Apparently it is this Tuscan city that turns your average person into an art gallery loving freak… Yes I could see how that could happen but in our case it did not. The simple reason is we would much rather buy a couple of nice bottles of Chianti than pay 11€ each to see David’s wiener! Plus you can see the famed Michelangelo statue reproduced for free anyway.
Our 4-night Florence trip was definitely unforgettable and I can truly say that we passed the next stage in becoming bonified backpackers. Our hostel ‘Hotel Ester’ was literally 2 minutes from the station, which was awesome. The place was decent and extremely welcoming however by 11pm that night we we’re comparing it to all those evil things in the world, like 10€ audio-guides! The first sign was a dried blood smudge on the wall that grossed us out though we covered it up – out of sight out of mind. Next minute while we were watching a movie on the laptop, thankfully not sleeping yet, we noticed 3or 4 little bugs on Morgan’s pillow. After further investigation we came across more, one click on google and we knew we were up against the dreaded bed bugs in the flesh. Of course we told the receptionist ASAP who moved us to a small twin room where we bagged the clothes we were wearing straight away and had showers. Our new room seemed fairly safe however we didn’t take any chances and slept in our silk liners that night, which were also put in quarantine first thing the next morning. However I don’t think either of us really slept, we were literally scared of the bed bugs biting!
We weren’t happy campers at all and the next morning I was up early in the common room looking for a new hostel since the internet connection wasn’t working in our room. After a bit of huffing and puffing the staff member on duty gave us the option of still staying with them but at another premise across the road where we would have our own bathroom and the kitchen/common area was actually in the apartment and not 3 floors up like at our current one. Plus she said we could do our washing for free so we ended up deciding to stay there. The rest of the stay was drama free and we just hope the bed bugs don’t follow us, no bites yet so I think we are in the clear.
The next day after we had finished with our room swapping we embarked on Morgan’s Walking Tour of Florence. Thank goodness Morgan is a pro with maps because it means I can just wander along and relax 🙂
After a quick espresso at a local cafe we headed to the Fortezza da Basso. A grounded castle with a pretty cool moat around it. We followed the castle around which took us through the Piazza Della Indipendenza and onwards to the gallery which is the home to David. Like I said at the beginning we decided to not see him in exchange for a great little restaurant up the road a bit with the philosophy of ‘make food not war’. It was great we both opted for lunch menus; Morgan had a margarita pizza + large glass of red and I had the glass of red + salad + spaghetti bolognaise which all came to a total of 17 Euro, bargain!
After lunch we strolled around the Piazza Duomo with its magnificent cathedrals before heading through the shopping district. The shops are amazing in Florence; wine shops with every accessory under the sun, genuine leather bookshops, wooden toys and the most amazing chess sets I have ever seen. If only I had a money tree! We walked through a couple more piazzas before hitting the stunning Palazzo Vecchio, which is where you can find a ton of amazing statues including Neptune and the free fake David. The Neptune fountain was one of my favorites for sure. We then walked across the absolutely cute Ponte Vecchio bridge full of tiny little jewelry shops – again where is that money tree when you need it.
The other side of Florence once you cross the bridge is the Ponsonby side of the city where we treated ourselves to the best gelato in town by my opinion. We crossed back over the river and followed it along till we reached the Piazza S.Croce – home to the public library and another stunning church. We passed the Galileo museum on the way, which has a great sundial outside with all the astrological signs on. We then zig zagged our way back through the streets to our hostel. We were starving by this stage so we popped down to the supermarket (right beside our hostel) and got some fresh beef tortellini and black truffle sauce for dinner matched with a fruity northern Italian white wine. Delish!
The next day we had big plans to hit the famed wine region of Chianti Classico however I am going to cut a long story short and say this cannot be done by train, especially because train stations are named after towns but the towns are actually 20km from the station! So our itinerary went like this; trains to – Castellina in Chianti, Siena, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Poggiobonsi and then a bus to Tavarnelle followed by a bus to Florence. Let’s just say dinner was the favourite part of my day. Morgan cooked a gorgeous meal of fresh gnocchi topped with bruschetta spiced steak strips and fresh green beans. I think there were a few other bits and pieces in the recipe but that’s the chef’s secrets 🙂 This was accompanied by some Chianti to wash it down with as well as a couple of boutique Florentine beers. Desert was Sicilian cannelloni’s – wafer type rolls with chocolate and cream cheese ice cream inside. A boringly annoying day with a spectacular ending!
After the day before I had got my act together and planned our day to the Tuscan wine-country a lot more thoroughly. We took the 8:30am bus to a small town called Greve, which is right smack bang in the middle of Chianti Classico. After the 1-hour journey there, we immediately knew we were in the right place today. The cute town was surrounded by rolling hill after rolling hill of grape vines and olive groves. It was spectacular, and for me I think this even beats the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. Every second shop seemed to be something to do with wine or food – I was in heaven!
After an espresso we made our way to the first item on the itinerary – a wine tasting in the village of Montefioralle. It was about a 2km walk and was amazingly beautiful. We wandered up a path through the village. Once we reached the top it opened up to fields lined with olive trees, grape vines and expertly made stone cottages. We passed people in the fields still collecting this years olives off the trees and were at the ultimate point to gaze out across the valley.
Montefioralle is an awesome little walled village, it has 100 inhabitants approximately who all live in stone cottages around the semi circle of the main street. We were lucky to see maybe 5 of the local inhabitants and a couple of cats while we were there. It was at number 45 on the main street, that we were to meet Fernando and Irene from Montefioralle Estate.
The vineyard was literally a 2-minute walk out of the walled city. It is the most idyllic little 2-hectare vineyard I have ever seen. Fernando’s father started the vineyard in 1966 however it dates back much earlier than this as it was previously owned by the church that started the village. They make only 10,000 bottles per year with the most meticulous attention paid to each and every grape. We were lead up to the small winery where we were asked whether we would like to do the tasting in or outside. We decided it was a way to nicer day to be outside so we sat on the patio, which overlooked the vineyard back towards the small walled village. They said normally it was too cold to sit out at this time of year so we considered luck to be on our side today, unlike yesterday!
If you’re not relaxed in a spot like this then you seriously need help. It was magical to say the least and out of all the wine tastings I have been to in my life, this tops them all. Fernando doesn’t speak very good English, so Irene was there to help translate. It was nice to hear the Italian language and you could tell how passionate Fernando was about his wines even if we didn’t understand a word.
First up we were presented with a plate each full of 2 different local salamis on bread, sheep’s milk cheese and some toasted bread, which Fernando poured some of their olive oil on. The olive oil was so different to what we were use to that we had to ask why this is, it has such a vibrant green color and an amazing a fresh taste. Apparently it’s because it’s the newly harvested olives. The coolest thing was that the oil we were eating came from the trees right behind where we were sitting!
The tasting was great, Fernando tasted along with us, although he only sipped, where as we drank every last drop naturally. We had a vertical tasting of their Chianti Classico’s starting from the 2008 going back to the 2005. We then moved on to the 2008 Chianti Classico Riservia and their IGT red to finish. After a bit more chatting about the wines and the legends of the black rooster symbol on all the Chianti wines we moved onto the next course. We tried their Vin Santo (sweet wine made from air dried grapes) with a chestnut & rosemary slice. A perfect end to the perfect hour. This was probably the only day in the 5 and a half months that we have been traveling that we have exceeded our daily budget – however it was worth every penny. The tasting set us back 15€ each and we also brought a bottle of the 05 that we tasted and a small can of olive oil. Once we finally settle somewhere permanently we are sure we will be getting a couple of cases shipped! We then, in our relaxed state, strolled back to the village of Greve.
It was an easy enough decision of where to spend the afternoon. ‘Le Cantine di Grevein Chianti’ – the coolest wine bar type experience I have ever come across. There are over 100 different Italian wines to taste and buy. Basically you pay for a ‘wine card’, which is loaded up with whatever amount you choose – we went for the 20 Euro card. The huge facility is organized into sections from sparkling to whites and limocello to young Chiantis to Chianti Riserva to Brunellos, Super Tuscans, grappa and the list goes on! You pop your card in the machine after which the lights turn on and you press the button corresponding to which wine you want to try. You hold your glass under and you’re set. A tasting portion costs from .60€ upwards to about 4€ for the big names like Tignanello.
They have clear files full of information on the different regions and also free pencils and paper to jot down your tasting notes – perfect. All around the area are spittoons and fresh water taps to cleanse the palate. It’s organized, beautiful and a great wine experience. We ended up spending 3 hours there, we tried 15 different wines and a limoncello. We also tasted some salami from the free salami tasting section and about 10 different olive oils on bread for free. We didn’t use the full 20€ on our card, we could of got refunded however we decided to buy a poster to send home and get framed for when we finally head back homewards.
We were incredibly keen to open our 05 Chianti when we got home however we just couldn’t do it as it would mean drinking it out of plastic cups – that’s the devils work! So we popped down to the market for a couple of cheapie Chianti’s and some more supplies for a repeat of last nights dinner to end our stay in Florence.