Sunday, March 11, 2012

Agriturismo in Loro Ciuffenna.

Loro Ciuffenna is a tiny but delightful town in the Valdarno region of Tuscany. The Valdarno is Chianti's "poorer" sister and little considered by visitors from America and Asia, but very popular with European and Italian holiday makers. It's located about an hour south east of Florence, and due to the rural nature of the region, a car will be necessary. However the Valdarno area is well served by train from the main towns of San Giovanni and Montevarchi. If you don't want to drive you can always hire a driver guide, and I live on the spot. You can find me here: Scenic Wine Tours in Tuscany.

Most of the accommodation in Loro Ciuffenna is "Agriturismo" (vacation accommodation on farms), with locations in rural and remote areas. Some Agriturismo in Loro Ciuffenna are rather basic, while others offer high levels of luxury and every comfort. The common denominator is a countryside location and self catering. However, the degree of extra services can vary greatly from basic to five star, but this is an option for your consideration and not a fault. You can save a lot of money in the basic Agriturismi, or spend more and be pampered to the full. By Italian law the farm should be operational, and in Loro Ciuffenna most are. A small number have little to do with farming, and could be classed as country hotels. Again this isn't a shortcoming, but an option to consider when making your choice.

Loro Ciuffenna a view of town
Why choose an Agriturismo in Loro Ciuffenna? Well prices are a little lower than in the other more popular areas, and if you're looking for peaceful isolated locations with stunning scenery, this is the place to be. It's also well away from the usual tourist routes, and you get a much closer feel of what everyday Tuscany is all about. 

The best scenery is to be had in the hills in and around Loro Ciuffenna, which also offers a breezy climate in summer. A Godsend after a day in Florence! The tiny but pretty town sits on a gorge, and offers a choice of three restaurants, a pizzeria and three bars for breakfast or evening aperitif, not to mention a first class Gelateria open in summer. On Saturday evenings during July and August the centre of town is closed off to traffic, and you can sit at a table with the locals enjoying a drink in the central piazza. If you're need  groceries for you meal back at the house, you'll find all you need in the local Supermarket and grocery store. The grocery store in particular, offers a wide choice of local goodies such as sheep's cheese, cold cuts and olive oil. They also have homemade precooked dishes well worth trying. An Agriturismo in the Loro Ciuffenna area will give you the advantage of an isolated refuge, while being close enough to a town that can cater for all your basic needs.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Touring in Loro Ciuffena.

Many visitors don't take full advantage of Touring in Loro Ciuffenna. They assume they have to travel to the big guns elswhere, overlooking the treasures on the doorstep. This isn't really their a fault as little information is available in guide books, and even the local tourist board does little to promote the area, but that's where I come in. Take a look at my Cheese Making and Tuscan Olive Oil Tour and you'll see just how much the region has to offer. If you decide to forgoe the advantages of touring with me, I'll give you a few tips all the same.

Drive along the Setteponti  (seven bridges) road from Reggello to Loro Ciuffenna and you'll be treated to a  beautiful drive through neatly manicured, terraced olive orchards with outstanding views overlooking the Arno valley. If you drive slowly with stops for photos, it'll take just over an hour.

The Setteponti Road
Olive oil is the region's most important product, not only economically, but culturally. Certainly. Here it's more important than wine. You'll see a couple of mills during your drive, and If you want to taste genuine olive oil and not the stuff you find in supermarkets, then you couldn't be in a better place. You could try Santa Tea mill in Reggello, who do tastings and guided tours. Alternatively, buy a small bottle at a local grocery store, they always stock the genuine article. Remember they have to sell to the locals who are all savvy when it come to olive oil. Ask for oil from Gropina, you can't get more local than this, and I assure you it's the real McCoy. Expect a price tag of 8-12 euro per litre.

Another gastronomical delight is sheep's cheese made by the small artisanal dairies of the region. No industries here. Again try a local grocer (not supermarket) and ask for "Pecorino Locale." Pair it with a glass or two of Chianti, a piece of Tuscan bread - broken not sliced, and it's a feast for a king.

Walk around the village of Loro Ciuffenna where you'll have some great photo opportunities,  and be sure to cross the Ponte Romanico (Romanesque Bridge) for a view over the gorge. Ask any local to point it out. You might like to have lunch in Loro too. You can choose from a frugal but tasty snack at the Bar Centrale in the piazza (closed Tuesdays), or one of the three restaurants all within a minute's walk.

Then from Loro Ciuffenna, (locally just called Loro) head up into the mountains towards the tiny little mountain village of Trappola. It takes about fifteen minutes. The drive is spectacular with views of terraced olive orchards and the Valdarno (Arno Valley) in the distance. Walk around the ancient village of Trappola, and again enjoy the splendid views and absolute peace away from cars and crowds. You'll probably be the only tourists too, and the locals are always friendly towards the few visitors they receive. There's a rustic bar/restaurant called Vin' de Nuvoli were you can get an economical bite to eat. Maybe the cheese and wine I suggested earlier. Actually they have a well stocked wine cellar, you could try something special too. It's open 7/7 from May to September.

Around six in the evening head down to San Giovanni Valdarno (twenty minutes from Loro) and  join the locals for their evening stroll in Corso Italia (Main Street). The object is to walk slowly form one end of the street to the other more than once, while conversing, people watching, having  a gelato and browsing the shop windows. The town is also architecturally interesting, so don't forget to look around and up. Last but definitely not least…take it easy just like the locals.

copyright Sergio Ceccherini © Scenic Wine Tours in Tuscany 2012. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to enjoy Chianti Classico Wine

There are eight geographical sub-zones for Chianti wines, and each produces a slightly different wine. My tours are mainly in the Chianti Classico area for two reasons. The first is that in my opinion it's the region which guarantees the highest standards of quality for Chianti wines. The second, the scenery is just so breathtaking. So maybe a word on how to enjoy Chianti Classico wine would be in worth talking about.
A cellar on my Wine Lover's Special Tour
First things first. To enjoy to Chianti wine to the full, it must be paired with food. In Italian food culture, and particularly in Tuscany, wine has always been intended to accompany food, and not as as a stand alone drink. There are exceptions to this rule, but for Chianti it's not in question.

If you're used to new world wines that are big and easy to drink, your first sip of Chianti you could be disappointing. You may find it dry and sour, and frankly, drinking Chianti on it's own is an acquired taste. But add food; anything with a salt and fat content and your perception will change drastically. In scientific terms, this is due to the chemical combinations that occur between the wine and food when in the mouth. In more pleasurable terms, Chianti doesn't cover the flavour of food, but rather blends with it, and in the process becomes velvety smooth. So pair Chianti with savoury red sauce dishes (the sauce should be made with olive oil or butter), red meats, cheeses and cold cuts. You can also serve it as an aperitif, just add appetizers. Never serve Chianti with sweets, it's awful. Sauces like ketchup (sweet & sour) are not good either. Open the bottle at least four hours before serving and above all, ensure it's at room temperature (65 F). By the way, a pairing I discovered by accident is young Chianti not barrel aged, with's fantastic

Winery courtyard on my Wine lover's Special Tour
Chianti Classico general tasting notes:
Colour: ruby red tending to purple brown with maturation.

Nose: vinous, with a scent of violets, dried plum and cherries. When aged in barrels, pepper, tobacco and chocolate.

In the mouth: warm, medium bodied, quite fresh & tannic, with predominant plum flavors.

Best between: four and nine years.

Serving: always at room temperature 65°F.

Pairing: Savoury dishes, meats, cheeses and cold cuts.

You might like to look over my Wine Lovers' Special Chianti Scenic Tour, maybe come for a visit and put my opinions to the test.

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All rights reserved.