“The sweetest country in the world”: Chianti and Literature

“The sweetest country in the world”: Chianti and Literature

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Chianti cypresses, vineyards and hills have enchanted and inspired many artists, including filmmakers, writers, painters and photographers. Some of the most beautiful pages of travel literature were written here, on the clay soils of Tuscany, from Greve’s vineyards to the Castelnuovo Berardenga landscape.

In the 1700s, in her diary on the Chianti hills, writer Hester Lynch Piozzi recalls, “We arrived here last night, having driven through the sweetest country in the world.” The same countryside that enchanted Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of “The Scarlet Letter,” who  described the place as a “countryside of hills with several old villages perched on the highest peaks of the hills […] or the towers and ramparts of a medieval castle positioned to guard neighbouring territory. ” And how cannot forget Manzoni’s ecstatic words written in his travel diary as he travelled from Empoli to Siena: “La vista fu rallegrata dallo spettacolo, pur troppo novo, di vigne rigogliose, tutte pampini verdi e distesi, grappoli neri e gonfi”, describing the colours of grapes and vines.

From prose to poetry is such a short step. Eugenio Montale, Italian poet, in recalling his stay at Elena Vivante’s Villa Solaia wrote: “Ohimé che la memoria sulla vetta / non ha chi la trattenga / (La fuga dei porcelli sull’Ambretta / notturna al sobbalzare della macchina / che guada, il carillon di San Gusmè / e una luna maggenga, tutta macchie…).”

Chianti seduced not only visitors and travellers but also its “natives”, those born and raised in Tuscany: Giovanni Papini in 1912 wrote in “Uomo finito”:  “Oltre a’ libri ed a’ morti debbo l’anima mia agli alberi e a’ monti.” (stating how he owes his life not only to books and those gone but also to those trees and hills).  Bino Sanminiatelli, another Florentine writer who decided to spend his last years in Greve in Chianti, remarked on the landscape: “Fra orti, giardini e ulivi regolati dall’arte amabile del potare, si snodano sui colli, vie così in pace che sembrano dimenticate, dove si procede fra meravigliose scoperte di cose sempre uguali e sempre impreviste”( pondering the peaceful hills, narrow paths, trees and vineyards).

The different styles and sensitivities of these authors are nonetheless united by the beauty of this countryside and by “dal silenzio vespertino, grave degli effluvi del giglio e del respiro dolcissimo della vite in fiore” (the silence and perfume of vines and flowers such as the lily), as Camille Mallarme writes in his novel  “The Ressac”.