I live on the outskirts of Florence, in an area that is called Colle Fiorentina This translates into the Florentine hills, well known for its DOCG Chianti wine and the fact that it is the gateway to the area called Chianti Classical. The hills are covered with rolling vineyards, olive green groves and Mediterranean pines in lush dark forest. It is a picture postcard panorama. You are probably thinking nice to read about but does it really exist, or is this yet another fanatic raving about the Tuscan countryside? I guess it’s a little of both. If you can imagine, I have a 2 km stretch right outside my front door that plunges through the middle of olive groves and vineyards and in the distance there is a silhouette of the Apennines on the left and that of a Tuscan hilltop town on the right. If I hit it right when I go for my morning walk, I get a brilliant sky flushed with early morning color going up the road and on the way back, the sun is warming my behind and splashing buckets of yellow light on the trees. So you see, how can I not be one of those raving fanatics?
In my 20 years of living abroad, about 19.5 of them have been involved with tourism. And even though I am a do-it-yourself kind of gal, I always tell visitors, if you can swing it, get a tour guide. A good one will fill you up with fun little details like why you can find roses at the end of the vineyards, the value of the Tuscan cypress tree as a landmark, point out the orchids that grow alongside the road and my personal favorite, tell you where to find THE best extra virgin olive oil. However, I know that not everyone’s budget can afford the cost…(therefore if you want to know any of those little facts I mentioned before, just drop me a note)
So instead of telling you my tale, I am here to tell you that it is completely possible (and safe) to venture outside of the city center, the art museums, historic monuments far from street vendors and yet another gelato shop, to find the Tuscan scenery described – on your own – without a guide, on a budget and without a lot of hassle.
If you have a car, then you are already finding out about another kind of hassle – Italian driving. However, I am assuming that you are not daunted by this, so believe me, finding rolling hills covered with vineyards is truly as easy as driving into Chianti. The scenery is award winning, like this image below.
So this is where my years of experience come into play. I wholeheartedly suggest that you take a deviation when you get to Grassina which is the first little town you will encounter when leaving Florence to go towards Chianti. Simply follow the sign for S. Polo in Chianti. The first 3-4 km may seem like a disappointment – but you must persevere and you will find yourself taking a trip into an unadulterated piece of countryside.
If you don’t have a car then I say -> do like the locals, TAKE a BUS! Contrary to popular belief, the Italian public transport is a great way to enjoy a slice of authentic Italian-ness! You have two options. Option number one is low on the fatigue scale. Catch a SITA bus (they are blue) for Greve a/o Panzano – but look for the one that goes “via S. Polo” , it will actually say that on the bus destination sign above the driver. You will find it right next to the sign that tells you NOT to talk to the driver or you may disturb his/her concentration…like I ever saw that happen! The further the buses go from the city center is directly proportional to how many passenger names, family problems, political stances and weekend activities of said passenger that the driver knows.
If you are like me, then the second option is for you. Personally I am a walker. My boyfriend, he wants action; he’s got to run, bike or go hiking (hiking implies sweating, huffing and puffing) . . . he doesn’t see the value of walking, daydreaming and absorbing the scenery. Second option: catch the ATAF (the orange bus) number 31 from Piazza S. Marco to Grassina (go till you find capo linea – means go to the end of the bus route, like in the very last stop). Then get out and walk from Grassina to S. Polo. This is 11 km of ups and downs. A point of interest, as long as you aren’t doing this on a Saturday or Sunday, you can stop at a sweet little place called Tommasina about 5 km in and munch down just like the locals. Once in S. Polo you can opt to catch a bus and proceed to Greve or turn around and go back home to Florence.
Now if you are a biker… Well this category should be divided into a sometime biker and a real biker. Listen up sometime bikers, you have to keep in mind that the trip from the city center of Florence is not a piece of cake (20km) – nor are the ups and downs if you want to make Greve your final destination. I can’t tell you how many times going to work at Pierotucci Leather Factory I have seen failed attempts to bike Chianti on a rental city bike. They get as far as Grassina (hitting only main roads, car fumes and traffic) and are too tired to go forward. If you are a vigilant biker, then you will probably laugh in my face – but I tell you that 222 is loaded with dodgy cars, hills, fast Italian drivers, hills, slow foreign drivers, hills, honking horns, hills, traffic and hills. If you think I am exaggerating with the hills that’s only because repetition helps the “sometime bikers” remember who they really are. In any case, the deviation mentioned above, helps you avoid all of the dodgy points except for the hills, yet still be blessed by scenery and a more pleasant type of traffic (tractors?)
If you are thinking about getting crafty (I know I said that the public transport system is great) but they have yet to install buses from Florence to Greve that include the bike racks on them…
PS if any of you car people, have the urge to walk a little bit. Count off 6 KM from the turn in Grassina, and on the right will be my 2 km stretch of Tuscany. Park your car on the dirt road and stroll it – it is well worth it. Don’t forget your camera and a picnic lunch.