December 11, 2010

Italy – Siena (day 1)

Posted in travel at 11:48 pm by jimazing

Now that our trip is a couple of weeks in the past, the view from a distance (in both geography and time) makes certain parts of it fade and other stand out.  Our visit to Siena was and still is my favorite part of the trip.  I could have spent the week there and been happy.  Venice was a close second.  I value a long look at a small item over a quick look at a lot of things.  In a way, Siena provided that for me.

francoSiena was different from the other cities in one very important way.  We had a personal guide, Franco Fadda, who came highly recommended to us.  We engaged with Franco to show us his Siena.  Franco has the intimate knowledge that comes only by being a native of Siena and his genuine warmth and gift for communication made for an incredibly rich and wonderful visit. Franco picked us up at the train station and after a quick stop to check in at our hotel, took us out of the city and into a most beautiful countryside.  As we drove in the car, I thought how much it reminded me of the foothills of North Carolina.  Later as we travelled through a river valley, it brought back warm memories of travelling in the Kanawha River Valley when I was a child on the way to visit my grandparents.

Lunch was the La Fontana at The Oil Farm.  If you go to Siena on your own, you won’t find visiting the Oil Farm to be an option.  The only way to get their is to be taken by someone with connections.  Not only is Franco “in the know”, he was clearly good friends with Alberto and Martia, the owners of this farm.  We had fabulous meal.  Seriously, the best I can ever remember. The food was delectable, but the experience was so much more.  Located in the middle of “nowhere” in Tuscany, on this little farm, this older couple grow their own grapes and olives and press their own olive oil (hence the name, The Oil Farm).  In fact, the “dining room” was the pressing room where they pressed the oil that we had for our bread–oh the bread!  If that were not enough, all the food they served was organically grown there on the farm!  Our menu:

  • Appetizers (Antipesti):
    • Grilled bread with pecorino
    • Olives
    • Artichokes
    • Black cabbage
    • Thinly sliced, marinated zuchini
  • First course (Prima piati) –
    • Pasta with pesto and tomatoes–The pasta was hand made that morning!
  • Second course (Secundi piati)
    • Grilled chicken (Smoothly spiced, like I have never tasted)
    • Carduci (celery)
    • Zuchini (yummy, but completely unlike the appetizer)
    • Radichio

We were too full to even think about desert.  Afterward, Franco explained the pressing process and how they didn’t waste any of the olive parts from the pressing.  They dry the pits and burn them for fuel.  To show us, he took us out back, which clearly wasn’t “part of the tour”.  It wasn’t a mess, but it was definitely “lived in”, which made it that much more meaningful to me.  The fact that Alberto didn’t mind our wandering around in his back yard and taking photos of the beautiful views from there made it feel like we were visiting family. In fact, in my memory, it feels like a dream.  When we arrived, it had been pouring rain and by the time we were able to step out in the backyard, the rain had completely stopped.  The grass was deep green and the rocky walls of the house framed the vineyards and olive groves, which stretched over the hills as far as you could see.  The surrealism of it all was punctuated by the peacocks on the roof.


All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Alberto and Martia.  We had two more places to visit and the day was fading much too quickly.  The next stop was the Collemattoni vineyard, where we were treated to a lovely sunset followed by a wine tasting by Franco including:

  • Rosso di Montalcino 2004 and 2005
  • Brunello di Montalcino 2007 and 2008 (07 was my personal favorite)
  • Olive oil (I had never just drunk Olive Oil)
  • and Grappa (which had quite a kick!)

abbyIt was now after dark, and our last stop before dinner was at the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo (St. Antimo Abbey), a Benedictine monastary that was begun in 780 AD.  The building was completed in in 1100 by Charlemagne as a thanks to God for ending the black plague (premature thanks, but thankfulness is always in and for the present).  We arrived just in time to hear some of the singing of Gregorian Chant for Vespers.  Enjoy the recording below.

Chant at the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo

If you cannot see the audio player above, and you are reading this in email or on Facebook, please visit the original post here: so you can hear this recording.

For dinner, Franco took us to Osteria del Gatto.  Again, this is not somewhere the tourists even know about.  It is a hidden gem in Siena.  Marco, the owner (aka Gatto) – loves cats.  This is where I finally got to eat the Ribollita dish that Cathryn has been raving about for years!  The Wikipedia article on ribollita doesn’t do it justice. It was a terrific and tasty dish.

As much fun as the day was, it was full and we were pooped!  We traveled from Venice to Siena and the rest of the day was packed well into the evening.  Jeanie and I were so tired that we slept right through breakfast the next morning.

Next time, Siena, day two and adventures in train travel to Rome.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks, Jim, for sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Truly, an old-world lesson in how to live la dolce vita is found in the Oil Farm with Alberto and Martia.
    Now I’m racking my brain about our Italy trip in ’03, whether it was Siena we visited on a certain day trip from Florence(I think it was Siena) or some other village. We had taken a bus to a town in Tuscany with a wall around it. The wall had towers built into it(seven towers?) that were richly endowed with stories about the towers, and how (I think) different families there had built the different towers. Does that ring a campanile bell? Was it Siena, or some other place?
    I await your buenoDay 2 account of Siena.

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