Could there be anything better than waking up on your birthday in Florence, Italy. I was so looking forward to my day. Ilaria from Fun inTuscany was taking us to Siena and another vineyard for lunch and a tasting. Up we all get and head to the local cappuccino and pastry bar to start the day. Siena is only about an hours drive from Florence, so I took a chance on a large coffee.
Ilaria had her van decorated for my birthday with balloons, hats and leis. Getting in the spirit of it, I might be a year older I may as well enjoy it. I popped the little hat on and proudly wore the lei in the Italian colours (I'm sure part of me is Italian after all).
First stop the beautiful city of Siena. Parking in all of these walled cities can be a nightmare, thankfully Ilaria knew all the tricks. She dropped us off at the Basilica Cateriniana de San Domenico,
St. Catherine is not only the patron saint of Siena but also a co-patroness of Rome and a joint patron of Italy with Saint Francis of Assisi. Remember the term reliquary, well they have one of St Catherine's head in the basilica. This picture is from their website. And yes it is her actual head. This church is a pilgrimage site. She was responsible for Pope Gregory XI returning to Italy from Avignon.
I somehow missed the big sign that said no pictures below. It is considered a very holy site, only whispers permitted and yes no pictures. There was a very spiritual and holy feel to it.
We continued our walk up and down the hills of Siena. Lots of alleyways and basically no cars.
We headed down to the famous Piazza del Campo (this Piazza is one of the reasons UNESCO recognizes Siena as the ideal embodiment of a medieval city) where Ilaria popped out a bottle of champagne. The day just keeps getting better and better.
As we drank our champagne Ilaria gave us a history of the famous Palio Horse Race that runs around the square twice a year, once in July and once in August. The town is divided into contradas (neighbourhoods) and they all wear the flag of their contrada. The people are in the middle of the square while the horses race around the outside.
|This is the crest of Ilaria's family. Needless to say how could I resist buying a scarf and draping it around my shoulders to match my other decorations :)|
We were given an hour to wander around Siena before we headed off to the vineyard for lunch :). How could I not stop in this little store to pick up my handmade Christmas Santa :)
To get to our next stop we were able to sit back and enjoy a beautiful drive through the Tuscan countryside. At the top of this long driveway is Querceto di Castellina, an organic family vineyard. Our hostess was actually from Napa and had met and married her husband and became a part of the vineyard family. She explained to us about the rooster that appears on every bottle of Chianti Classico and what the DOCG rating means:
"Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): Seeing this on the label of your wine bottle means that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wine. The wine was tested a committee that then guarantees the geographic authenticity of the wine and its quality. There are currently only a handful of Italian wines that qualify for DOCG status." DOCG, DOC
The vineyard was built on a hill with magnificent views. We met 2 ladies there who were taking a week long cooking class (no husbands). There are 4 wines to taste with our meal today. As you can see Jim has totally recovered and is not missing a drop today.
What a fun holiday with a great group of family and friends. Thank you to Ilaria for making our last day in Tuscany so memorable. One last stop on the way home to find our "Gladiator" moment.
We are all very sad about leaving this beautiful piece of Italy. The countryside, the cities, the history, the people, the wine the coffee, the food (I could keep going on and on) are truly beautiful.