I love Italy – it's definitely in my top five favourite countries. Fantastic food & wine, diverse, beautiful scenery and gorgeous men. Three ingredients which, for me, constitute the ideal holiday location.
So when it was decided we'd be going to Italy for my London BFF's birthday I decided to make the most of it, taking the week off work to gorge on what Italy has to offer (food, wine and scenery – there was no man consumption, sadly). My mate Joel & I left our other friends in Sorrento in order to make our way north. The final destination was to be Venice but with a very special stop over on the way: Il Cellese – a winery in the Chianti region of Tuscany, too beautiful for words.
But let me take a couple of steps back... The journey from Sorrento to Chianti was quite the trek. First we had to take a train from Sorrento to Naples. The train was PACKED full of Italian school students on their way home from school. Even though I had no idea what they were saying I found it so entertaining, like an Italian episode of Gossip Girl. It was so obvious who the leader of the boys was and who was the main bitch in the girl group. He wanted her, she wanted his best friend, etc. My inner teenage girl was so enthralled. I was slightly disappointed when they all got off. What happens next?!
Arriving in Naples, Joel & I stopped for our obligatory double espresso and cigarette before navigating to the next train station. For those who have never been to Naples... Don't go. It's a hole and you will hate it. So by the time we reached the next station – battling our way through piles of rubbish and old clothes on the street and ferals trying to sell us fake iPads and Bic lighters – it was bliss to sit on the comfy fast train to Florence.
One night in Florence and no plans, so we decided to take a BROmantic walk along the river and eat at one of the city's most famous (and expensive) bistros.. It was lovely, but if there's one thing to be said for Joel it's that she loves an expensive wine so three bottles later were in an Irish themed bar eyeing off dangerous looking strangers. Knowing we had a long drive ahead of us and fearing for Joel's life, I dragged him back to the hotel and tried to put him to sleep.
The next day we picked up our hire car and headed south again towards Chianti. The drive was quick and easy. We did have a TomTom to be fair, but it's a straight line so the most difficult part was getting out of Florence and on the highway. Thank Christ Joel was driving because some of those turns are tight.
Once we reached Chianti we had to turn of the main roads onto a maze of stone driveways. I always find that straight men are a bit more patient than gays, so it's a good thing Joel likes the ladies, because my navigation skills (or lack thereof) really kicked in once we hit those rocky lanes! It's a bumpy ride but the views along the way are spectacular. That was most likely the problem, I'd get distracted by the stunning Tuscan hills rolling in front of us rather than paying attention to what the next turn was. Pictures of the Tuscan hills don't really do them justice. The patchwork of fields and vineyards rolling for miles and miles, it's a vision you never grow tired of.
Finally we arrived at Il Cellese, much to Joel's elation I think, with the gates swinging open allowing us to make our way to the car park set amongst some olive trees. Even upon entering the main grounds of the compound, you get the sense that this is a very special place. The stone buildings set against a backdrop of Il Cellese's own vineyards and the Tuscan hills sprawling beyond are beautiful. I instantly thought: when I get married, it will be here.
On checking-in, our receptionist handed us a bottle of the Il Cellese Chianti Classico and showed us to our room. Well now, our room (the Il Cellese Loft apartment) was more of a Tuscan penthouse. Huge, open plan, full of light and with stunning views of the hills as the afternoon showers started to roll in.
Settling in, we popped the bottle and I chucked my iPod on the Bose speaker dock. It's an awesome feeling: knowing you have nothing to do and nowhere to be. I changed into one of the super comfy dressing gowns (why not?!), poured a second glass and looked for a good book to escape in for the afternoon. Pure bliss. Work, what work? London, what London? No, no. This was the ultimate 'me time'.
That evening for dinner we went down to the restaurant for some real homemade Italian cooking. Our receptionist also doubled as the chef and it was beautiful, honest food... coupled (obviously) with more of the Il Cellese Chiantic Classico. They do this dinner every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I would definitely recommend it. The food is great and it gives you a chance to meet the other guests. With the place being so big and open, it's easy to forget there are other guests staying at the same time!
The next day we drove into town looking for some local produce. The Loft has its own kitchen and Joel is quite the MasterChef so we wanted to make the most of it and try some regional fare.
Again, a stop for double espresso and a cigarette and then we hit the cobblestones looking in all the boutique delis that are dotted throughout the town. The town itself is beautiful, rustic and ancient, like something out of an Italian fairy-tale. Hardly anyone spoke English, but eventually we settled on our menu and bought all the bits and bobs that were to make up our Italian feast.
Before starting dinner we went up to the pool... We went during a shoulder season, so not really swimming weather, but if you go during summer, I think it would be hard to pull yourself away from the pool area. There is a small poolside bar and speakers for music. What better way to spend the day under the Tuscan sun?
So, unable to swim, we took advantage of the pool area's height offering the best views of the sunset over the hills. I have never seen a more beautiful sunset. I have never seen such colours. It was as if the sun and the rain were performing a changing of the guard. Completely mesmerising. The Tuscan sunset: my new favourite memory.
The next day it was time to pack up the car and head north to Venice (that's another story!) I honestly didn't want to leave. I was convinced I could live there. The clean air, the beautiful scenery, the Devine food and, of course, the wine! I felt completely decompressed, stress-free.
I will be back to Il Cellese, it's one of those places that can only get better with each visit. I'd especially like to come back in summer to see the place in full bloom. I was serious about the wedding thing and so are a lot of people it seems – they had five weddings last year! You can book the whole place out for the week and it sleeps up to 30 so perfect for an intimate wedding party.
Destsetters Gay & Lesbian.
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