Ask a sample of middle-class Northern Europeans to define their idea of paradise and the odds are that a hefty percentage will come up with something that sounds a lot like Chianti, the territory of vineyards and hill-towns that stretches between Florence and Siena. Life in Chianti seems in perfect balance: the landscape is a softly varied terrain of hills and valleys; the climate for most of the year is sunny; and on top of all this there’s the wine, the one Italian vintage that’s familiar to just about everyone. Visitors from Britain and other similarly ill-favoured climes were long ago alerted to Chianti’s charms, and the rate of immigration has been so rapid since the 1960s that the region is now wryly dubbed Chiantishire. Yet it would be an exaggeration to say that Chianti has completely lost its character: the tone of certain parts has been altered, but concessions to tourism have been more or less successfully absorbed into the rhythm of local life.
Hotels in Chianti are rarely inexpensive, but this is prime agriturismo territory, with scores of farms offering rooms or apartments (or even self-contained mini-villas), generally for a minimum period of one week, which for an extended stay can provide a good-value alternative to hotel accommodation.