After getting in late last night from a bus ride in Florence, we awoke to the church bells of Siena. The view from our room was incredible- the hills of Siena extenuate so many of the prominent features of the town and since our hotel was set back from the center, we got an amazing view. My brother was at a conference in Germany and met us for our weekend in Siena.
We got the OPA+ pass that allowed us into all the activities surrounding the Santa Maria Cathedral. Our first stop was the Cathedral which did not disappoint with it’s ornate and gaudy interior. It was just what you want out of a renaissance church- it was really beautiful.
Walking Tour: Savor Siena
At noon we scheduled a walking tour of Siena- Savor Siena with through Tuscan Wine School and it was worth every penny. We started with Prosecco and bread with olive oil and Dario’s Magic Salt followed by three pecorino (sheep) cheeses each of age along with a few infused honeys, such as chestnut and honeydew. After a few samplings of wine, we walked to the local butcher for a variety of meats to sample. Our next stop was Pasticceria Bini for local favorites such as ricciarelli (angel wing shaped cookies) and paneforte, which is what Siena is best known for- it is a chewy dessert containing fruits and nuts (like American fruit cake). La Vecchia Latteria was out final stop for gelato where we got to see gelato being made and then, of course, try some! Back at the school, we had more wine and then sampled different chocolates, including white chocolate infused with saffron. Along with all of this food, our guide gave us a great overview of the history of Siena, including the Palio (horse race) and the contradas (families/neighborhoods).
Completely full, we decided to walk it off by using the other sights on the OPA+ Pass, including the crypts, museum, and baptistery associated with the Cathedral. Finally, we decided to climb up to the top of the tower inside the museum that lead to a long walkway giving you an expansive view of Tuscany.
Dinner: Taverna di San Giuseppe
On our way to dinner, we spotted one of the contradas (the duck one!) practicing their drum and flag throwing ritual- a practice we had only seen in EPCOT Italy but did not know the roots were so true to real practice. After a long walk, we made it to Taverna di San Giuseppe where we had reservations for a truffle feast. The ambiance in this place was unmatched- it was like eating a cave! And the food was out of the world. I got the spinach and truffle puff pastry triangles (fancy Italian names I cannot recall!) and then got tagliatelle and gnocchi with truffles (I got half and half since I could not decided and the waiters insisted I had both!). And when I say truffles, it was an enormous amount of truffles- the servers continue to shave the glorious truffle so that your plate is covered. From what we learned, truffles are far cheaper than they are in American since they have to be imported, and more importantly, imported fresh. Every truffle meal in America has disappointed after having truffles at this restaurant. My dessert was a puff pastry cone filled with mascarpone cream and dark chocolate. Kevin ordered the gnocchi with truffles, the rabbit special, and a chocolate souffle for dessert. Michael ordered the spinach gnocchi, the duck special and for dessert the cooked peaches with gelato. Everything was incredible, including the amazing servers. This meal has stood out among our many food adventures for being fantastic in all aspects.
A long walk back, we stopped in the Piazza il Campo, sitting like locals, being in the moment.
After grabbing breakfast at the hotel, our first order of business was climbing the Torre de Mangia at Piazza il Campo, the bell tower that only rings during Palio. While I never considered myself afraid of heights- this climb challenged that as I became weak at the knees climbing the free standing ladders at the top of the tower. The views, however, were worth the climb.
Lunch: Osteria da Divo
We stopped in Osteria da Divo for their lunch service. Like dinner last night, it was like sitting in a cave- I guess with the hills of Siena these caves are quite common to make room for living. While the service was quite slow and disorganized when we were there, the food was very tasty. We ordered a tuscan sampler of meats and cheese as well as the quail special as appetizers. Kevin got a frittata with truffles and asparagus, Michael got the gnocchi special and I got the frutti de mare (seafood) gnocchi.
Our next stop was the civic museum where we learned more about the history of Siena and its contradas- really reminded us of real life Game of Thrones. We swung by the Santa Maria del Scala, which was the freest hospital (ever), and while we expected more history, it was more of an art museum and archaeological shrine that was a little creepy!
Dinner: Pizzeria Di Nonno Mede
Wandering the streets of Siena for dinner, we quickly realized no reservations on a Saturday was putting us out of luck on multiple attempts. Pizzeria Di Nonno Mede was located a few steps from our hotel and willing to take our money. The boys ordered different pizzas and I ordered the pici- a tuscan pasta that is thicker than spaghetti. Finishing the night off with gelato and relaxing in the Piazza il Campo before heading to bed.
Today we had our day trip to the wine region of Montalcino! The full post can be found here. While we were skeptical at first at what this day trip would be like, we ended up having the best time and some of the best wine we have ever had. A lovely day exploring a new wine region. The trains were on strike today, we were happy that our train to Orvieto was early in the morning on Monday and luckily the trains were back in service then.
Siena was a surprising joy! The food was outstanding and I think more than anything we really took to the history and culture of the town. It is so preserved in tradition and it is rare to see a commitment like that still in existence. The well respected college in the town also provided a vibrant youth as well. We also got a great leg work out roaming through the hilly streets so be prepared when you visit for leg lunges!