When in Siena, Dance with Old Italian Men.

It really is all about the old men. You’ll see.

But old men aside, I’m having a really hard time writing this post because I can’t simultaneously (1) get it down to a manageable length and (2) accurately capture our Senese experience. Siena, Italy was the fairy tale land of the trip, the shut-the-f-up-you’re-not-real European city. Everything was magical.* It certainly didn’t hurt that we had the best, and most personal, experience of our Tour de Europe up there in Tuscany.

Siena wasn’t originally on our to-do list; however, an impromptu glowing recommendation from my uncle and a close friend within a week of one another changed that quickly, and we sandwiched the tiny Tuscan town in between Rome and Munich. While in Rome, I saw a Facebook post from a former UVa Law colleague who was just leaving the city, and she gave me a billion recommendations that ended up driving our trip. It was perfect timing.

Our villa in Siena was located a few steps from the city walls in the Porcupine district. There are 17 “districts” within the walls [gotta keep the Medicis out somehow], that compete yearly in a horse race called the “Paleo” in the Campo dei Fiori. We missed the race by a few days, but quickly discovered the Porcupines won, which meant there was a huge party in the streets every night for the duration of our stay. PLUS ONE. We immediately aligned with the Porcupines and spent the rest of the trip feeling cooler than everyone else. And grew to hate the Florentines. When in Tuscany?

We spent our afternoons wandering from leather shop to coffee shop through the narrow cobblestone streets, often stopping for multiple espressos just to watch people go by. Our personal favorite was Pasticcerie Nannini, where our friend Karla recommended we pair our caffeine with ricciarelli. Ricciarelli are Tuscan biscuits that actually originated in Siena, made from almond and honey. Heck yes. We had quite a few over our five-day stay.


For dinner, we tried three restaurants along a strip near the Basilica di San Domenico. They were quiet, off the main path a bit, and all delicious for different reasons. Il Pomodorino had good** pizza and a cool craft beer list. San Domenico had unique Italian white wines and awesome cacio e pepe. And Nonno Mede made the largest calzone I have ever seen a human being [Shaun] eat. If these places hadn’t been as delicious as they were, we might have continued trying them just for the view from the dinner tables:

The Duomo at sunset.

I know right? The Duomo itself is a marvel, and we spent a morning exploring it and its surroundings. The bell tower was designed such that each floor has one more window than the previous [check it out], and the view from the top of the church is NOT EVEN REAL.


View of Siena and Tuscany from the top.


Bell tower.

Apostles inside.

The greatest photo, ever.

The Duomo was the second [and last] cathedral we visited, and we’re happy we took the time to see it.

The icing on the torta Senese, though, was our wine tour. We spent a day touring the Montalcino region of Tuscany and taking part in vertical tastings of its most famous varietal: Brunello di Montalcino. Our guide, Marco, claims that Brunello di Montalcino is actually one of the best wines in the world. I agree.

But I am biased: the wine is near and dear to us. The 2004 vintage is the wine we had on our first “fancy” date three years ago. At the time I was unaware of the price, but the quality was not lost on me. When we discovered a tour of the region, we signed up without hesitation and visited two vineyards: Padeletti and Abbadia Ardegna.

At Padeletti, a vineyard located in the same building since 1571 [the family was offered a larger facility but turned it down in favor of continuing to make wines the “old way”], we learned to be called a “Brunello di Montalcino,” the wine has to be made only from top-quality Brunello [literally meaning very brown or very dark in Italian] grapes and must be aged at least five years in oak before bottling. Five years. That’s longer than many Virginia wineries have been open.*** We also learned the vintage harvests are ranked with a “star” rating. For example, 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a five star wine, meaning it was the “best harvest of the 21st Century.” THUMBS UP SHAUN. 2006 was also a five star year, and 2005 was a four star, in case you’re ever in the BdM market. You can wait upwards of seven years to open a bottle of BdM, but make sure you open it and let it breathe for at least 2 hours. Don’t decant it, though. Just let it sit in the bottle. Vintner’s orders.

After a quick break in the city of Montalcino to explore the [gorgeous] area, we headed to Abbadia Ardegna. At Abbadia Ardegna, we met Mario.

This 80+ year old man is still making his family’s wines, and although he doesn’t speak english, he gave us a tour of his facilities and led us through a vertical tasting of his wines. His wife provided the meats, cheeses and biscotti.

Brunellos from the 1940s.


SPOILER ALERT: I danced with Mario. It was fantastic. This is after we all took a shot of his Grappa. He also gave a toast to Shaun and I for our honeymoon, and whipped out a special bottle of 2004 Brunello di Montalcino for the tour to have in our honor. It was the most amazing moment. Until he made me dump the remnants of my grappa glass into my hands, rub them together, and have Shaun kiss them. A Tuscan marriage tradition?

We left Padaletti and Abbadia Ardegna, but not before a couple on our tour offered to take the only picture that exists of the two of us from our honeymoon:

womp womp we look homeless.

On the way back to Siena on the Via Cassia [the old old old old old road that connects Tuscany to Rome], our guide Marco allowed us to stop and snap a few.



These were probably the photos that prompted me to tweet this.

We were so floored by our Italian wine experience we had to take it home with us. We are now the proud owners of two 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, two 2006 Brunello di Montalcino, one table Brunello, one 2007 Barolo, one Amarole di Valpolicella, one Prosecco, one Northern Italian Gewurztraminer, one Chianti reserve, and one white from Cinque Terre that we shipped to the states. It was the best wedding gift we could have given one another. Thanks to Philly’s incredible BYO culture, we’ll be able to enjoy those over the next few years. We plan to have the 2004s [one is from Padeletti and one is from Abbadia Ardegna] every year on our “first date” anniversary. We’ll just have to remember to let them breathe first.

* Except how sweaty I was. Neither magical nor romantic.

** I will never be able to say that any pizza outside of Naples is better than “good.”

*** Not that I don’t love them.


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Categories: Travel, Wedding


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/


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10 Comments on “When in Siena, Dance with Old Italian Men.”

  1. LizzieRogueRunner
    September 26, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I’M DROOLING WITH ENVY. Is that even a thing? I don’t know. But I’m certainly doing it.

    I think my favorite part (other than EVERYTHING ELSE in this post which is also my favorite) is the where’s waldo guy. Amazing.

    • September 26, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      I KNOW, RIGHT? And here’s the thing: we actually were just taking a photo of the Nave in the cathedral. We got home later that night and I was playing around on Instagram zooming things, and I noticed that dude. I REALLY hope he planned it. I wish it weren’t an iPhone photo because if it were clearer I’d TOTALLY frame it.

  2. Tara
    September 26, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    HAHA! Love the Waldo guy, too. Freaking awesome. Also, you guys DO NOT look the LEAST BIT homeless in that picture. I think you drank too much wine and lost some of your vision… Too precious. Take me to Tuscany.

    • September 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      YES PLEASE. We’ll leave the boys at home?

      • Tara
        September 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

        Absolutely! Evan’s probably too tall for European architecture anyway. At least in my mind I picture everywhere to be small, cute, and cuddly. He’s some of those things, but just not small…

      • September 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

        He’d fit in in Amsterdam!


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