Discovering Bolgheri: what to see, where to eat and sleep in the boutique of Tuscan wine
Between sea and barriques, lulled by the sight of vineyards and cypresses, our tour of the pearl of the Alta Maremma
Bolgheri as we know it today was born from a dream, that of Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who, seventy years ago, transformed the sun-drenched hills surrounding the ancient village perched on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Tuscan coast in the Upper Maremma - the so-called Etruscan Coast that runs south from Livorno to Piombino and owes its name to the Etruscan necropolis discovered in the Populonia area - into a refined and highly prized wine-growing area, dedicated to the cultivation of French vines.
Over time, the number of winegrowers and estates cultivated with vines has grown, but Bolgheri has never lost the elitist and emblazoned character of its original imprinting. And even in its style of welcoming visitors who come here from all over the world, especially in the summer and at harvest time, this area is not afraid to reveal its high-ranking nature.
But let's get to know it, starting with the village of Bolgheri, which by extension has given its name to the entire surrounding area cultivated with vineyards and its famous wine, Bolgheri Bianco, Rosso and Superiore. Except for Sassicaia - the wine with which Incisa della Rocchetta turned the fortunes of this area upside down, and which has even been assigned its own DOC.
WHAT TO SEE
Bolgheri, which is a small hamlet in the municipality of Castagneto Carducci, has one of Tuscany's most famous postcards in the scenic Viale dei Cipressi. It is a straight, five-kilometre-long, sometimes undulating path that owes its charm to 2,540 towering cypress trees on either side in a double row. It links the Oratory of San Guido to the historic centre of the village of Bolgheri, heralded by the sight of the red-brick castle, so beautiful and perfect that it looks like something out of a storybook. You can leave your car in the small pay car park that you will find on your right. A few steps on foot (perfect for taking some nice pictures) and you are under the tower and the gateway to the village. Just above the gate you will notice the large coat of arms of the Counts della Gherardesca, the ancient noble family who owned the castle in 1200. Just beyond this splendid castle is the historic centre where you can see the terracotta by Gabriele Fantozzi and the Enoteca Tognoni, which serves all the great red wines of the area, also by the glass. In addition, no one returns home from Bolgheri without a bottle of Acqua di Bolgheri, purchased in the boutique of the same name. Nearby, there is also a grocery store famous for its sandwiches stuffed with local salami and cheese called La Piccola Dispensa. From the end of the village, if you take the dirt road on the left, there is a lovely walk. You will soon find yourself amidst the vineyards and gnarled olive trees that surround the farmhouses of the della Gherardesca counts.
There is a beautiful road that cuts through the Viale dei Cipressi, one side leading to Bibbona, the other to the foot of the Castagneto Carducci hill, and further up to Sassetta until you reach the oak and cork-oak woods that slope down towards Monteverdi and Suvereto.
Parallel to the coast, the Via Bolgherese, is known as the "wine road", with vineyards interspersed with rows of olive trees, from which oil with the Igp label is obtained, and restored farmhouses and estates where you can sleep or do tastings.
Castagneto Carducci is on the top of the hill dominated by the Castle of Castagneto, still owned by the Gherardesca counts. The centre was built around the Della Gherardesca Castle and the second name was added in honour of the poet Giosuè Carducci who lived here as a child with his family for about ten years and composed many of his most famous poems. Here you should see the Castello di Castagneto Gherardesca whose foundation dates back to the year one thousand and is now a venue for events and festivals and is open for weddings.
For a panoramic view of the area from the hills to the sea, especially on a clear day, we recommend a stop at Piazzale Belvedere, where the eye can wander as far as the horizon of the sea with the silhouettes of the islands of the Tuscan archipelago and, with a little luck, the peaks of the Cap Corse. In the main street of the village there is a historic tailor's shop, now run by Cristea Florin, which makes beautiful hunting clothes and wonderful casentini. Also worth a visit is the historic Emilo Borsi liqueur factory, where you can sip a small glass of China Calisaja.
Not far from here is the Bolgheri Marshes and the WWF Oasis, 500 hectares of protected nature that can be visited from October to May.
And then there is the sea: Marina di Castagneto and Marina di Donoratico. The one you come to on the way up from Marina di Castagneto towards Cecina is a long, wild stretch of beach, but if you're looking for an exclusive beach club go to the Tana del Pirata in Marina di Donoratico. Further south, beyond San Vincenzo, stretches the enchanting Baratti Gulf with the Buca delle Fate (Hole of the Fairies) behind the promontory, high above the village of Populonia perched on the sea, above the area of the Etruscan necropolis. There are also pine forests and splendid beaches.
WHERE TO EAT
Osteria di San Guido, Bolgheri - Historical restaurant of the Tanuta San Guido dei Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta where you can have lunch with tastings, you meet it before starting the climb up Viale dei Cipressi. Cuisine devoted to tradition and to making the most of high quality local ingredients with a menu that ranges from homemade pasta to meat to fish and a refined variety of cured meats and cheeses selected to go well with Bolgheri wines.
The express preparations together with the most modern cooking techniques, wisely combined with the traditional Tuscan cuisine and the spices of the garden give life to pleasant combinations that give joy to the palate.
Osteria del Tasso, Località San Walfredo, Bolgheri - Immersed in the vineyards of the Guado al Tasso estate, owned by the Antinori family since the 1930s. It is a place of great charm furnished in the style of a country residence. The dishes interpret the Bolgheri area, revisiting the local cuisine where the flavours and aromas of the sea and the hinterland meet: Pappa al pomodoro, Paccheri with fallow deer ragout, Florentine steak, fish of the day. As well as offering the Estate's own production (Guado al Tasso is also the name of the winery's most representative wine) and that of the Antinori family, the wine list has also been created to represent the different nuances of Bolgheri DOC: each winery associated with the Consortium has been invited to participate by including its own wine. Next door is the Bottega, where in addition to the wines you can find food specialities, including a small production of Cinta Senese salami from pigs bred on the estate.
Osteria Magona, Bolgheri - On the Bolgherese road that links Bolgheri to Castagneto Carducci, the location in itself is worth a stop. It is a farmhouse immersed in the countryside surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. The cuisine does not take second place, in fact the Florentine steak, presented and grilled by Omar Barsanti, is the queen of the restaurant along with other typical Tuscan recipes. Even the wine selection does not shy away from the local imprint with local reds dating back to the 1970s. For connoisseurs!
Arduino Bolgheri - On the Bolgherese road, surrounded by vineyards, the new vegetarian gourmet project where everything comes from the home garden, the Arduino Bolgheri farm led by Fabrizio Bartoli and Martina Morelli. Their charcoal-grilled cuisine with all the forms of cooking offered by fire (grill, plancha, under ash, smoking) has become a protagonist thanks to the ban on any kind of electrical connection on the Via Bolgherese. Dishes include Chicago, which in the Indian language means onion, but also grilled onions, courgette flowers in tempura, vegetables cooked under ash, reductions, drying. Desserts include flavours of coffee, cocoa and salt and bread and oil, as well as sorbets with the fruit (and flowers) of the day. A real world of opportunity!
Osteria San Michele, Castagneto Carducci -
Located on the old Aurelia road, this is an osteria with an intimate atmosphere where hospitality and customer care are the first rule. Michele Vigliotti is at the helm and offers meat and fish dishes, demonstrating his great mastery of the products: the result is a cuisine with intense flavours that are never banal. The house desserts are good and more in keeping with tradition. The wine list is well structured and the service is excellent.
To discover many other restaurants in the surrounding area, overlooking the sea, click here.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Tombolo Talasso Resort, Castagneto Carducci - a 5-star facility that offers not only hospitality but also a wide-ranging concept of wellbeing: serenity, tranquillity, treatments for maximum relaxation thalassotherapy and good food. For each guest a personalised service according to individual needs to be experienced in a refined but informal environment. A few steps from the Resort's park is the wide 200-metre sandy beach facing the sea. White umbrellas, gazebos, chaises longues and teak chairs to enjoy the pleasures of the sun and the sea.
Relais Sant'Elena, Bibbona - 15 minutes from Bolgheri and the sea of Bibbona is a historic residence surrounded by the magnificent Tuscan countryside where you can relax and admire the splendid views, taste wines, take cookery lessons and visit the farm. An enchanting place where you can stroll through the gardens, relax by the outdoor swimming pool and enjoy the views and silence that surround you.
Using Bolgheri as a base, you can visit some of the best wineries in the area (reservations are necessary) starting with Tenuta San Guido, kingdom of Sassicaia, Tenuta Guado al Tasso owned by the Antinori family, Ornellaia and Masseto owned by another great Italian wine family, the Frescobaldi.
Also on the list of wineries not to be missed is the beautiful Tenuta Argentiera on the heights of Donoratico, whose flagship wine is Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore, and Donne Fittipaldi, located in a fairytale corner of the countryside along the Via Bolgherese. But to find out more about the best Bolgheri wineries to visit click here.