view over their vineyard. Another recommend is to stop by the small family-run winery in the medieval village of Montefioralle, near Greve called Azienda Agricola Montefioralle where you'll get a personal and intimate tour of their cellar.
While touring this region, Greve is not to be missed and is the host of a Saturday morning market centered on Piazza Matteotti, the town's main piazza. Antica Macelleria Falorni has been selling local meats here since the 18th century.
Chianti's charms are delightful, but we took a detour to the city of Firenze for a day to tour the sites, shop along the historic and famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, and dine with our preferred hotel partner in Fiesole, the 5 star and not to be missed Belmond Villa San Michele. Here we officially celebrated that birthday with a 4 hour gastronomic lunch, impeccable service and a divine chocolate cake too large to finish.