If you have ever visited Rome, Venice or Florence during the summer you might have gotten the impression that Italians had fled their country in order to make room for the Americans, Swedes, Germans and Japanese who fill the streets with their brand new cameras and desire for Italian art and ice cream.
Italy without tourists can be found in the Tuscany region of Chianti, less than than a two-hour drive from the airport in Florence. On my way through the region, some friends and I stopped by a small village called Radda for lunch and found on Via Roma Street one of the few places that wasn't closed for the midday siesta (a short nap taken in the early afternoon). Unable to speak Italian, I communicated with the head chef in gestures and a few words of Spanish, managing to order two portions of pasta.
The pasta – which I without hesitation can call the best pasta I've ever had – was served straight away along with a decanter of red wine which we hadn’t exactly ordered but were not unhappy to see coming our way. Looking at the other tables in the small restaurant, it dawned on me why the chef hadn’t bothered asking us what we wanted to drink in the first place: what other than red wine would you drink in a place like this?
In addition to its beauty, Chianti is famous for its wine. Wine has been produced here since the fourteenth century and to maintain respect for the Chianti brand, local wineries have formed a league that designates only the best wines as Chianti Classico.
So wine it was – for us as well for the rest of the guests in the restaurant: an old man behind me who looked like someone who had come here for pasta and wine every day for the past 40 years, the four businessmen in shirts and ties gathered at the table beside us eating as if they were due back at work after finishing their wine, and three friends of the restaurant owner who were seated in the corner drinking their wine as we entered and were sitting there, still drinking wine, when we left.
Having experienced the delicious Italian wine and cuisine, we left the restaurant feeling a bit closer to the Tuscan Italians. But then again, it could have just been the wine talking.