Monthly Archives: March 2013

Wine Tour of Tuscany’s Chianti Region


I’ve been blogging about cities and taking lots of shots of landscapes and architecture in Italy, but really my wife and I traveled here for food and wine.  We had our most enjoyable or second most enjoyable day in Italy (Hard to judge, the Cinque Terre was also amazing) after one full day centered on drinking and eating.  When you tour fantastic wineries and end up eating lunch at a world famous butcher shop, I guess that’s what you’d expect.  A perfect dinner awaited back in Florence as noted in my last post.

My wife and I booked a tour with Tuscan Wine Tours, hoping to try some full bodied dry red wines and wanting to see the famed Tuscan countryside.  We booked well in advance as this outfit is well reviewed in Tripadvisor and spots/available dates were filling up.  We were not disappointed.  If you have a day in Florence and like wine and meat, this tour is what you should do.  You can see the architecture of Florence in pictures on the internet but you can’t taste the wine.

After a 20-30 minute drive we arrived at the first winery.  The scenery was nice and your tour guide will prep you on Italian wine types and classifications.  Our guide spoke perfect English as did the hosts at the wineries.  Tuscan wines are centered around Chianti Classico but offer quite a few other varieties of primarily red full bodied wines.  The wineries also made their own olive oil which could change your whole mentality on the stuff if you’ve never had great olio.  We haven’t bought the supermarket brand ever since.  If you do some research though there are some affordable brands to be purchased just about anywhere.

Lunch was at a butcher shop in the small town of Panzano.  The shop is easy to spot due to the unconventional horizontal red and white stripes and painted blue and flowered cow out front.  Meat was on the menu and it was fantastic.  We were surprised long after we returned home to see a place that looked familiar to us on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” during an episode he shot in Tuscany.  After comparing some pictures to the video we realized the amazing lunch we had on this tour was at the shop of famed butcher Dario Cecchini.

After lunch, another winery with excellent Chianti and olive oil.  We stopped in the town of Greve for gelato on the trip back to Florence where we were dropped off at the scenic Piazzale Michelangelo.  From here you can get a view of the entire city skyline.  The stress of sightseeing in the crowded cities can be well relieved by a tour into the country side, especially with some wine involved. – Mike Valore

Road to Villa CafaggioOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Road to Villa Cafaggio
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.0, 1/100s, ISO:320

Lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini

Lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 1/140s, ISO:320

Lots of Wine

Lots of Wine
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO:320

Home-made Olive Oil and PastaOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Home-made Olive Oil and Pasta
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 1/150s, ISO:320

Greve Town SquareOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Greve Town Square
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:320

Next post: Venice

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Florence, Italy


Destination 6:  Florence

Almost every major Italian artist and architect is represented here.  You could write the entire history of the Renaissance by spending a few weeks wandering around here.  The Accademia houses Michelangelo’s David (You can see the fake one placed at the original location outside the Medici palace in the last photo in this post).  The Uffizi houses paintings from all of the masters.  Brunelleschi’s basilica dome or Duomo, is perhaps the most famous dome in the world.  Hell, you can even see Galileo’s finger in a jar here.  Leather, jewelry, and fashion in general are big but the prices are high.  Check out the prices for gold jewelry in the shops on the Ponte Vecchio.  I couldn’t afford anything even if the prices were Yen instead of Euros.  In my opinion, you’re better off spending your hard earned money on wine and food.

Florence had our most memorable dining experiences in Italy.   Vini e Vecchi Sapori was one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had, and likely ever will have.  Florence is situated on the edge of the Chianti wine region in Italy.  Not the cheap Chianti you can buy for a few bucks at the local liquor store.  This wine is a deep red, dry and the flavors are powerful.  Goes perfect with the local specialties such as Bistecca alla Florentina.  Bistecca is aged steak cut thick and served rare, putting most any other steak to shame.  Fantastic gelato is a given.  Discussion on Italian food and photos are for a later post, but the quality here cannot be ignored.

While these works of art/architecture and the amazing food culture draws tourists, I found it to be less crowded than Rome.  The streets in the main historical areas seemed less overrun by speeding Vespa’s and what are comically tiny cars (at least by American standards).  The pace was more of what I had imagined Italy to be.  Then again maybe we were just starting to learn how to enjoy this wonderful country.

Sun Shines on the Ponte Vecchio

Sun Shines on the Ponte Vecchio
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/5.6, Multi, ISO:320

Bridges Over the Arno River

Bridges Over the Arno River
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 0.8s, ISO:200

Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)

Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:320

Atop the Duomo

Atop the Duomo
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/7.1, 1/900s, ISO:200

Perseo and Medusa

Perseo and Medusa
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@31mm, f/4.9, 1/250s, ISO:200

Next post: Chianti Region Wine Tour

Rome, Italy


Destination 5:  Rome

Rome tends to be the focal point of Italy.  The iconic landmarks are here.  The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps and others.  While Rome offers these magnificent architectural triumphs, it also offers hordes of tourists.  Want your picture taken with a fake gladiator for an absurd price?  This is the place.  See the main sites, but take the time to find a restaurant or a bar off the beaten track.  You will be rewarded.  Take some comfortable shoes too, as my wife and I learned, walking in Rome and most Italian cities for that matter, is a walk on HARD ground.  I swear there wasn’t soft spot to take a step in this entire city.

I found myself shooting wide in Rome.  I stuck to the Panasonic 20mm prime and 7-14mm on my EPL-1.  There’s alot to squeeze into each shot.  The 20mm was nice due to its small size.  I felt bad for some of the poor souls lugging their 30lbs of camera gear through the streets and landmarks.  No thanks.

The good… If you’re short on time, hit the Colosseum and the Pantheon.  Walk by the Trevi Fountain and stroll through some of the nearby churches.  Have a seat on the Spanish Steps and watch the crowds go by.  Eat gelato (Giolitti).  Eat al dente pasta.  Drink the wine and munch on free appetizers at Campo dei Fiori.  Don’t feel like you have to see it all, you can’t and you won’t.

Now for the bad…. This is opinion, but it is a strong one of mine, skip the Vatican museum.  Religious and art preferences aside I hated the Vatican museum.  Granted, the interior of the basilica was gorgeous and the art work phenomenal, but they herd you like cattle.  Ropes and doors are constantly blocking your path.  They literally rearrange the available paths by the minute to herd you through and out the doors.  IF you survive the gauntlet you are rewarded by the amazing “map room”, “Raphael rooms” and finally the Sistine Chapel ceiling itself.  The Sistine Chapel experience was ruined for me by pushing, shoving, and yelling.  They allow far too many visitors inside at once which makes for a horrible environment for taking in one of the greatest works of art of all time.  For art in Rome visit the Borghese Gallery.  The finest sculptures you will ever see without the hassle.  Photography is prohibited, but you will remember what you see.

Visit Rome but see it on your own terms.

The ColosseumOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@12mm, f/5.6, 1/40s, ISO:1600

The Colosseum
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@12mm, f/5.6, 1/1600s, ISO:200

Inside the ColosseumOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens @7mm, f/4.0, Multi, ISO:200

Inside the Colosseum
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens @7mm, f/4.0, Multi, ISO:200

The PantheonOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@12mm, f/4.0, 1/6s, ISO:200

The Pantheon
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@12mm, f/4.0, 1/6s, ISO:200

Light Streams into St. Peter's

Light Streams into St. Peter’s
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@13mm, f/4.5, 1/40s, ISO:200

Trevi Fountain, Rome ItalyOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/1000s, ISO:200

Trevi Fountain
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/1000s, ISO:200

Santa Maria Sopra MinervaOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/40s, ISO:640

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/40s, ISO:640

Street Vendor, Spanish StepsOlympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/4.5, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Street Vendor, Spanish Steps
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/4.5, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Next posts:  Tour of Italy Continues in Florence