While maintaining our home base in Pienza, we explored other parts in the Province of Siena. In addition to the town of Siena, we drove to Montepulciano and San Gimignano. If you only have a couple of days in the area, please make sure you do the following:
The size of these juicy cuts of bone-in steaks are available from about 2.1 kilograms (about 4.6 pounds) and up. So DEFINITELY come here with a partner in crime. Cause it ain’t no joke. The meat is beautifully seasoned with only olive oil, big crystals of salt, and pepper. The NY Times write-up mentions that “all the beef comes from the hormone-free Chianina cows that graze in nearby Val di Chiana.” Bravo!
There are other menu options besides the steak. Their pici pasta was hands down the best pici I had during my entire trip. The pork ragu and truffles were great, but I was blown away by the fresh homemade, PERFECTLY al dente pasta. Besides the food, go for the experience. You sit down at these long community tables elbow to elbow with patrons. Conversations just organically occur, all with a buzz of excitement of what’s to come. The owner swings by to present you a gigantic beef sample for your approval. Then he returns with your specific piece of meat and scribbles the price of it on your paper tablecloth. You get one glass for both your water and your wine. People were griping about this on Yelp, but I drank my pre-wine water, during-dinner wine, and then my post-wine water in a single glass with no problem. I was too giddy about eating 5 pounds of mouthwatering steak for $30 to care about my water cup.
TIP: Try to eat lunch before 2pm. We had horrible timing and would repeatedly waltz into a restaurant around 2pm only to find out that it was closing. The one restaurant we ate at past 2pm MICROWAVED the food. I cringed as I heard the telltale sounds of the timer beeps. Just don’t do it.
2) Visit churches. I have heard people say, “If you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen them all”. I don’t know, man. How can you just skip these gorgeous buildings? Siena’s Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is considered to be one of Italy’s greatest Gothic churches. Seeing this work of art literally froze me in place for a minute. I truly regret not going in…the interior is supposed to be stunning as well.
Even the little churches in town are worth checking out. This was before our microwaved meal in Siena.
The Sanctuary of San Biagio provides a wonderful view from Montepulciano’s parking facilities. YES, there are breathtaking churches hanging out even in the hills near parking lots.
3) Hang out in the piazzas. Just as with the churches, these public squares are very common in the region but, at the same time, have their own distinctions.
For example, Piazza del Campo in Siena is not a square at all. This fan-shaped center of town is also the site of the ancient Palio horse races that are still held twice a year.
The pigeons at Piazza del Campo living the good life at the Fonte Gaia. The Ritz Carlton of bird baths.
Piazza shopping. Buy cheese to eat at your hotel. Buy pasta to bring back home. Trust me on this. You’ll kick yourself later.
4) Get lost. I don’t mean lost as in you never find your car, you panic, get mugged, and never get back home. I mean just allow yourself to meander the streets and discover cute corners, weird buildings, and things you didn’t pre-Yelp/TripAdvisor/Google.
I couldn’t help but walk down medieval streets while yelling, “SHAME! SHAME!” And if you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, this won’t make sense. But also shame on you for not watching.
We happened to pass this butcher/pasta/cheese shop. It’s very claustrophobic inside. Someone from the shop would bring out charcuterie boards and place them on tiiiiiiny little tables outside. These people are standing around their tiny tables and their probably very heavenly-tasting food. This place specializes in boar prosciutto/porchetta, cheese, and truffles. We had just eaten, but I would have loved to participate in the mini picnic. I felt left out back then, and I still feel jealous reading the reviews now.
5) Take breaks above it all. My favorite moments were hanging out with Andrew perched high above the rooftops or rolling hills…and just taking it all in. Doing that with a $2 glass of surprisingly good house wine is a bonus. Bonus gravy as my improv teacher says.
Go to the Museum of Torture. I kid, I kid. There is a chain of these museums scattered throughout the Tuscan hill towns. I guess if you’re into medieval torture techniques…then you’re welcome? And enjoy!