Castello Di Brolio
Early on the mist filled morning that we departed our villa in Southern Tuscany to make our way to Antico Borgo di Sugame in Greve, where we were to stay for the remainder of our vacation, we stopped in the tiny Hamlet of Murlo to visit their superb collection of Etruscan artifacts. After viewing their amazing collection of 5000 year old pots and statues we stopped to talk to the young woman at the front desk as we were leaving. We learned that she was an American anthropologist who now lived in town with her small family. Always ready for recommendations from the locals, we asked her advice on places to visit while making our way north into the hills of Chianti. She told us about one of her favorite diversions, Castello Di Brolio near Gaiole, about 20km northeast of Sienna.
After piling in our vehicles we headed straight there. I wasn't sure what to expect since I had grown up in the land of fairy-tale castles. The Eifel region in Germany, where I grew up, has the highest concentration of castles in the world. In fact, my husbands favorite pastime had been to see every 'keep' in Germany. So, how would this castle compare to what I already knew?
After countless narrow, curvy roads through the gorgeous Tuscan countryside, imagine my surprise when we arrived. The Gothic revival creation that sat sentinel above miles of vineyards was simply massive. The castle had been part of the Florentine defense network with a brief occupation by the Siennese. When the stronghold was returned to Florence from the Siennese the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I De Medici, wasn't taking any chances and ordered the castle to be reconstructed to withstand the power of cannonballs. The colossal bastions form an irregular pentagon enclosing the earlier structure. Today, visitors can walk these ramparts.
We started our tour by exploring a 'magical' forest to the left of the impenetrable portal which was guarded by a murder hole where hot oil could be poured on intruders. Thankfully, our 5 Euro entrance fee saved us from that fate. The defused light shining through the canopy of old trees doused everything in an ethereal light and for a moment I expected to see fairy creatures flitting amongst the flora. As we continued to the Romanesque Jacobo Chapel, with it's charming interior, I realized the castle was like rings on a tree and had been built on over the centuries. Looking at the various buildings and foundations one could trace the history of the castle. For me the most memorable part of the castle were the astounding views of the Tuscan countryside, the" English formal gardens" and vineyards of the current Baron Ricasole and his family. The interior apartments of the castle are not open to the public since they are still inhabited by the family.
Brolio Castle became the seat of the Ricasoli Firodolfi of Cacchiano, a powerful feudal family, in 1141 and has remained under the control of their descendants until the present day, with the exception of a disastrous period of corporate ownership from 1963 to 1993. The castle as it is today is in large part a Gothic Revival creation carried out under the direction of Bettino Ricasoli, the most famous of the Ricasoli family, in 1835, under the guidance of the architect Pietro Marchetti. Barone Bettino Ricasoli not only built the castle, but he is famous for his other achievement. In the mid-nineteenth century, Ricasoli developed the formula for Chianti wine that ultimately became the formula for the DOC standard. He essentially invented Chianti Classico.
Visitors to the Brolio tasting rooms on the road below the castle can taste the amazing Ricasoli and Brolio vintages. Russ and I make sure we always keep a few of his bottles in our private collection.
During our Bella Toscana Tour, on our 4th day in Tuscany, after having lunch with the Mad Butcher of Panzano, we will take you to the Castelo di Brolio for a tour and tasting. It will be an experience you won't forget!