“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti” Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs.
Films set in Tuscany are endless, but none have created the imaginary foundation boutique travel company Zero Tuscany Tour has set the world to experience. We were kept in a phase of a dreamy Chianti experience and high expectations followed before meeting the personalities behind this tour company. Km Zero Tours has all the virtues of a cultural boutique tour company, with Arianna and Alessio at the forefront of their business.
Born amongst the greenery of the Chianti country side, Arianna has always loved to travel afar, but the magnetic love attraction for her home has always brought her back. A proud member of Italy's Slow Food Movement, she has brought attention to the authentic cuisine of Tuscany. Every food and wine producer that Arianna connects her guests with, has a romanticising story worthy of lifelong conversations. Alessio makes up the second half of Km Zero Tours. His roots are actually in the hilltop-medieval and Renaissance towns of Abruzzo, with foodie city Bolonia being his place of residence in his younger professional stage in life. A qualified sommelier (passed all 3 levels at AIS - Italian Sommelier Association) himself, and a love for the art of cooking, Alessio's passion is easily discussed and motivational as he loves to show the world his knowledge of old, nonna inspired Italian recipes. There is no better plan than to let Alessio prepare a delicious lunch or dinner amongst the splendid hill tops of Chianti.
We experienced Km Zero Tours in late spring, perfect timing to enjoy fresh and tasty in season vegetables. Another great advantage was the freshness of the delicious milk and cheese from Chianti's referenced goat cheese producing farm Podere Le Fornaci. The dairy farm was spectacularly green and very lively with goats and herding dogs, even though we caught a few domesticated cats stretching their daily naps. The sweet baby goats were big enough to play and run around with, so we paid them a visit and have found ourselves quickly attached to the bunch of them. Towards the end of the tour, we had a delicious goat cheese tasting dinner with our tour guides and the producers educating us about the different cheeses on the plate. We felt like we knew everybody for ages as we sat around eating, sipping on wine and sharing stories and experiences with each other. Podere Le Fornaci also sell their appetising cheese at the organic food market in Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence, every third Sunday of the month. Additional selections can also be found in the restaurant Aqua Cotta, Gastronomia Galanti, Il Fiore di Zucca shop and the Sant Ambrogio market.
We met the wood turning genius, Giorgio Romani at his workshop in the Chianti countryside. Like our tour guide Alessio, he is also from the region of Abruzzo and has made Tuscany his home. A modern day Geppetto, Giorgio is a master woodworker whose workshop was covered in shavings during the morning's visit. He pays attention to the rings on the wood and analyses the best creations just before putting the work in. Giorgio makes bowls, cutting boards and works of art out of olive wood among other types. His work is well known and you can see some of his finest creations at the Prosciutteria on Via dei Neri in Florence.
Additionally, we had the privilege to meet another prodigy, Sara Federici, a self-taught professional of hand crafted stone ware. She showed us her works in downtown Florence, where we enjoyed a brief introduction to her day to day creativity and had our opportunity to gawk at her small showroom. Sara's design has a unique Nordic and Japanese flair to them among other inspirations she takes from her travels as she has a good eye for interior design. We couldn't help but buy a few of her creations to put on our shelves back at home. You can find Sara's studio and shop at SFceramica - Via Pier Fontunato Calvi 45a.
A second part to the tour was highlighted with a visit to Michele Portoghese & Co. factory and shop. With an established view of superb italian food products, it was the perfect education for pasta lovers. We watched how the research, systematic studies, packaging and final consumer product is made with an interesting approach to offer their best pasta worldwide. Taralli, friselle, biscotti, cantucci and ricciarelli are only a few of the products stacked on shelves everywhere and some of their finer products are used for local restaurants as well. Towards the end of the tour, we had the delight to sit down with Gregorio Portoghese (third generation Portoghese in the business) and enjoy his family's flavourful pasta.
We visited the Antinori family's Renaissance Villa Il Cigliano. Anna (mother) and Niccolo (son) showed us the Baroque-styled gardens resembling the treasures by the Medici family in the Boboli Gardens of Florence. In the backdrop we can spot a pool with fish swimming (you know the water is clean), that was genuinely installed to show off the stunning reflection of the villa within a few metres from the nymphaeum of Neptune spruced up with stones and sea shells. Anna can't help but joke about her grandsons using this pool for daily swims in the summer months. Behind the pool there were little pots of strawberry plants which we picked at while engaging in fun conversations.
Maintaining a villa, winery and olive groves is an honourable hard job in which today's society would rather aim for a different career in this digitalised age. Both Anna and Niccolo are happy to share their work and love to educate about the originality of Chianti wine. The grape varieties included Canaiolo, Sangiovese and Colorino while the wines produced are DOCG Chianti Classico, DOCG Chianti Classico Reserve, “Suganella” (IGT Tuscan red) and “Demodé” (IGT Tuscan rosè). They too make extra virgin olive oil, grappa and vin santo (holy wine, a style of Italian dessert wine). At the end of the day, we had a homely cooked dinner by Anna herself and were entertained by her warmth until the wine left us merrily cheerful past our bed time.
We enjoyed our stay at the Casa Montrogoli, a 13th century villa in the Chianti Classico region. This additional service by Km Zero Tours is ideally situated amongst the dozens of food and wine producers that you can only dream of and the tour guides have a personal touch with each and every one of them. Additional services are included as there is the option of selecting a packaged tour through their website or you can email for a customisable itinerary. Pizza making classes, blind wine tasting experience, visits to Chianti Classico wine producer or the organic Vernaccia di San Gimignano producer with tasting, walking tours to beautiful Chianti villages, visit to a cashmere goat farm or even get to finally see the authentic side to Florence are only a few of the arranged programmes the guides can organise.
Arianna and Alessio have a warm personality and loads of stories to share with you. The hospitality and passion for their culture comes from the heart. Meeting and greeting local gems and producers was worthy of understanding the farm to table concept from a personal point of view. We have gained new friends in the Chianti region, and can't wait to announce our return to do it all over again!
Km Zero Tours|Slow Travel Tuscany | Via Montignana, 50026 San Casciano Val Di Pesa, Toscana, Italy | Contact them for a quote on the tour you would like to do | If you want to make a reservation, have any questions or want to share something e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | +39 349 35 29 601| www.kmzerotours.it