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Chianti in Tuscany; so much more than the wine.

When we think of Chianti, wine immediately springs to mind and why shouldn't it? However, there's far more to do in Chianti than just sample some of the best wines Italy has to offer. Chianti with its beautiful rolling hills, thermal spa's, medieval towns, olive groves and vineyards is a fun packed adventure and a delight for all the family.

Lying between the provinces of Florence and Siena, Chianti is home to some of Tuscany's loveliest countryside. Siena and Florence are the capitals of Chianti, in two areas known as Chianti Fiorentino and Chianti Sienese. The main communes of Chianti are Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti, which make up roughly 70,000 hectares.

It was first civilized by the Etruscans around 8th, who left many traces of their activity in the wine sector, and then by the Romans. By the Middle Ages, the cities of Florence and Siena were battling for control over the area and this was when villages, monasteries, castles and fortresses first started to appear. Many of these properties have now been transformed into villas and country residences to cater for the huge number of tourists that visit Tuscany each year.

So what is there to do in one of the most beautiful areas in Italy? Spending even a week in Chianti can be exhausting as well as a lot of fun...

Eating is a national past time in Italy and where better to dine than in one of the many Michelin star restaurants in the local area. It's not cheap but well worth the experience. There's a fantastic 1 Michelin star restaurant called La Bottega in a small village called Villa a Sesta near Castelnuovo di Berardenga which is only 30 minutes drive from Siena. The food is without any doubt excellent and the chef Sonia Zacchei will choose for you starters and first courses. La Bottega offers you an amazing experience! If this exceeds your budget, no problem as there are many local trattorias specializing in the best Tuscan from pastas, carne (meat) and pesce (fish).

A day at the Spa will keep you warm when the weather gets chilly. Relax in one of the many hot thermal pools, take a mud bath and then get an invigorating massage to finish off. The Antica Querciolaia in Rapolano is the nearest to Chianti and is located on the main road out of Chianti towards Cortona on the SS73. Built around natural springs you can wallow in hot swimming pools all day for less than 15 Euros.

A visit to the beautiful medieval town of Siena to take a cappuccino on Piazza del Campo (where the famous Palio takes place) is a real treat. If you're lucky enough to be in Chianti during Il Palio, every July 2nd and August 16th you can stumble across one of the many street parties held by each of the 17 Contrades throughout Siena. Be accepted as one of the local natives and dance throughout the night. If this isn't your cup of tea you'll find numerous things to see and do including visiting the fantastic Gothic Palazzo Pubblico with it's graceful bell tower dating back to the 13th Century. Standing at the lowest point of the Piazza del Campo, it's one of the highlights of Siena.

Finally back to il vino; you can't come to Chianti without visiting some of many wineries in the area. The Chianti Classico region is the most famous which is sold under the Gallo Nero (Black Cockerel) symbol. Just take the car up some of the many wine roads and stop wherever takes your fancy. If wine isn't your tipple, then many also sell fantastic extra virgin oil and honey. Of the most prestigious in Chianti, you can visit Vignamaggio, tour some of the most beautiful gardens in Tuscany and look around the beautiful renaissance villa that was once the residence of La Gioconda - the Mona Lisa. You need to book for a reservation but it's well worth the effort (Vignamaggio +39 055 854 661).

You can get around by bus in Chianti, but your own transport makes exploration a whole lot easier. Whatever wheels you take, a vacation in Chianti comes highly recommended!

About the Author

James Burrows is a writer for Hotel Enthusiast, an online and opinionated accommodation guide to Italy and other European destinations. Anywhere you are, you can read our reviews and book our Florence hotel accommodation online at Hotel Enthusiast.

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