Rolling hills, world-class wine and natural beauty - did we mention wine? If you're looking to escape to the countryside for an idyllic holiday in Italy, you need look no further than Chianti.
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Just a hop away from the UK and an easy flight from London City to Florence with CityJet for those in search of a perfect getaway from London, Tuscany is one of the world's most famous holiday destinations, yet splendidly unspoilt and far from the crowds when you skip the cities of Florence, Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano. The tiny villages, vast vineyards and abundant olive groves of Chianti provide a picturesque setting you will fall in love with thanks to its picture-postcard views and wonderful lifestyle.
Stretching between Florence and Siena, Chianti is romanticised Italy from the films, with its ancient stone hamlets, sunny climate and superb selections of red wines waiting to tantalise visitors. While the region is no hidden gem, it is possible to drive for miles without seeing another vehicle and visiting in the quieter months of April to June and September to October offers a marvellous out-of-season atmosphere, with plenty of local events and festivals to keep you entertained.
You'll need to hire a car to get around Chianti's windy roads - but there's really no better way to see the place; driving in Tuscany allows the freedom to explore as many villages as you can fit into your time and admire the dreamy landscapes along the way. For a quintessential Italian driving experience, hire a little Fiat 500 (from £72.29 per week with Holiday Autos) - it's ideal for navigating the narrower lanes and will make you feel like part of a movie.
When it comes to finding the best place to stay, To Tuscany has a huge portfolio of villas with pools, including La Stalla in the pretty hamlet of Montebuoni, just a few minutes' drive from the village of Lecchi in Chianti. Accessed by a gravel road and consisting of 17 properties, Borgo Montebuoni provides a complete escape and is surrounded by miles of vineyards and gentle hills dotted with small villages. La Stalla is a traditional Tuscan stone house with rustic décor providing a homely feel in a typically Italian holiday cottage. Ideal for two couples if you're travelling with friends or families with older children, the two-bedroom house features a fully equipped kitchen, two modern bathrooms with spacious showers and a delightful terrace for sunbathing, enjoying alfresco meals or relaxing with a good book.
One of the things you'll love most about staying at Montebuoni is the possibility of adding hotel-like extras to your villa holiday. You can request freshly baked bread to be delivered to your door each morning and even experience in-house dining with a private chef who will not only cook you a delicious Tuscan meal, serving up delights such as ravioli maremani al pesto dell'oste and tagliata al rosemarino, but give you the chance to get to know the local area and ask them for tips on authentic restaurants and hidden gems to visit during your stay.
If simply basking under the Tuscan sun isn't enough, Montebuoni has a sun-soaked swimming pool where you can take a dip while enjoying the sublime views and a fantastic tennis court for keeping active. Its terrific location makes it a gateway to beautiful villages, wineries and larger towns for day trips.
Things to do
Wine lovers will feel right at home in Chianti, a region that lives and breathes the red stuff. There are so many vineyards that it is impossible to see them all (and Montebuoni is excellently placed to enjoy some of the best wineries, whether you're a fan of the Sangiovese-based Chianti Classico or the high-quality Riserva). Family-run Casanuova di Ama uses ancient techniques to produce the likes of Chianti Classico, Vino da Tavola and Vin Santo dessert wines. On a wine-tasting experience at the farm, proud owner Daniela will offer you a selection of wines with meats, cheeses and home-made biscotti. The cold-pressed olive oil produced by her family is also some of the best around and should not be missed.
Exploring Chianti is an absolute treat, with a plethora of charming villages to discover. Nearby Lecchi is worth a visit and home to one bar in the street which serves as a restaurant, cafe and wine shop. It's a great spot for breakfast or lunch, with a shop next door for stocking up on essentials. Lecchi is home to one of the best restaurants in the region, Malborghetto, where you can feast on delicious Tuscan specialities with a twist. The melt-in-your-mouth naked ravioli gratin with creamy tomato sauce is a dish you'll never forget.
Around 15 minutes from Lecchi, the medieval town of Radda is a lovely place for a stroll through its narrow streets and along its defensive walls, as well as being an excellent spot for pizza. Panzano, Greve and Castellina should also be on your list, while one of the cutest little villages is San Sano, nestled among vineyard-covered hills and home to just 100 residents, with only one restaurant, church and grocery store.
If you're yearning for the buzz of a larger town, Volterra is ideal for a day trip, located around an hour and a half's drive away, and is an excellent alternative to San Gimignano, which is strikingly beautiful but attracts huge crowds of tourists. Well-preserved Volterra offers superlative views, winding cobbled streets and a photo opportunity around every corner.
To Tuscany (0121 286 7782) offers stays at Montebuoni's two-bedroom villa La Stalla, which has access to a shared pool, from £467 to £1,237 per week. Wine-tasting experiences are available at Casanuova di Ama.
CityJet (0203 48 11 259) flies daily from London City to Florence, with fares starting from £110 return.
Holiday Autos (020 3740 9859) searches 1,5000 car rental companies and offers new Fiat 500s via Europcar from as little as £72.29 per week.