We recently returned from a week in Tuscany’s famous wine region of Chianti. This is a heavily-visited area, especially in the high summer season, with throngs of people thirsting to sample the iconic Chianti Classico at countless wine bars and swanky wineries. But we found a few ways to avoid the crowds, and their spending, while still experiencing this beautiful, delicious, and intoxicating region to its fullest.
- Find out where the locals eat.
Many tourists flock to places that have been featured in the latest hip travel magazines. Each place on that list of “must-see” restaurants and wineries will of course be crowded, since everyone feels that they “must see” them. Instead, ask some of the locals - the barista slinging espressi, the guys sipping Campari in the corner of the bar, the lady in the gift shop across the street - where they like to go for lunch to get away from the crowds. Their suggestions will usually be out-of-the-way, family-run places that serve traditional food rather than the places set up for tourists.
- Explore local markets and food festivals.
Every town here has at least one weekly market in the central piazza. Immerse yourself in the lives of the locals, as they shop for their fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats and fishes, baked goods, jams and honeys, and other groceries. Townspeople meet and greet each other in these markets to catch up on news and gossip, over coffee or a bite of the vendors’ street food offerings. The fare varies from one town to the next depending on the season and the region. This is how to find the “real” Italy, and it’s a cheap and easy way to sample the local favorite foodstuffs.
- Skip fancy resorts and hotels in favor of an apartment or a farm stay.
When you’re in a place as beautiful as Chianti, who cares about turn-down service and mints on the pillow? Look for deals on apartments in quieter parts of town or in the countryside, where you can plant yourself for a week and explore from there each day. You’ll find prices much better than at a spa- or resort-type hotel, and it will be unique and beautiful. Bonus: You can chill a bottle of prosecco in the apartment’s kitchen; in the afternoon, while the rest of the tourists are in town fighting over the last scrapings of cioccolato at the gelato shop, you can enjoy a nice aperitivo on a private patio in peace and quiet along with the local goodies you bought at the market that day.
- Much of the Best Sightseeing is Free (or at least very cheap).
Everyone has seen photos of the iconic landscapes of Chianti: Rolling forests, acre after acre of terraced hillsides lined with rows of grape vines, little towns dotting the landscape in every direction. Every town has at least one or two (if not a dozen) beautiful churches filled with storied and beautiful art. The towns themselves are essentially museums of medieval and Renaissance architecture - a stroll through their ancient, cobbled streets is a step back into time. In high season, there are flowers every place you look - on house windows and patios and yards, on landscaped roadsides, on wild meadows and hillsides. By car, it’s easy to get away from the tourist hot-spots and find all of this natural beauty within very short distances - and it’s free to take in, photograph, and experience.
Matt Walker and Zeneba Bowers, authors of the Little Roads Europe Travel Guides
About the Authors:
Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker are travel consultants, owners of LittleRoadsEurope.com, and the authors of the Little Roads Europe travel guides. Their first print guide, Emilia-Romagna, Italy: A Personal Guide to Little-Known Places Foodies Will Love was named a finalist and “Honorable Mention” in the 2015 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award; and a finalist in the 2015 National Indie Excellence® Awards.
They visit Europe multiple times a year, mostly Italy, England, Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Their travel focuses on finding authentic, immersive, memorable, and affordable experiences. They build itineraries for clients who want an off-the-beaten-track trip to Europe.
When they’re not traveling, Zeneba and Matt are full-time classical musicians in Nashville, TN; they are the founders of the Grammy-nominated ALIAS Chamber Ensemble.
September 16, 2016