We’ve been visiting several of the beautiful hill towns in Chianti, but the one that is the most memorable is Montefioralle. We arrived there after driving up a long winding hill and parked in a beautiful shaded area at the base of the wall that surrounds the tiny village.
Montefioralle is nestled in the heart of the Chianti region on a hilltop facing the Greve valley. The views are ones you dream about – vineyards, olive groves and cypress trees. Narrow stone streets climb through the village, surrounded by ancient stone houses, beautiful old doors with a golden patina, and cascading flowers in window boxes. It feels magical – a step back in time where you only hear birds and the wind rustling leaves.
The village and castle of Montefioralle were an important stronghold during the wars between Florence and Siena – which we have heard quite a bit about since arriving. A house in the circular main street is the birth-place of Amerigo Vespucci. The doorway is identified by the wasp (“vespa”) and V of the Vespucci family. As a bit of history, America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. He was an explorer and the first person to recognize North and South America as distinct continents.
As you walk through Montefioralle it’s so quiet and deserted you have the feeling no one lives here, and then you come upon a small For Sale sign – 50 sq meter/one room, terrace, basement. Needs work – no price. You can own a little bit of heaven. But for what price? I think it could be worth looking into.
Note: click on photos to enlarge and open a slideshow.
We added Milan to our itinerary, but only as a brief stop on the way to Tuscany last Saturday. Chris found a subway station in the outskirts of Milan (Molino Dorino) with a park and ride garage where we could leave the car for only a euro a day. Driving and parking in the city would have been a nightmare and expensive. We knew it was going to be a tight fit and still arrive on time in Greve, but a short stop is better than none.
We wanted to see the Piazza del Duomo (“Cathedral Square”), the main piazza (city square) of Milan and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Our subway stop dropped us in the piazza. Coming from the underground stop to the huge, open square square filled with people, in the shadow of the the Duomo and surrounded by some of the most historic buildings in the city was worth the extra time out of our schedule. What immediately struck me was that even with size of the space and number of people, the piazza sounded like being in a room.
The piazza marks the center of the city, geographically and because of its importance from an artistic, cultural, and socially. It’s about 183,000 sq ft and is dominated by the Duomo. The piazza was built in 1862 following a design competition, and following the final completion of the Duomo – after 500 years of construction.
Housed within a four-story double arcade with a huge arch entrance, the Galleria is named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was built between 1865 and 1877 and can hardly be called a mall by current standards. Constructed of steel and glass, with beautiful mosaic tiled floors, statues and murals, it’s often called Milan’s living room.
Upscale stores, cafés and restaurants and restaurants fill the Galleria. If a Mercedes or Louis Vuitton bag are on your list you’ve come to the right place. We found it a great place for a gelato break.
The last several days has been a whirlwind of driving, finding our way to Tuscany and settling into Villa Il Castellaccio. Wassen and the surrounding area was beautiful and relaxing. I’d love to visit more of the small mountain villages and especially return in the winter – to the places that are accessible. Several of the passes we drove through don’t open until June depending upon the snowfall, but there are ski areas that would be great for winter fun and photography.
After leaving Wassen, within a few kilometers we entered the Gotthard Tunnel. It’s 16 kilometers long and one of the worlds longest tunnels. It was just the beginning of driving “through” the mountains on our way to Lake Como. I lost track of the number of tunnels we went through, but it makes you appreciate the engineering and expense needed to build these highways.
Our next stop for a night was Moltrasio, Italy on Lake Como. My original plan was to stay somewhere north of Milan, but I started working with Riccardo at Suiteretreats.com on some trip details and he suggested Lake Como as a better alternative. He was absolutely right! He booked us at Hotel Posta in Moltrasio, across the street from one of the Lake Como ferry stops. In a future post, I’ll tell you more about Riccardo and the travel planning services he offers. Working with him has been wonderful.
Crossing the border into Italy from Switzerland was a day and night change. We left a multi-lane freeway, to narrow winding roads, roundabouts and in places, single lanes with traffic alternating in directions. We were driving between buildings so close I wondered if the car would fit through. It felt like we entered another world with cobblestone lanes and alleys, stone buildings, red-tiled roofs, golden facades and beautiful flowers. It could have been straight out of a movie set, but was filled with people carrying on their everyday lives.
We drove along the winding shore of Lake Como for several kilometers before reaching Moltrasio, a small, quiet village on the lake. We passed the hotel and discovered there are few places to turn around on the narrow roads – especially with the cars, bicyclists, buildings on one side and the lake on the other. But it was exciting to be there with better views around every curve. Finally turned around, we parked across the street from the hotel, which was right in front of a small plaza that is a ferry stop. We immediately decided to take a boat trip that afternoon.
Hotel Posta is a beautiful, old, family run, hotel, with cozy rooms overlooking the lake and wonderful views from the outdoor dining room. The perfect place to sit in the shade, relax and watch the world go by. After checking in we decided to take the next ferry to Bellagio, which was leaving in an hour.
The trip to Bellagio took about two hours with several stops at other small villages. Even though it was a bit hazy, the weather was perfect for a day on the water and the views of the hillside towns and villas were amazing.
In Bellagio the area around the dock was swarming with tourists, but once we started climbing the steps up into the village, the crowds thinned and we found a quiet restaurant for lunch. After pizza and cappuccino we wandered around the village and along the promenade at the waterfront. The afternoon passed quickly and we caught the 5:30 ferry for the 2 hour trip, relaxing with a glass of wine and stopping at new villages on the way back.