The drive to Siena from Lucca was gorgeous, if there was a picture that would sum up Italy…well, except for like the Colosseum, or Trevi Fountain, or Venice…it would be the rolling hills with fields of grapes and olive trees. We decided to take the least direct path to Siena which lead us to the Chianti Road – a wonderful winding (perhaps a bit too winding for Adam…then again he did have half a bag of cookies while driving) road that goes straight through the heart of the Chianti wine region of Italy. Around every corner there was a new sight, new wine grapes, new scenes of beauty that I pointed out to Adam…he had to remind me that he needed to keep the car on the road a few times. We made a few stops along the way, one at a vineyard to sample the local wine. As a bonus we were asked to taste their olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
A quick note on the art of wine tasting (authored by a person who hasn’t a clue). Ahem. Swirl your glass to allow oxygen into your red wine. Sniff the wine and make a comment about the nose (I suggest something like: “hints of citrus”). Swirl some more. Take a sip, wait to swallow (that way you appear to be giving the wine some thought). Make a comment about the wine (“wow that’s good” was my constant refrain). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
A quick note on the art of how wine tasting is SUPPOSED to go (authored by a person who now knows better). Apparently that whole “swallow the wine” bit is way off. Really, a wine tasting is about the least decorous and hoity toity thing I’ve experienced. I at least got the swirling and sniffing right (I’m sure a monkey could do the same) but then you put all the contents of the wine glass in your mouth. You then make this horrible slurping noise with your mouth open (the wine miraculously stays put) and then you spit it all out into a communal bucket. So classy. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was paying for something I was going to spit out. So I just drank it all and enjoyed.
One of our other pit stops was in San Gimignano, another walled city in Italy. It was extremely hilly and very beautiful – the city’s coat of arms, emblazoned on flags, was everywhere really giving a medieval feel to the whole city. We walked through the main piazza, saw some great panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and the decided to head out to Siena.
Siena is a much larger walled city than Lucca but maintains the same rules about traffic within the city walls, which basically means that if you don’t live there keep your car out! As you can imagine this makes the parking situation pretty important – there is free parking all along the walls but you’re fighting a million other people at the same time. The rest of the parking is about 30 euros a day, and you’re a solid 20 minutes walk into the town center…which of course was the only parking available for us that first night! After we got all checked in to our B&B – a wonderful little place that had been recently renovated – we headed out to explore Siena. I say explore, but what we really wanted to see was the Piazza del Campo where the famous Il Palio is run every year. Unfortunately for us Il Palio is not run until July/August but it was still amazing to see this piazza and imagine what it must be like to see horses tearing around the abnormally shaped space. Dinner that night consisted of a Sienese specialty: Ribollita (a delicious bread and bean soup) and a simple pasta bolognese. Of course gelato was enjoyed back on the Piazza before calling it a night.
Day two in Siena was a work day for Adam so I once again headed out to explore. Well, I had good intentions…but our hotel also was the first one we had with a balcony the whole trip and it was hot and sunny…so of course I had to take advantage of the sunshine! After that I went out to get some lunch with Adam (delicious take away pizza two!) before setting out for some souvenirs and dodging some late afternoon rain showers. We ate at a wonderful little restaurant right outside the city walls finally having bistecca florentine – basically a ginormous T-bone steak that is typical fare in Toscana. Here we actually got to taste some delicious Chianti Reserve (a ’97) on the house. Talk about delicious!
This was a great lead-in to our adventure the next day of wine tasting and vineyard touring at San Felice – a very rural winery specializing in Chianti classico and Chianti reserve. The “Borgo San Felice” is also a hotel and the grounds are spectacular, we definitely wished we had been staying there for a few nights to sit by the pool, enjoy the countryside and taste more of their wine! As it was our visit was so much fun, we learned a lot about how the wine is made, the aging process etc. The fact that it was a completely private tour was also fantastic – a HUGE thanks to Tommy George for talking to the right people for us! We headed back to Siena and successfully found a free parking space in time to enjoy the late afternoon in the city. This was our last night here so we spent as much time as possible walking around and people watching in the piazza. Dinner that night was very delicious, we actually met another fun couple who were from Germany and had visited Siena many times over the years – the restaurant we were eating at happened to be their favorite in the city! We felt like we did a great job picking out places to chow down.
The whole time we were in Siena was a bit odd because we knew that our vacation was quickly coming to an end, we think that no matter how long you stay gone, at the end it always feels like a few blinks of the eye. Feeling energized by this we somewhat frantically made plans to visit Montepulciano and Orvieto prior to heading back to Rome for one last night…