There are very few places in the world that offer the variety of landscape and gastronomic delights that distinguishes the province of Siena. The town of Siena is also the capital of the province, rich in artistic treasures, historic architecture, and one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. While only one of the town’s restaurants makes my list of favorites, the geographically expansive province boasts some of the best winemakers, food artisans, and restaurants in the country.
The province of Siena breaks down into seven historical areas: the Alta Val D’Elsa, Chianti Senesi, Monterrigioni/Siena, Val Di Merse, Crete Senesi/Val D’Arbia, Val Di Chiana Senese, and Val D’Orcia/Amiata, as well as 36 communi (local governments), each defined by differing landscapes and agricultural bounty, including wheat, olives, grapes, and other fruit. The boundaries extend north of Siena to the rumpled green vineyards and olive groves of San Gimignano, to the woodlands of Castellina in Chianti. South of Siena one discovers the open farmland of the Crete Senesi and the famed winemaking district of Brunello Di Montalcino in the Val D’Orcia. It is hard to argue with the beauty of the region, especially the southern part of the province where the land around Pienza was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, limiting development.
The cuisine and restaurants are as varied as the landscape. Among the treats in store for you are marvelous goat cheese, fine pecorino (a sheep’s milk-based cheese), some of the best wines of Tuscany, intense olive oils, remarkable Cinta Senese charcuterie, and a dense concentration of great restaurants. Andiamo ragazzi!
The Town Of Siena
Siena is Florence’s historical rival, a late medieval town with picturesque stone-paved streets and one of the more scenic piazzas in Italy, the Piazza Del Campo. It is an intellectual’s playpen with so many architectural, artistic, and historic sites that ambitious touring—no mean feat along the steeply inclined streets—will quickly build your appetite. While Siena has many places to shop and eat, I have two favorite spots that should be part of everyone’s excursion: one to stock up and the other to caffeinate.
Antica Drogheria Manganelli
Via di Città 71-73, Siena
PH (39) 0577 280 002
Directions: Banchi di Sopra becomes Via Di Città when it abuts the Campo; continue up the street, and it is on your left.
This foodie treasure trove is perfect for the traveler who has rented a villa and intends to spend some time in the kitchen while on vacation. Alternatively, it is perfect for those who just want to munch on gourmet goodies and confections. My family and I have shopped there for years, and if you are close to Siena, you should too.
The shop itself is very attractive with antique glass and wood cabinets chock full of Tuscan goodies. Upon entering, aromas of freshly made desserts and spices stimulate the olfactory senses. There is a wide selection of premium olive oils, salami from the famous Falorni butcher shop in Greve in Chianti (known for its spectacular sausages), an excellent wine selection, freshly made artisanal pasta, desserts, and Amedei chocolates. The owners also make their own Panforte, a dense flat cake made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied fruit, cocoa and spices—a specialty of Siena that is increasingly hard to find at this level of quality.
Author’s Note: A kilo, or kilogram is a bit more than 2 lbs, but if you want approximately a 1/4 pound, you can order with the phrase “Vorrei un etto,” or “due etti,” for about 1/2 a pound. Alternatively, depending on the product, you may be able to try it before purchasing by asking “Posso avere un assaggio?” meaning “May I have a taste?”
Via Di Città, 13 Siena Italy
PH 0577 271255
Whenever you witness Tuscans waiting on a line for coffee, you should take note. Caffè, or coffee in Italy, better known to Americans as espresso, is an ingrained cultural staple that elicits little fanfare. Unlike the hipster coffee onslaught in the U.S, do not expect a heart or some kind of portraiture in your Cappuccino in Italy. The one commonality is that in both the U.S. and Italy, great espresso is not always so easy to find.
While you likely will not find it in any guidebooks, Fiorella Torrefazione is a clear exception to that general refrain. Years ago, I had an early meeting in Siena, and I saw a line of locals out the door to fit in the standing room only bar for a morning cappuccino. I joined the fray. The bar itself is very unassuming, though elegant, and the coffee is sublime-at once, intense and flavorful, yet not bitter.
Given my surprise at the quality of this coffee in this tiny café, I struck up a conversation with the owner, Francesco, who explained that he sources and roasts his own beans, which you can buy onsite. So, whether you are walking buy and need a quick pick-me up or your staying close-by and have the necessary accouterment for a home brew, this is your coffee mecca.