If you’re reading this section the cases are two: either you are wine connoisseurs looking for some fresh inspiration or, as a beginner, you want some inspiration on how to spend a weekend or how to find a holiday dedicated to searching for good Tuscan wine. In any case you are likely to know that Chianti is the most famous Tuscan wine. What you may not know is that this worldwide appreciated wine is not only made in the area between Florence and Siena, undoubtedly the core of its production, but also in the rolling hills of Pisa, namely the Pisa Hills Chianti DOCG.
Going from wine cellar to wine cellar looking for the above mentioned and other delicious wines, you will come across a number of towns and villages you can walk through to discover glimpses of hidden corners and works of art. Here are a few examples: San Miniato, San Casciana, Lajatico, Peccioli, Fauglia and Palaia. Whether you go by car, by bicycle or on foot, along the roads that lead you from one village to another, from a wine cellar to a wine bar, you will be surrounded by marvellous landscapes and views which, according to the season, overlook green meadows, bright fields of sunflowers and picturesque vineyards.
As you are most likely to know, to enjoy a good wine it is best to pair it with some local delicacy, which will lead you to discover that this area offers products of delightful exquisiteness: the extra virgin IGP olive oil from the Tuscan hills, which also has its own promoting committee which very poetically describes it as 'gold drops of oil'; the white truffle from the San Miniato hills, 'mallegato' (a cold cut) and pecorino cheese.
HILLS OF PISA WINE. So what type of wine is produced in the Pisa hills? It is actually more correct to speak in the plural form, since many different wines are produced in this area. Pisa Hills Chianti DOCG is a red wine made using a minimum of 70% of same grapes used to produce Sangiovese wine. The remainder is made from other varieties of vines cultivated in Tuscany, which are grown following precise procedural guidelines regulating quality and percentages. It is a bold red wine which pairs wonderfully with roast meat and tasty first course dishes. There is also the Pisa Hills DOCG Chianti riserva that must be aged for at least two years. But in these hills, when the summer weather matures the succulent grapes, Chianti is not the only wine made: make a visit to any of the wineries dotted around the area, all pointed out by signs along the roads and taste the DOC Terre di Pisa Rosso and the Terre di Pisa DOC Sangiovese. Do you prefer white wine? Then try the Bianco Pisano di San Torpè, wine produced by a vine called ‘Trebbiano Toscano’ and by other white grape varieties: it is a youthful and fresh wine, best combined with appetizers and fish plates. Its name has a curious derivation: it comes from San Terpezio, a Christian soldier at the time of the emperor Nero, who was beheaded and subsequently became a martyr. Once deceased, he was placed on a boat with a dog and a hen and apparently, after drifting for a long time, the boat arrived at a place that owes its name to the saint, despite having been slightly altered: Saint Tropez!
PISA HILLS WINE ITINERARIES: Now that we know what to look for, let’s find out where and how to achieve our mission! The Pisan hills are a large area which spreads between Pontedera and Volterra. This is a strategic geographic location because in no time you can reach Florence or Pisa. What’s more, if during the summer season you feel like taking a bath in the sea, Pisa’s costal area is not far off: Tirrenia, Calafuria and Rosignano are just an hour’s car journey away. Two other enchanting villages are within easy reach: Montescudaio and Volterra.
A renowned consortium was founded in the Pisa Hills wine area, namely the ‘Wine Route of the Pisan Hills’ which aims to promote and highlight wine culture, high quality products of the area and to encourage a more responsible tourism with a care to detail, not the standard hit-and-run holiday style. Smooth hills wind round this area, conferring a sense of peace to the atmosphere and transmitting a peaceful feeling to all visitors as their gaze glides over the sensational landscape… Absorb this area’s gentle and relaxed vibe and take it easy! Taste wine sitting at a table outdoors, even in winter since temperatures here are always rather mild. Satisfy your curiosity and ask the wine, olive oil and cheese producers you meet questions: each of these products has a story that is worth being heard. Stroll through the villages and discover all the works of art they hide. I bet you already feel like setting off! What are you waiting for?
Classic itineraries follow three different lines and touch the main parts of the area:
- the first one sets off from San Miniato, goes towards Palaia, La Rotta and ends in Peccioli
- The second one starts from Lajatico and passes through Terricciola to reach Lari
- the third one sets off from Crespina and continues towards Fauglia, Lorenzana, Cascina Terme and Chianni San Miniato.
SAN MINIATO is a characteristic town, almost a city to tell the truth, located halfway between Florence (42 km) and Pisa (41 km). Its historic centre is full of buildings which mark an important past. German emperors, popes, the grand dukes of Tuscany and even Napoleon Bonaparte walked along its streets! Let’s start our tour from the highest point, ‘Frederick Fortress', built in 962, where Frederick Barbarossa built a characteristic clock tower. Make sure you go all the way to the top to enjoy an unforgettable view over San Miniato and a large part of northern Tuscany. From the Fortress, a very short walk along Via della Rimembranza will lead you to the Cathedral built around 1220-1250. It is in Piazza Duomo and its facade is made of ceramic decorations resembling the arrangement of the Ursa Major constellation. Going in the opposite direction of Via della Rimembranza you will reach the Convent of St. Francis where the saint himself once stayed, since he lived in the nearby convent of Santa Gouda. The Church of St. Stephen and St. Michael, worth a visit, is also not too far off. Now, from sacred let’s switch our subject matter to profane! A good idea is to look for a restaurant and try two traditional products: the renowned San Miniato white truffle, first of all. If you happen to be in the area around October 20th, do not miss the truffle and penny bun mushroom festival'. Another typical product is 'mallegato', a 'slow food' produce: a sausage made with pork rind and head in addition to fried larderelli, pork blood and spices.
PALAIA (Pisa). Palaia’s fortress dates back to the twelfth century. Make your way to the fortress following the typically serpentine streets and you will be rewarded with a view that extends from Valdera to Apuane. Also visit the Church of San Martino and the Church of St. Andrew, rich in works of art. A number of small towns under the municipality of Palaia are also worth visiting: Toiano, village enlisted by FAI, San Gervasio with a 700s castle and the 'Museum of rural civilization', Villa Salletta where Virzi's and the Taviani brothers’ films were shot. A great medieval festival takes place in Palaia every year on the third Sunday of September... Another unmissable event!
PECCIOLI. When admiring the horizon over Peccioli, the Church of San Verano bell tower definitely stands out. There are so many wine cellars in this village that you would end up finding one even without having to follow the signs! There is an interesting museum in the Praetorian Palace, the ‘Russian Icon museum'. If you have kids you cannot skip the dinosaur park: the Peccioli prehistoric park with life-size reconstructions of dinosaurs. You’ll have to drag them away!
LAJATICO. I'm sure almost all of you know Andrea Bocelli is from Lajatico in Tuscany! This small village in the province of Pisa was indeed where the famous tenor was born. And here there is also the 'Theatre of Silence', home to only one concert a year (in July) with a different theme every year: on that occasion, Andrea Bocelli invites leading figures in the music and international showbiz fields to perform with him. The Theatre of Silence in Lajatico is a natural amphitheatre with no stage or parterre for the rest of the year, hence the term 'silence'. Lajatico is a small village situated on a hill on the left side of the river Era. What to see? The Church of St. Leonard dating back to the eleventh century, then make your way to the Pietraccassaia Rocca, roughly a 40 minute walk away, and also visit the Medici Villa in Spedaletto.
TERRICCIOLA (Pisa). Terricciola is called the city of wine for the numerous events organized in honour of the beverage that was produced even by Etruscans: the first Saturday of July holds the 'Notte Bianca', the second Saturday of August the ‘Calici di stelle’ (literally the ‘glasses of stars’) and the last weekend of September, at the time of grape harvest, holds the now famous 'grape and wine festival'. What to visit? The Madonna Sanctuary in Monterosso, the Camaldolese Abbey in Morrona, Villa Gherardi del Testa, Villa Cempini Meazzuoli.
THE VILLAGE OF LARI is characterized by the imposing Palazzo dei Vicari, whose original structure dates back to the Middle Ages even though it was subsequently altered during the seventeenth century. After being home to various public institutions, it was re-opened to the public in 1991 and now houses the 'Museum of Filippo Balducci' where you can find archaeological finds, crockery and frescoes. Not to be missed at the end of May in Lari is the Lari cherries festival! Go for a walk in the tiny surrounding villages: Casciana Alta, Usigliano, Cevoli.
FAUGLIA (Pisa). A small town of medieval origins, as can be seen from the buildings, Fauglia reached its maximum splendour between the 1600s and the 1800s. I recommend a visit to the Church of San Lorenzo, the town hall and the bell tower of the Chiesa Vecchia. The surrounding area is scattered with villas which were once inhabited by artists and literates. Liberty Villa Trovarsi, for example, tells a romantic story of times gone by. Its name comes from a play by Luigi Pirandello: it seems that the owner, Lady Marta Abba, was the inspiring muse. Also interesting to visit is the museum dedicated to the post-Macchiaioli artist Giorgio Kienerk who, using a typically Veristic technique, the chiaroscuro effect, immortalized the beautiful surrounding landscapes.
LORENZANA owes its name to the Lorenzi Counts of Florence and is currently under the same municipality as Crespina. Alongside the monuments worthy of note – namely Church of San Bartolomeo, Villa Fattoria dei Conti Giuli -what distinguishes Lorenzana is its postcard landscapes. Crespina is a prominent horticultural centre which specialises in vine cultivation, so much so that it holds the ‘Festival of wine and horticulture'. Another curiosity: owls are bred here and in the centre of the village there is a bronze statue dedicated to the nocturne volatile.
CASCIANA TERME. If you came to this area to relax and you haven’t seen enough landscapes, nor tasted quite as much genuine food and good wine as you wished to, your last option is still available: the Casciana terme Lari thermal baths! The water properties, already known to the Etruscans, flow at 37.5 degrees Celsius, making it ideal for skin care and for the cure of diseases such as arthritis and rheumatism. Once you have enjoyed relaxing, I suggest visiting the villages of Sant'Ermo, Parlascio, Ceppato and Collemontanino. All you have to do now is start your journey!
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