Carla Capalbo shares her insider's guide to the best places to eat, drink and stay when visiting Florence and Chianti Classico, as part of an ideal Tuscan wine holiday.
Where to eat & drink
The region’s capital city Firenze (Florence) offers great places to eat as well as stunning art and architecture. So after you visit the Medici tombs designed by Michelangelo, stop at Trattoria Da Mario. This tiny hole-in-thewall is situated right behind the Central Market of San Lorenzo, and offers the most succulent and affordable ‘bistecca alla Fiorentina’, or T-bone steak, always served rare, with a range of typically Tuscan pastas, bean soups and vegetables as accompaniment. Go early or you’ll have to queue; from €25 (www.trattoria-mario.com).
The Central Market of San Lorenzo itself has recently been overhauled and its upper floor opened to bars and food stalls. They include a small Eataly shop, stocking authentic Italian products, and the Enoteca Chianti Classico wine bar for sampling great wines by the glass. On the main floor of the market, Nerbone offers traditional Florentine crusty bread rolls, stuffed with braised beef or lampredotto, the local speciality of boiled tripe made from the fourth part of a cow’s stomach; from €8 (www.mercatocentrale.it).
A few minutes’ walk away, near the other wonderful Florentine market Sant’Ambrogio, chef Fabio Picchi has built a little empire of special places to eat, including Cibreo Caffè, where you can sit on plush velvet theatre seats for a delicious snack after visiting the farmer’s market (www.edizioniteatrodelsalecibreofirenze.it). If it’s modern fine dining you’re after, try Ora d’Aria, where chef Marco Stabile cooks contemporary Tuscan in convincing fashion; his creative, hand-made pastas are exquisite at €25; tasting menu also available from €70 (www.oradariaristorante.com).
For that one, blow-out meal in Florence, Enoteca Pinchiorri is a three Michelin starred restaurant (with tasting menus from €175) laying claim to Italy’s greatest wine cellar. The lists of Italian, French and other wines are contained in huge books, but the excellent wine service will help you navigate and enjoy them (www.enotecapinchiorri.it).
Over on the ‘other’ side of the river Arno, new places offer fun options for casual dining in hip contrada (district) Santo Spirito. At CiBi local food is affordable and fresh, with pastas at lunchtime, from €8 (www.cibifirenze.it). Nearby, Berberè bakes the trendiest Bolognastyle pizzas, using the best dough base you’ll ever taste, dressed with top-rate artisan ingredients (www.berberepizza.it). Up on the hill above the Piazzale Michelangelo public square, with its fine views of Florence and the Arno valley, is an old favourite, Trattoria Omero. Enter under a flight of hanging hams, and dine on classic Tuscan specialities: bean and spelt soups, pappardelle pasta and grilled meats. Unbeatable; from €40 (www.ristoranteomero.it).
In Panzano, to the south of the city, celebrity butcher Dario Cecchini (pictured above) continues to be worth the detour: he recites Dante as he slices beef steaks, and has two restaurants near his shop (www.dariocecchini.com).
In Siena, further south again from Panzano, at the southern end of the Chianti Hills, Le Logge is still the most entertaining restaurant in town, with tasty food, fine wines and a lively bistro atmosphere; from €50 (www.giannibrunelli.it). And to explore the full range of Italy’s wine portfolio, don’t miss the Enoteca Italiana, located in Siena’s historic fortress, which features a wine bar and vast shop (www.enoteca-italiana.it).
Where to sleep
Bed & breakfast works very effectively in Florence, with options ranging from upmarket places such as Antica Dimora, from €120 (www.anticadimorafirenze.it), to the many offerings of Airbnb (www.airbnb.co.uk). Or go to sleep surrounded by vineyards: Fontodi, Villa di Geggiano, Castello di Cacchiano, Castello di Volpaia and many other top Chianti estates offer agriturismo (farmhouse stays) or apartments for holiday lets.