Jane Finn is a Torontonian and wife of frequent BuffaloGolfer.Com poster Dave Finn. This is her first piece (hopefully, of many) for BuffaloGolfer.Com
Tempo … Pace yourself and make the most of your golf vacation!
Vacation time is precious. So when we have a few days to ourselves, we tend to cram too many things in that ‘we should do’ rather than what ‘we want to do’. As a result, we sometimes return feeling that while we ‘hit the highlights’ we didn’t really have time to play golf or truly experience life in a foreign country.
Let’s talk about Italy. Your first thought may be that Italy is not renowned for its golf courses though the Molinari brothers’ participation in the 2010 Ryder Cup may have piqued your interest. Your second thought is that if I am going to travel all that way, I’ve got to visit Rome, Florence and Venice… and when would I have time to golf? The good news is that with the right itinerary you can do both … indulge your passion and immerse yourself in la dolce vita!
On our recent trip to Tuscany, we stayed in the heart of the Chianti region within striking distance of Florence, the medieval city of Sienna, golf courses, vineyards, olive groves and literally hundreds of ristoranti serving local favourites that left us wanting more.
The Residenza IL Colle, located in Impruneta, provided the perfect starting point for an eight-day odyssey. Located only 13 kilometres from Florence it made it easy to digest this magnificent city with all her treasures, in small bites – an evening drive to see the lights, a mid-week excursion to the Uffizi, Santa Maria del Fiore and the Pontevecchio and another afternoon poking through the markets and Dante’s neighbourhood, without the crowds and line-ups.
September is the grape harvest and we were fortunate enough to be able to celebrate with the residents of Greve, moving from booth to booth, sampling wines and olive oils, hand-cured salamis and pici (a regional pasta dish) while local bands provided free entertainment in both English and Italian!
Now it was time to hit the links and our first stop was the Florence Golf Club Ugolino – the oldest golf club in Italy, nestled in the undulating hills that surround Florence and less than ten minutes from where we were staying. Shorter by today’s standards but every bit as challenging, Ugolino has a rich heritage that the members and GM Fausto Siddu are delighted to share with visitors in the clubhouse over a grande birra or two! (Click here to see the full story on Ugolino)
Relax with a dip in the pool and then we would highly recommend a leisurely stroll to the Osteria Antica Sosta where Lorenzo and Anthony will serve you a 5-course tasting dinner (not a touristico menu) and explain, with great passion why they have chosen a particular wine to accompany the warm chicken crostini, primi piatti (pasta appetizer) or my personal favourite, something I would have never thought to order left to my own devices, the pork cutlet with anchovy sauce. My mouth is starting to water as I recall the aroma, presentation and flavours of a perfect meal!
Now it was time to visit a vineyard or two but before you head directly to the tasting rooms, take a few minutes to explore the grounds and talk to the people who live and work there so you can fully appreciate what makes each property and every wine unique. Italians are passionate about the land and preserving the past to protect the future. In addition to having you sample their wares, local producers are equally anxious to share the secrets and traditions of Chianti’s famous families.
Our wine tour included the Castello di Meleto that originally belonged the Benedictine monks of Coltibuono Abbey but was transferred to the Ricasoli family in 1269 and lavishly restored in the Baroque style during the 18th century. A tour of the castle includes artwork, furnishings and tapestries dating back hundred of years. The ‘pezzo forte’ is a cosy theatre that still contains some original scenery from a 1742 production and the ancient underground cellars. The wines here are exquisite and with good reason. Barone Bettino Ricasoli was the driving force behind the consortium that established the laws that still govern the production of Chianti Classico wines today.
I’ve seen the Mona Lisa behind glass and barricades, surrounded by throngs of people but it was certainly more impressive to be standing in the courtyard at Vignamaggio sipping a glass of Mona Lisa Riserva while Sandro enthralled us with the tale of Leonardo da Vinci and Lisa del Giocondo’s relationship. Now I know why it took him almost five years and 31 layers of paint to perfect his masterpiece! And if that wasn’t enough, stroll outside the courtyard to the Italianate garden where Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing was filmed. All in all, the ideal place to experience Tuscany’s history from an artistic point of view.
After touring the Castello di Verrazzano winery, we indulged in a seven course feast that featured their best estate wines and local specialities such as wild boar and guinea fowl but be forewarned you better wear your ‘buffet’ pants!
High-tech and high-touch make a great pairing when it comes to making dark red, full bodied Brunello wines. As the largest producer in Montalcino, a visit to the Castello Banfi cellars, enotecca and museum is an education as well as an experience. If you want to fully immerse yourself in ‘life on the estate’, consider staying in one of the luxuriously appointed ‘village rooms’ adjacent to the castle where you will receive the ‘royal treatment’.
The sun usually shines in Tuscany but on the morning our driver Riccardo set out for the Poggio dei Medici Golf Club, the ancient landscape was draped in a heavy layer of mist. Suddenly a magnificent stag leaped across the road which proved to be a portent as the weather improved and so did our game! (Click here for a full story)
After that it was time to fend for ourselves. We had moved to the Fattoria La Borgo, a working farm situated below the ancient village of Montecarlo where we were scheduled for a cooking class with Elisabetta and Chiara – two remarkable chefs who had just brought home first prize at the La Rotta del Vino competition. With a lot of help from our hosts we prepared gourmet dishes like faro salad, taconi, gnocchi, tortellini, and ravioli, pork loin stuffed with herbs and juniper berries and fig flan before sitting down together to enjoy the fruits of our labour along with Stringaio, their estate wine. The meal was awesome if I do say so myself and the company even better.
Montecatini Terme is famous for its thermal waters and home to the Montecatini Golf Club. In true Tuscan tradition, the first nine holes wove among the olive groves and the next nine were lined with ancient Cypress trees stretching upwards to heaven. The 18th hole is reportedly the most widely photographed hole in Italy. Indeed it was hard to concentrate but the third time is the charm and we had our best round here. (Click here for the full story)
But before leaving Tuscany, we had one more pilgrimage to make. Donning a simple linen shift and rich burgundy robe of a ‘monk’ we prepared to experience Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Grotto Giusti way. In 1848, workers on the estate accidentally discovered steam coming from the earth. Today the secret grotto is the foundation of a truly remarkable spa and wellness centre whose sole purpose is to soothe your soul. Imagine descending from Paradise to Purgatory to the Inferno and back while heat and restorative vapours relax your muscles and revive your spirits. What a way to finish our Tuscan adventure!
If you’re looking for a different type of golf vacation where you can explore history and culture, art and architecture, wine and cuisine while indulging your passion consider Tuscany Italy. If you want to come home from your next vacation rested and rejuvenated, contact Macana Golf & Leisure Tours at firstname.lastname@example.org to design a customized golf and wine tour package just for you. We know you will be delighted! Ciao!