Our most recent trip to Tuscany led us to Bolgheri, one of Italy’s most prestigious wine regions often left off the American tourist map. It is most famous for the winery called Sassicaia, which makes some of the most renowned reds in Italy. However, the tasting was 80 euros a person, which was much over what we were willing to spend for a few sips of wine! Instead, we opted for a less prestigious, family run winery called Terre del Marchesato.
After a scenic hour drive from Strettoia, we arrived at a family home with a large vineyard surrounding the immense property. We were greeted by Nadia, our guide, who gave us a half hour tour of the wine production process. We were even taken to the rooms where the grapes are sorted, crushed, and aged in barrels. Despite having visited many wineries in the past, this was the first time I had ever been given such a personalized tour of the winery’s facilities and had received such thorough explanations. Larger wineries do not necessarily offer this experience, so we were certainly happy with our personalized visit! After the tour, we had a tasting of five wines. Three of the wines were made from the white Vermentino grape of the region, a variety that I had tasted at other wineries along the Versilia coast. The standout was the last wine of the tasting, a blend that Nadia assured we would all love. It was made from the Vermentino grape and was extremely sweet like a dessert wine. However, rather than being sticky or leaving a syrupy taste in your mouth like some sweet wines can do, this wine reminded you of honey. In fact, Ryan and his dad loved it and they dislike sweet wines! We gladly ended up buying 2 bottles of this lovely drink.
The town of Bolgheri was only 15 minutes away, and the road to town is lined symmetrically with cypress trees. The scenery is a picture you would typically find on postcards of the Tuscan countryside. The town itself is very quaint and tiny. You can walk around it in about 10 minutes. The streets are lined with restaurants for tourists, a few shops, and little else. It is a place to enjoy wine from the local vineyards and have dinner al fresco whole overlooking the Tuscan valley.
Our next stop was Volterra, an Etruscan village near San Gimignano perched up on top of a hill. You can see the town a few miles ahead in the distance from the bottom of the valley, but the winding roads take at least a half hour to scale before reaching the city walls. Volterra was another town I had visited on my first trip to Italy and had absolutely fallen in love with. The town also has many Roman relics, including an evacuated Roman theater, as pictured below. The city was also used by the Romans to secure supplies of minerals, and is now known for its handicrafts made of alabaster.
We had lunch at an excellent restaurant called Da Bado. They served an exquisite truffle and cream gnocchi, a vegetable flan, beef carpaccio, and tagliatelle ragu. We would recommend it as a solid choice to travelers on a future visit.
The restaurant was on a side street that then led us to the Parco Archeologico, where you can glimpse a view of Etruscan ruins and the Medici fortress. On this fine spring day, families and school children were lounging on the grass overlooking the Medici fortress- a view that would certainly be impossible to replicate in the United States!
The town is best known for its Piazza dei Priori, home to the Palazzo dei Priori with a bell tower. Nearby is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The piazza and streets are strikingly beautiful, and are preserved as if they have not been untouched for thousands of years.
Overall, Volterra is unabashedly full of character and in my opinion, is more intimate than some of the larger towns nearby such as San Gimignano and Siena. It remains one of my favorite Tuscan towns and is should be not be missed while touring the area.