Sightseeing in Siena
April 14, 2011 10 Comments
So picking up from where we left off in my previous post…
The Mister and I drove for about an hour through the scenic Chianti Classico region until we hit Siena. This medieval city is famous for the twice yearly Palio — a bareback horserace held in the main piazza. I, however, am more attracted to the relics on Saint Catherine. Keep reading for details.
Before heading into the city, we checked into the Castello di Monteliscai where we would be staying for the night. Located about a five-minute drive from Siena’s city walls, this was once a castle — now turned into rooms and apartments that can accommodate up to six people. The owners also run the nearby Agriturismo Malafrasca, a small B&B and farm that produces its own wine and olive oil.
After checking in we drove to Siena’s city walls, where we parked and then took about six escalators up to reach the hilltop city. It was getting late in the day, so we hustled over to the Basilica of San Domenico to get in before it closed. This church houses the head and one finger of Saint Catherine of Siena among other relics (her body is in Rome, and her foot is in Venice…poor Saint Catherine)!
We were promptly kicked out of the church as it was closing time, but spent the rest of the evening wandering around the city, passing by Saint Catherine’s house, the white-and-green striped duomo, and ending up in the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. Here, we sat at one of the many cafès that run along the edge of the piazza and had a glass of Brunello — a red wine containing 100% Sangiovese grapes. This is one of my favorite Italian pastimes: sitting in a piazza with a glass of wine or aperitivo and people-watching.
In the US we call it cocktail hour, but it Italy it goes beyond that. Anywhere between 6pm and 9pm, Italians gather at outdoor cafès or down at their local bar for a pre-dinner drink and socializing. The drink can be a glass of wine, prosecco, Campari soda, Martini bianco, or even a stronger cocktail. In the past few years, the spritz has become popular outside of its original northern region: prosecco mixed with a bitter liqueur. Most places offer finger-food to accompany your beverage. But different from just a normal pre-meal thirst quencher, it’s an opportunity to see and be seen. Especially when sitting outdoors, nearly all parties are facing outwards as the children who play with a soccer ball in the piazza become to focus of everyone’s attention. It’s a time to be lazy, to wind down after a long day and plan your next move.
Our next moves were obvious: food and sleep. We had been on the road all day and were starting to get tired. Due to the fact that it’s such a major tourist attraction, finding a good meal in Siena can be difficult if you’re an outsider (well, eating badly in Italy is nearly impossible, but we prefer eateries that don’t cater to tourists). Luckily, the owners of our “castle” had given us a suggestion in the next town over. We, headed out to the Vecchia Osteria just north of the city on the SP408, where I had the best lamb of my life! Anyone visiting Siena with a car should definitely head out here for dinner.