October 1, 2008 – Rome to Siena, by way of Montalcino

December 25, 2008  •  Italy, Montalcino, Rome, Siena, Travel, Tuscany

We had the luxury of getting up a bit at our leisure this morning, loaded up “the toaster” (aka van) and left for Siena in Tuscany, but after nearly 45 minutes just to exit the ring road out of Rome, we were worried we’d never get there.
Fortunately, we made our way via the back roads into Montalcino, just south of Siena and home to the world famous Brunello vineyards, at about 12:30 or 1, and managed to find the perfect spot for lunch, the Enoteca Fortezza near the ancient fortress of the city.

The great thing about Montalcino, besides the incredible Brunello wines, is that it’s tiny and easy to navigate. We settled in for lunch on this beautiful patio outside the enoteca, and dug in to the specialty of Tuscany, papardelle with wild boar.

The enoteca has a great lunch time tasting program – you get 5 Brunellos to taste, along with a mini lesson in the wines of the region, and it seems just the right amount of tasting to accompany the meal.

This may look like an ordinary salad, but sometimes when traveling you forget to eat the greens, because you’re so focused on the specialties of the region you are visiting. This insalata mista just hit the spot after so much pasta in Rome.

Those are Lee’s lovely nails, demonstrating the wine tasting labels – I promised I’d make them famous in the blog.

As we made our way down the hills of Tuscany towards Siena, I snapped this shot of the vineyards in autumn, and was shocked to see how much this looked like California wine country. I loved the drive from Rome to Siena – passing the hill towns of Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany, along with the vineyards, never fails to impress both first time visitors and old travelers like me.

We arrived in Siena about 5pm, and checked into the Palazzo Ravizza, a charming hotel just on the outskirts of Siena. I love this location because it’s inside the ancient walls of the city and you can walk to the famous Piazza del Campo, but it has this charming courtyard in back that literally looks out over the countryside. Despite the fall chill in the air, we’d make great use of that courtyard over the next few nights!

The hotel was as charming as I’d remembered it (having stayed here with Greg’s brothers a few years ago) and after a cocktail in the courtyard, we headed to the Piazza del Campo (famous for the Palio horse race run twice each summer) for some Prosecco. We were clearly very relaxed, and about 8pm we went off on foot in search of some bistecca fiorentina, the classic dish of this region, and settled on a small tratoria off the beaten path.

I have a theory about restaurants in Italy. When Americans enter (and despite my very best Italian, they just know we are Americans), they are a bit reserved, fearing, I think, that we’ll just order a salad to share and a single glass of wine, and take up their best table for hours. But honestly, our group couldn’t have been more the opposite: we always started with one or more bottles of wine (and not necessarily the cheapest one), and ordered at least 3 courses at every meal (antipasti, pasta, secondi).

Tonight’s dinner was no different, and although the waitress was initially cool to us, we had a strong rapport going with her after ordering the Antipasti of buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto and melon, and potatoes; the risotta with lobster and green apples (incredible tasting, and I don’t even like lobster!), the lasagna al forno;

and the classic bistecca fiorentina, which was a 2 1/2 pound t-bone steak, cut table side and shared amongst our diners.

We followed this ridiculous amount of food with the cheese plate, headed back to our hotel for a nightcap in that lovely terrace, then hit the sack…with the worst heartburn you can imagine!

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