Bolgheri was a town that I’d never heard of before moving to Tuscany. You don’t see it in the big guidebooks and it’s not famous for any landmarks or artwork. It came to our attention after moving to Italy thanks to a type of red wine called Bolgheri. The wine was named after this small town on the Etruscan coast of Italy which became famous after the area started making unique wines in the 1970s. Since Bolgheri has become one of our favorite types of wine, it’s been on our long list of daytrips we’d like to attempt from our home near Pisa.
We first went to Bolgheri in March, after feeling a big cabin-feverish at home following a few weeks of pretty steady rain. Early one Saturday morning we quickly decided to get the girls ready and take the hour drive to see what Bolgheri had to offer. Maybe it was because of the sunshine after days of rain, not really having any expectations, or even the spontaneous decision to head out (I’m not known for my spontaneity) but we ended up having one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had since moving to Italy.
Logistically, Bolgheri was easy to get to, not far off the autostrada that runs along the coast. I’m happy to say parking during the spring season wasn’t an issue, though I’m sure the weekends in the summer could pose more of a challenge. There are quite a few pockets of parking, including one on the right off the main road as you come into town and others after you make the sharp right turn outside the castle that marks the entrance to town (where we ended up parking for just 0.60 Euro/hour).
Bolgheri is teeny, situated on top of a little hill at the end of a cypress lined country road. It's so picturesque it seems fake, except for the fact that it’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s also very close to the sea so you get a lovely view as you drive out of town too. Though not entirely pedestrianized, the town is small and traffic is minimal, so it’s definitely what I would consider a strolling city. In addition to the tree lined street escorting us into town, the castle tower and archway leading into the city are picturesque and in lovely condition, setting an great tone as we walked into town. Plus our two little girls love a cute castle, so that hooked them in, even if we couldn’t actually go inside it.
Though Bolgheri itself is old, it has more recently become a town to support the visitors (Italian and foreign) who come for the wine. The shops and restaurants are obviously for the guests of the town, but it maintains an authentic quality. We only saw one “tacky” souvenir shop and it really wasn’t that bad, actually having some pretty pottery tucked into it if you decided to look past the magnets and toys in the front. There are plenty of enoteca where you can buy wine from the region, as well as a some upscale shops selling linens, olive oil soaps, leather, local food products, and even some clothing and home decor. The shops are small and easy to browse with little kids, since you can go in and out easily. A central open space could easily entertain the kids, with area to run around and benches to sit, if one of the parents wanted to look a bit deeper in to a store.
Our first day in Bolgheri we slowly strolled into town, under the arch of the castle, and up the hill of Strada Giulia. We stopped at the top of the small hill at Cafe della Posta which had a lovely outdoor area and a few indoor tables as well. The staff was kind to us and our kids and we discovered on our second trip that they also have a gelato cart which sells freshly made gelato with local ingredients, lacking any additional color or imitation flavors. This is true Italian gelato.
Across from Cafe della Posta there is a restaurant with a large play area and big outdoor seating area, called Il Granario . If your kids want to expend some energy but you want to try a different restaurant, there is a little public playground not to far down the street that satisfied the needs of a 4.5 and 2.5 year old.
Sidenote: many playgrounds around italy are nothing to write home about. This one literally had two swings, a plastic slide that you’d have in a backyard, and two ride-on spring animals. However, my kids have never minded the lack of modern equipment and enjoy having some time to run around and play so, weather permitting, we always stop when we find one.
Due to the small size of Bolgheri, we didn’t bother to bring a stroller or carry pack for our 2 year old like we do on longer day trips to larger towns. The freedom to let her walk around at her pace was delightful. They spotted a few cats and dogs out on the streets and we were greeted with friendly “Buon Giorno”s from the shop owners, of which none minded that we were just looking. Little red benches dotted the sides of the streets, inviting our girls to sit and swing their feet.
It might seem odd to enjoy a simple walk through a village so much, but it was so cute, quiet, and picturesque that it was a lovely way to spend an hour or two. Walk slow. Stop to sit on the benches and people watch. Enjoy some espresso. Eat gelato. Take some photos. Turn down a teeny alley. Windowshop. Actually shop. Just slow down and enjoy. This is how Italy is meant to be seen, and your kids will enjoy the change of pace. Trust me.
Of course, a visit to Bolgheri isn’t complete without some wine. For no reason whatsoever, other than some reviews on Google, we decided to visit Fattoria Terre del Marchesato. Since this was a very impromptu trip, we didn’t make any reservations for a tour and just stopped by before we went into town and were told they had room in a tour later in the day. You can also stop into wineries that have tasting rooms and not take a tour, but being our first trip to a winery in Bolgheri, we wanted to learn more about how the wine was made. The tour didn’t disappoint and the fact that our kids could pick flowers by the vines and enjoy exploring around the grounds during the tour was fun for them. We let them color and eat snacks during our tasting and the whole experience was very positive.
We’ve also done tastings at Chiappini winery and also Tenuta di Vaira and I would recommend them both, as their wines were delicious and they were very down to earth and welcoming. Tastings are short, just a chance to try the wines before buying them, and could be a great option if you don't want to do a 90 minute wine tour with little ones in tow (but you should try, at least once).
We weren’t quite ready to leave Bolgheri after our tour, so we drove back into town and ate lunch at Enoteca Tognon . Since it was now around 1:30 we could see that the town had already gathered more visitors since the morning. Like many restaurants in Bolgheri, Enoteca Tognoni had the option to try the famous, and expensive, Sassicaia, by the glass. This is the wine that put Bolgheri one the map and would set you back a pretty penny. Even with the added expense of the fancy wine, our lunch cost was reasonable and the food was delicious. They promptly served the girls some pasta bianca (plain pasta with oil), and the general hum of noise in the restaurant meant the girls’ noise wasn’t an issue. They entertained themselves by drawing, playing with their little stuffed toys they brought, their cloth napkins (who knew napkins could be so entertaining?), and eventually we let them watch an episode of Peppa Pig on my iPhone so we could finish the meal without a meltdown. By then it was 2:45 and about 45 minutes past our 2 year old’s normal nap time, so we were okay with this arrangement. Overall, lunch was a success and we decided not to push our luck with skipping naps and ended our day in Bolgheri with a short stroll back to the car.
That first trip to Bolgheri left us wanting to come back again. Luckily we live just an hour away, so we have, and will go again. I highly recommend Bolgheri for a slow, stress free day with your little ones as a way to enjoy a bit of Italy at a slower pace.