Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 27, 2017

One Day at Large in Chianti

As I’ve said before, travel, like all of life, requires choices.

Do you explore one place for a week or a month, or move on each day to another location, squeezing in as many monuments, museums and meals as you have strength to endure? Rent a car or bicycle, or travel by train and bus? Maybe you prefer cruise ships or tours.

Whatever your approach, you can’t see everything, so you must choose. No matter how intensively you explore around a chosen base of operation, there’ll still be a restaurant you didn’t try, a historic (or prehistoric) site you skipped. Or, if you’re constantly on the move, not only will you skip past a lot things, but no matter how far you go, there’s always something over the horizon you’ll never reach.

We chose the “base of operations” approach when we visited the Chianti region of Tuscany. Our temporary home was Castellina in Chianti, 22 miles south of Florence, 20 miles north of Siena. It has about 2,800 residents, and, yes, it boasts an old town center, Piazza del Commune, dominated by the 14th Century stone tower of the Rocca.

Castellina Rocca Brad Nixon 076 (480x640)

The Rocca houses the local Archeological Museum, where we learned that while the Castellina of today has several Medieval structures, the area’s been occupied for a lot longer. A view along the Via Trento e Trieste shows a conical hill just to the north of town.

Castellina in Chianti street Brad Nixon 123 (480x640)

The top of that hill was our first stop for one particular day of exploring Chianti. It’s an Etruscan tomb, dating from the 7th or 8th Century BCE, the Tumulo di Montecalvaria.

Montecalvaria Etruscan tomb Brad Nixon 092 (480x640)

I consider this one day in Tuscany to be a fair representation of a pleasant way to travel. We had a car, useful for covering the territory in rural Tuscany. We were in control of our own schedule, and we had only a general itinerary, not a checklist of must-sees; we were looking, open to whatever turn in the road appealed to us. Other days had more specific itineraries, but not that one.

Here’s the area of that day’s tour. Castellina is at the bottom left, red oval. For reference, Florence is at the top left, Arezzo in the lower right.

Tuscany map Google

We drove first to Greve (blue oval), then Montefioralle (red star) and Badia a Passignano (red flag). There was a great deal of interesting countryside, but here are some highlights.

Greve in Chianti

It’s an easy drive from Castellina to Greve, passing through a town that merits exploring, Panzano, which we did on another day.

Greve is a busy modern town with about 15,000 residents. It has its share of commerce stemming from the production of Chianti wine, as well as banks, groceries, stores of every description, making it a center of life for the surrounding area.

Leaving the main route, the town’s main street passes through the old city center, Piazza Giacomo Matteotti.

Greve Piazza Matteotti Brad Nixon 100 (640x480)

That square has hosted a market for many centuries, and is still the core of the town. Local traffic circles around the Basilica Santa Croce you see at the southern end. It was built in the 11th Century, although now much modified.

As appealing as Greve was, we were bent on visiting smaller, more out-of-the-way places that day. Rather than continue along the main Siena-Florence road, we headed west into hilly countryside. It was sights like this we were after:

Chianti hilltop town Brad Nixon 156 (640x480)

We weren’t disappointed when the narrow road led to a hilltop town with the enchanting name of Montefioralle.


It’s a walled town, begun in the 11th Century, originally two fortresses that have become one village, although the narrow perspectives and small spaces make it difficult to see (or photograph) any wide view. Instead, one strolls along the street that circles the foot of the high portion of the town. Here’s a tour along the Localita di Castello Montefioralle‘s Medieval buildings. Click on an image to start the gallery, ESCAPE to return.

Even the wall details are fascinating, like this carved stone lion hitching ring.

Lion chain ring bolt Brad Nixon 102 (480x640)

Montefioralle was once the important local town, when hilltop fortresses represented power and protection. Today there’s no sign of the thriving local markets that yielded in time to nearby Greve, with its easier-to-reach location along the modern travel route.

Since our plan that day was not to have a plan, we simply looked around from Montefioralle’s hilltop for the next direction to take. The view to the west boded well:

Badia from Montefioralle Brad Nixon 112 (640x480)

The map (yes, we had a map) told us that was Badia a Passignano. The sole road out of Montefioralle headed that way, and so did we.

Badia a Passignano (sometimes Badia di Passignano)

Emerging onto Badia’s hilltop, the first view of the settlement there is nothing if not imposing:

Badia a Passignano wall Brad Nixon 121 (640x480)

That wall is part of the enclosure around the extensive Abbazia di San Michele Arcangelo, a Valllumbrosan monastery, which constitutes nearly all of Badia a Passignano. “Badia” is a word for “abbey.”

The abbey, begun in about 1049, is large, with some impressive structures, including tall towers.

Italy 120 Abbazia di San Michele Arcangelo Passignano vert (480x640)

One risk of traveling without detailed research and planning is access. Not everything is open all the time. There are limited opportunities to tour the monastery, so we could only see one outer courtyard, which included the facade of the 13th Century Church of St. Michael Archangel:

Abbazia di San Michele Brad Nixon 113 (480x640)

For more information, and to see an interesting aerial view of Badia, click on this link.

That was one day, here related in nearly a thousand words that don’t begin to capture a fraction of it. There are myriad other modes of travel, but it served us well for a sunny day in Chianti. A little luck helps, but so does a willingness to get off the main track, out of the car and start looking around. After Badia, it was time to return to Castellina and decide where to eat that evening. Maybe have some of the local wine? I hear it’s reasonably good.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Map © Google.


  1. Very interesting and beautiful photography as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mascarons are such a fascinating feature of Old World buildings. Grazi!


    • Et merci, La Boheme. You have successfully added “mascaron” to my vocabulary.


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