Chiantishire is now a cliché, but the place is real enough – a tapestry of hills and valleys from Florence to Siena. It is a kind of paradise, with wine and olives the abiding symbols of the good life. Many other beautiful corners of Italy have been spoiled by the tourism industry, but not the Chianti region.

The growth of agriturismo means most visitors stay on farms in accommodation that ranges from the simple to the ultra-luxurious. And for those weary of country life, it is never more than an hour’s drive to Florence or Siena.

Visiting the estates

Many of the hundreds of wine-producing farms in the Chianti region are private estates closed to the public, but many others are welcoming and provide the kinds of facilities more commonly encountered in Napa Valley than in Europe’s wine zones.

Badia a Coltibuono in Gaiole has been owned since the 19th century by the Stucchi family, and is located in a former Romanesque monastery. Lorenza de’ Medici was famous for her cookery school here; she has retired but the school continues, offering both day courses and residential courses, with accommodation provided in the former monks’ cells – now equipped with en-suite bathrooms! The restaurant is run by one of Lorenza’s sons, and offers modern-style Tuscan food. Try the Vin Santo ice cream. The wine list is dominated by Coltibuono wines as far back as 1965.

Dievole in Vagliagli offers tours from 11 to 6, and in high season it’s advisable to book. This is probably the most imaginative of the estate tours (Euro7). A guide takes you to various locations – the chapel, the cellars, the stables – and at each stop there is wine and a snack. A slick but effective operation. You can also lunch at the estate restaurant, which is moderately expensive. The purchase of a bottle in the tasting room at Castello di Meleto in Gaiole will entitle you to a free tour of the renovated castle, with its medieval towers and an enchanting private theatre.

The entire hamlet of Castelnuovo Berardenga is now a complex that includes a wine estate (San Felice), hotel and restaurant. The courtyards are planted with jasmine, which scents the entire village. The enoteca is open for oil and wine tastings, but for a more inclusive tasting of more wines, tasted with typical snacks and a cellar tour, you really need to book ahead.

Make sure you book a tour of the cellars and gardens at Castello di Verrazzano in Greve; these take place from 11 to 3. Tastings are conducted with food, with opportunities to taste the estate’s oil and vinegar too. Depending on the lavishness of the tasting, prices range from Euro15 to Euro31.

Castello di Vicchiomaggio in Greve, is a splendid property, with an arcaded courtyard and chapel. Tours and tastings are offered for around t12. You can also eat at the castle’s good, mid-priced restaurant, where the only wines are those from the estate, with many older vintages available.

The Stianti Mascheroni family at Castello di Volpaia owns almost the entire hilltop village of Radda, and the complex includes a wine estate and shop, an olive oil mill and a new restaurant (quite pricey). Anyone can visit the village enoteca to taste and buy, but for a full 60–90-minute tour and tasting, book ahead. You can also take cooking classes here, with a meal included, for t130. Detailed wine or oil tastings can be organised on request, as can dinner with the owners.

Badia a Coltibuono, Gaiole. Tel: +39 0577 744 81 Fax: +39 0577 749 235

Dievole, Vagliagli. Tel: +39 0577 322 613 Fax: +39 0577 322 574

Castello di Meleto, Gaiole. Tel: +39 0577 749 217Fax: +39 0577 749 762

San Felice, Castelnuovo Berardenga. Tel: +39 0577 3991 Fax: +39 0577 359 223

Castello di Verrazzano, Greve. Tel: +39 055 854 243Fax: +39 055 854 241

Castello di Vicchiomaggio. Greve. Tel: +39 055 854 079Fax: +39 055 853 911

Castello di Volpaia. Radda. Tel: +39 0577 738 066Fax: +39 0577 738 619

Buying wine

The most enjoyable way to buy wine is to visit an estate, taste the wines, and then decide. But if you already know what you want, it’s far easier to visit an enoteca. They are scattered throughout the region and the best carry a wide selection not only of Chianti, but of wines from all over Italy. Staff are generally a useful source of information and advice.

There are two shops in Castellina. Le Volte has a good and well-displayed selection, but prices are quite high. La Giravolta only sells organic wines and is strictly for devotees. There’s an even better selection in Greve at the Enoteca del Chianti Classico, with a good range of older vintages as well as individual rare old bottles.

At Baldi’s in Panzano, not only is there an excellent selection of wines from Tuscany and Piedmont, but many of them are served by the glass with snacks.Florence and Siena have plenty of wine shops. One of the best in Florence is de’ Giraldi, which specialises in Tuscan wines and will also arrange tastings or excursions. In Siena the best is Cantina in Piazza, which offers a well-displayed selection of wines from the province of Siena, including many Chiantis. Be sure to visit the basement, which occupies two former Etruscan tombs. The staff are helpful and the shop also organises food and wine tastings on request.

Le Volte, Via Ferruccio 12, Castellina. Tel: +39 0577 741 314.

La Giravolta, Via Borgheri 1, Castellina. Tel: +39 0577 742 004

Enoteca del Chianti Classico, Piazzetta S Croce 8, Greve. Tel/fax: +39 055 853 297

Baldi, Piazza Bucciarelli 26, Panzano. Tel: +39 055 852 843

Enoteca de’ Giraldi, Via de’ Giraldi 4, Florence. Tel: +39 055 216 518

Cantina in Piazza, Via Casato di Sotto 24, Siena. Tel: +39 0577 222 758

Part II next month: where to eat and where to stay in Chianti.

Written by Stephen Brook