The Chianti region of Tuscany is renowned for its beautiful rolling landscapes, Tuscan cuisine and Chianti Classico wines but the area has some lesser known gems too. So, what else to see in Chianti? In and around Tavarnelle Val di Pesa you’ll find a treasure trove of art and antiquities secreted away in the ancient churches and abbeys of its hillside hamlets. Artisans master their crafts, astronomers scan the inky skies and quirky little museums await your visit to this little corner of Chianti. Let me tell you about the treasures of Tavarnelle, old and new, waiting to be discovered.
Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel in Semifonte
Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral has a ‘Mini-Me’ in the Tuscan countryside. The memorial Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel in Semifonte is one-fifth of the size of the Florentine duomo and sits on of a hill above the little village of Petrognano. With views over the rolling hillsides and regimented vines of the Elsa Valley it’s a serene scene which belies its violent history. The fortified city of Semifonte was besieged and completely destroyed by the Florentines in 1202 for getting too big for its boots and trying to dominate Florence. All building was banned on the site thereafter until the memorial chapel was authorised in 1597 – it still stands alone on the hill to this day.
The Parish Church of San Pietro in Bossolo
This pretty cloistered church dating back to the 11th century, surrounded by cypresses, vineyards and olive trees, is of Florentine-Romanesque origin and one of the oldest churches in Tuscany. The rectory adjoining it houses the important Tavarnelle Museum of Sacred Art.
Works displayed here include a 13th century wooden panel attributed to Meliore representing the Madonna with Child and Angels, silverwork from the Church of Santa Maria in Morrocco some dating back to 1627 and some more unusual pieces like a collection of nativity scenes. There are many rooms and a myriad of exhibits; Tavarnelle embroidery which inspired Salvatore Ferragamo designer shoes, clockwork farming scenes and the old kitchens and cookware. Entry to the museum is free. Winter Sat-Sun 3.30 pm – 6 pm and Summer Sun-Sat 4.30 pm – 7 pm.
Master Craftsmen at l’Argento Firenze
Time honoured techniques are still used today at l’Argento Firenze where a family of Florentine artisans craft raw silver into Formula 1 trophies, hand-made jewellery and tableware. We lingered in the workshop fascinated to watch up close as one of the master craftsmen expertly turned a goblet and another, who’d been working his craft for over 50 years, enamelled a pair of silver cufflinks. Afterwards we stopped by the glittering showroom to admire the silver creations and for a spot of retail therapy. Open to visitors but do email beforehand to confirm: [email protected]
Badia a Passignano
The Badia a Passignano Abbey is an ancient monastery encircled by Cypress trees and dating back possibly as far as 395 AD. It once guarded the road running from Greve to San Donato, Galileo is believed to have taught there and it’s now home to a small community of Vallombrosan Monks.
The small hamlet with its towers has been added to over the years and the monastery extended until it took over the whole castle. The small complex has a tranquil feel about it and we strolled through the different areas; the church, a topiary garden, cloistered courtyard, refectory, kitchen and the chapter house. The abbey has an important fresco of the “Last Supper” by the Ghirlandaio brothers which is now under restoration although funds are required to finish the renovation.
The abbey can be visited on Sundays at 3 pm; tours leave from the church but please check to confirm the abbey is open the Sunday you want to visit. You may need to make an appointment Tel +39 055 80 71 278.
Chianti Astronomical Observatory
Osservatorio Astronnomico is a very new astronomical observatory sitting 450m above sea level where we spent an evening stargazing. There’s very little light contamination in the Tuscan countryside which made for excellent conditions and we got to see both Jupiter and the moon in awe-inspiring detail. It was fascinating to see how quickly the moon orbited the earth and how often we had to adjust the telescope to keep up with it. The centre also measures seismic activity in the area. E-mail: [email protected]
Sant’Appiano, near Barberino Val d’Elsa, is home to the remains of a romanesque church destroyed by an earthquake – just four pillars remain of the baptistry. Adjoining The Pieve Romanica church is The Antiquarium housing a collection of Etruscan relics found in a nearby necropolis. The small but very lovely courtyard at the back of the church is well worth a visit.
So, when you’ve eaten all you can of that wonderful Tuscan cuisine, sampled a glass or two of Chianti Classico and soaked in the fabulous scenery you can take a tour around the historical and creative highlights of the region. You can find everything I’ve covered on my Tavarnelle and Chianti posts on a google map.
Have you visited Chianti in Italy? If there’s anywhere you can add that you loved visited do let me know in the comments below…