Siena is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of Tuscany’s most visited cities. Originally founded in Etruscan (pre-Roman, c 900 - 400BC) times, it is today famed for its art, cuisine, wine, mediaeval architecture and the Palio – a twice-yearly horse race drawing crowds of thousands.
It’s about a one-hour drive from the Fattoria Voltrona, so the first thing we did on arrival was go for a coffee at the café Lupo (meaning “wolf”). Legend has it that the city was originally founded by Senius, son of Remus. Remus and his brother Romulus (after whom Rome was named) are supposed to have been abandoned as infants and subsequently suckled by a she-wolf before being adopted by a shepherd and his wife and growing up to fulfil their destinies. Because of this there are many statues around the city depicting Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf.
Today was a non-walking day. That’s ‘non-walking’ as in sightseeing not walking-free, because we still clocked up a few miles pottering round the city. After coffee we walked to the Campo, the famous scallop-shaped square in the centre of the city where the renowned Palio horse race takes place twice a year. Packed with spectators and thrumming with the exhilaration of the race it must a thrilling sight.
From the Campo we all went our separate ways for the morning. There is much to do in Siena but, faced with too many options, we chose to do little. We walked round the Duomo and sat a while on a shady step to admire the black and white of its Romanesque-Gothic architecture.
We wandered a little further, exploring the narrow streets. After the relative open of the square outside the Duomo, these alleys appeared dark and cramped. At one point we watched a car squeeze its way through a seemingly too-narrow gap. How it will get out, I don’t know – but presumably it does.
Soon our thoughts turned to lunch, and we found ourselves drawn to an inconspicuous-looking doorway beyond which culinary delights were being created. With so little experience it would be hard to say whether it was the best lunch available in Siena, but it was certainly more than adequate – a simple fare of pasta, salad and ice-cold sparkling water really ticking all the boxes.
Come early afternoon, it was time to reconvene in the Campo ready for our scheduled visit to the Tuscan Wine School for a wine tasting. Our host, Marialuisa, told us about the different types of grapes grown in the Chianti/San Gimignano area (predominantly Vernaccia and Sangiovese grapes), what wines were produced from them, how the aging process affects them and adds to their complexity, and what rules govern wine production in the Chianti region. We also got to taste some great wine, from fresh, young whites to aged, complex reds, and we ended up with a bottle of white Cesani Vernaccia produced, not incidentally, by Marialuisa’s family!
Afterwards, the group went its separate ways again. We spent some time wandering round the perimeter of the old city before spotting a shaded bench with a view overlooking the town.
On a hot day, chilling – rather than exploration of the Renaissance delights of one of the world’s most beautiful cities – seemed to fit the vibe, and it was an opportunity too good to miss. So we settled down to read a while and soak up a little of the atmosphere.
From our vantage point above the rooftops, we could see how history old and new had been woven into the city walls.
We wandered back to the Campo again, this time for an ice cream. Well, you can’t come to Italy and not have an ice cream, can you? Then it was more wandering through the streets.
Finally we up with the rest of our group again, and headed down more narrow streets to the simple restaurant where we had dinner. Sitting on the terrace with a view of the Sienese skyline, we swapped stories of our day and tucked into freshly baked pizza, a shared salad and a chilled beer. Perfect!