Siena is such a confusing place, initially, when arriving by rail. You walk out the front door of the train station, and all you see in the vicinity is a mall, straight ahead. The mall, in this case, is key in getting you where you need to go, as it contains a system of ten – yes, ten – escalators that eventually hoist you to the top of a mountain. Had I done my homework beforehand, or happened to carry a topographical map, I would have known that Siena is one of those mountaintop type of towns I was curious about in the “Italy in Cursive” post.
At the top of the mountain, make a left, go probably half a mile, and you’ll end up in the old part of Siena. Since it’s a walled town, all main roads basically lead to the Piazza del Campo. That’s a massive, open “square” (it’s more circular), where all kinds of people congregate to socialize, eat/drink, and take in the lovely architecture. Also, there is a bareback horse race that takes place in the piazza every year, called the Palio. Nearly all the Sienese neighborhoods are represented by a rider, and the only rule seems to be that the quickest horse must make three laps to win – with or without the jockey still on-board. The race has a rather bizarre history, with the lore including stories of jockeys being kidnapped, riders smacking each other with whips during the race, and horses being drugged before the big event.
This is part of the Piazza del Campo, as described above.
Trying to take in a little bit at a lot of different places, we decided to depart from Siena for a day and take a tour of the medieval town of San Gimignano. From a distance, the town is incredibly beautiful, with 15 of the original 72 towers remaining, dating as far back as the 11th century. The towers were built by wealthy merchants and their families as a sign of power. Aside from the incredible architecture, the tiny town is a huge tourist trap.
The second half of our guided tour was spent at Tenuta Torciano winery. The visit was more of a class than just a simple tasting. The proprietor (well, one of them – it’s a family operation) showed our small tour group the proper way to hold the glass, swirl the wine, smell the bouquet and, finally, drink.
Pairing the wines with locally-grown and -made salad, salami, cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and truffle oil made the experience above and beyond the many U.S. tastings I have tried. Plus, it’s refreshing to have a vintner NOT try to steer your pairing preferences. You might be able to imagine him telling us in a thick Italian accent: “If you-a like the bold meat with a white wine, you like-a what you like.”
Back in Siena, it was a little bittersweet leaving the town because it’s rustic charm was a little addicting and made it hard to want to leave. On to Florence!
Another one of the beautiful Sienese churches
"Siena and the Towers of San Gimignano" - 2012 Written by Justin Kilmer
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