As soon as it’s safe, let’s go to Italy.
I’m not talking Rome, Venice, Florence. I’m talking back roads, hilltop towns, ancient sites, and small, intriguing places without tour buses.
I’m talking “slow travel,” the safe travel trend where you dig into one lovely region. You are based in a small, great hotel and fan out from there. Seeing the sites without the hordes.
Let’s dream up our trip to Italy now. Have the fun of planning it out, like taking a trip vicariously. Then, when Covid fades — and it will — we will be ready to hop on the next plane!
Where shall we go?
We’re in LUCK because I know someone who goes to Italy every year to scout out the best of the best.
Italy Expert with Great Taste
Meet Mary Ervolina! Mary knows more about upscale, authentic travel in Italy than anyone I know. She heads a travel advisory company called OnlyItaly Custom Italian Travel. Let’s use my interview with her to plan our trip.
Mimi’s Travel File: When you dream of your first post-Covid trip to Italy, where do you long to go?
Mary Ervolina: Chianti. I dream of its rolling hills, vineyards, fields of sunflowers and ancient hilltop towns. This article in TraveLife captures Chianti’s charm.
Travel without Fear, Post-Covid
Mimi’s Travel File: How will you see Chianti’s sights and still safeguard your health?
Mary Ervolina: I will stay at a wonderful, small, hotel with high standards for everything, including cleanliness. And I will rent a car or car w/guide and fan out from my hotel on day trips. No mass transportation. No big cities, teaming with people.
Mimi’s Travel File: Which hotel would you choose?
Mary Ervolina: Borgo San Felice! It is an 8th century Tuscan village that was in ruins before the hotel company renovated the entire village in 1992. Now, the whole village is a five-star Relais & Chateaux hotel.
Mimi’s Travel File: What do you like best about Borgo San Felice?
Mary Ervolina: Location and luxury. Many of the upscale hotels in the Italian countryside are pretty isolated but this hotel has a couple of little towns nearby and a Michelin-starred restaurant only seven minutes away.
Mimi’s Travel File: And if I’d rather not drive to dinner after a long day of touring?
Mary Ervolina: No problem! Just walk down Borgo San Felice’s cobbled lanes to its two, excellent restaurants. Have an aperitif on the hotel’s patio or bring the bottle that you bought in a winery that day and they will serve it to you.
Mary Ervolina: Be sure to get an olive oil massage in BSF’s spa located in the ancient village’s olive press. Not many hotels can boast this!
Mary Ervolina: BSF’s 40 rooms are spread out around the village, giving it the feel of a smaller hotel. There are even two villas that you can rent for a family group or bunch of friends.
Slow Travel’s the New Trend: Why?
Mimi’s Travel File: You mentioned “slow travel” earlier. What is it?
Mary Ervolina: It’s when you base yourself in one place and spend a chunk of time there, maybe a week, maybe more, and really get to know it, its people and their stories. You take the time to see the many less-visited-but-intriguing sights that most travelers don’t discover because they’re too busy moving from hotel to hotel.
Mimi’s Travel File: Is there enough to see in Chianti to justify a week’s stay? Given its location between Florence and Siena, I imagine it’s rich in history and art.
Mary Ervolina: Yes. The beauty of Chianti is that there are many wonderful things in a small geographical area, including history (it was first inhabited over 2,000 years ago), art and archaeology.
Mimi’s Travel File: While our readers can click here to view the main museums of Chianti, which do you recommend?
Mary Ervolina: Most clients visit Tuscany as part of a larger trip, and they are over-saturated with museums at this point, and want to just relax, eat and drink. The history of the Barolo winery, the Sculpture Park or the Museum of Vino in Greve are cool places, with a bit of a different twist, not the traditional art galleries.
Mimi’s Travel File: You mentioned getting to know the locals and their stories.
Mary Ervolina: Yes, I love the stories attached to these pockets of sophistication.
Mimi’s Travel File: For example?
Michelin-Starred Restaurant & Love Story
Mary Ervolina: For example, La Bottega del Trenta a tiny Michelin-star restaurant surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.
Theirs is a love story…It’s website tells it best: “Franco, wine and countryside lover, Elena, his Parisian wife, who fell in love with the Villa a Sesta and its food, decided together to open the restaurant in 1987.”
Mimi’s Travel File: So romantic!
Mary Ervolina: When Elena and Franco married and opened the restaurant, neither knew how to cook…BUT the women of the village taught Elena how to make their very best recipes. What a gift!
Mary Ervolina: Ten years later, in 1997, Michelin awarded their restaurant a star. While Franco has since departed this earth, Elena continues to cook like an angel. Michelin has awarded her a star every year for the past 20 years. VERY hard to do!
Mimi’s Travel File: That’s quite a story!
Birthplace of Chianti Wine
Mary Ervolina: Castel Brolio, where Chianti wine was first made, is nearby. Theirs is a story of love and jealousy!
“The ancestral estate of the aristocratic Ricasoli family dates from the 11th century and is the oldest winery in Italy. The castle had largely been abandoned when Bettino Ricasoli decided to move into it in the late 1800’s after becoming jealous at a winter ball in Florence when his young bride danced too closely to a young admirer. To remove her from temptation, he rebuilt the castle, replanted the vineyards and came up with the recipe that forms the basis of what is known today as Chianti Classico.” (from Castel Brolio’s website)
You can explore Castel Brolio’s vineyards, beautiful garden, family chapel, and small museum. And its restaurant is excellent!
Osteria di Brolio’s chef shared his recipe for Tuscan ragu with us. Cook it tonight to get in the mood for our trip to Chianti!￼￼
A Garden with a Past
Mary Ervolina: There’s a lovely garden in Chianti called La Foce, near our hotel…
A centuries-old estate that had long ago fallen into disrepair, until 1924, when this woman and her husband bought it, revived it and created a stunning garden open to the public. She was also a best-selling author! Her name was Iris Origo, coincidentally.
Wine and Olive Oil
Mary Ervolina: I like to get to know the local small producers who make superlative products in charming, out-of-the-way locations. The tiny towns that dot the Chianti Classico countryside are full of them. For example:
- Olive oil producer, Frantoio Montecucco di Caglieri Sara: While its website isn’t impressive, its olive oil is wonderful!
Fattoria La Lama is perhaps the smallest vineyard I have ever visited. Nestled in the hills of the tiny hamlet of San Gusme, La Lama is a true “Mom and Pop” winery, tended by members of the Campani family for the past 50 years.