All over town, shops tempt you with edible Sienese specialties — gourmet pasta, vintage Chianti, wild-boar prosciutto…. Afterwards, Victoria lovingly tends her aging rounds of cheese. Siena is divided into 17 neighborhoods, or contrade. Siena's great central piazza is Il Campo. Roberto also arranges Siena city walks. They represent the popes who reigned from the time of St. Peter to the 12th century. They offer a full slate of activities, and those with a car can use this as a springboard for exploring virtually all of Tuscany. Entire communities hurl themselves with abandon into the craziness. Bread was given to the needy. And St. Jerome caresses the crucifix like a violinist lost in heavenly music. Roberto: A perfect environment. Civic palaces like these were emblems of an era when city-states were strong. Thanks for joining us. It grew to its present size between the 13th and 15th centuries, when it was a colorful and crowded city. Rick: Siena!? They celebrate the life of one of Siena's hometown boys — who became Pope Pius II. They had their own armies, raised their own taxes, even had their own systems of weights and measures. It's great. Attentive Matteo and his wonderful wait staff enjoy showing off their Etruscan wine cellar — be sure to venture down. So the next trip we went to Perugia and I have to say it was lovely! While at the palace, you may meet Andrea or Ginevra Contucci, whose family has lived here since the 11th century. Rick: It's open for creativity; a little Tuscan, a little French, Spanish. Roberto runs all-day minibus tours with a passion for local culture, hands-on experiences, and offbeat sights. Rick: Dov'è! Isabella is a patient and engaging teacher. That gives me half portions of two different pastas for the cost of one, doubling my taste treat. Italy packs 55 million people into an area about the size of Arizona. Umbria is where it's at." And, as a travel writer, I feel it's my solemn duty to confirm this. We have an appropriately aristocratic guesthouse to call home in town — and thankfully, it's just around the corner. The Mangia Tower [City Tower], built nearly 700 years ago, remains one of Italy's tallest secular towers. It's worth strolling through the dramatic halls to see fascinating frescoes and portraits extolling Siena's greats, saints, and the city-as-utopia, when this proud town understandably considered itself the vanguard of Western civilization. It's tasty. Rick: Is that right? They also produce excellent olive oil, prosciutto, and salami. Tuscany offers a dolce vita mix of hearty cuisine, fascinating history, and gentle beauty. Rick: Wow, I'll be back next year for the artichoke festival. Rick Steves' Europe. Rick: How are your fava beans doing? Hi, I'm Rick Steves back with more of the best of Europe. This time we're in Italy for the wildest horserace in the world and we're not alone! Jump to bottom. Terms of Service | Privacy, Tuscany, Italy: Chianti Wine and Crete Senesi Regions. Rick: And eat in the season. While tourists pack the more famous places, little off-beat gems like this remain overlooked, and are great places for enjoying the traditional culture. She starts by pouring the milk into a big kettle to warm. Annie: And about five centuries later, under the Romans there were just as many people. Bruno: The Montalcino is traditional wine in Tuscany. This is good travel — a crossroads of American and Italian cultures, eating and drinking together, while creating memories of a lifetime. American Annie Adair is an excellent guide for private, in-depth tours of Volterra. And high above, playful cherubs dangle their feet. Start planning your … Its population hasn't changed for centuries: It's still around 50,000. It's fun to imagine that if Siena's grandiose plans had succeeded, I'd be looking straight down the nave of that massive church toward the altar. This is not some folkloric event — it's a real medieval moment. This memorial to the Sienese pope Pius II features a statue of St. Paul carved by Michelangelo himself. About Rick; Explore Europe; Our Tours; Travel Tips; Watch, Read, Listen; Travel Forum. Annie Adair — an American who fell in love with Volterra…and one of its men — works here as a guide, and she's joining us to help out. My Account . Alabaster has traditionally been a specialty here. Once the rope drops, there's one basic rule: There are no rules. This is a major university town, and a mix of students, locals, and tourists lounge comfortably, as if it's their community living room. The owner, Giorgio, is happy to help his guests with sightseeing tips. Rick: No, don't eat it!…He ate it! Until next time, la vita è bella — that's "life is beautiful." And even better, Giorgio's taking me for a spin in one of his classic Italian cars. Your reward: a bird's eye view down at the uniquely shaped square and a commanding view of the Tuscan countryside. With Roberto, my passeggiata includes a little history. This is not a touristy guided visit, but something far more special: the chance to see busy artisans practicing their craft. Tears of joy flow, people embrace. The many charms of this region reward the traveler with a fascinating insight into a land that makes living well a time-honored art. Thanks for joining us. A highlight of the parade is the actual banner, or "palio." The city, rather than the Church, ran this hospital, illustrating how far secular society had come in Siena by the 1400s. After nearby Florence began building its huge cathedral, proud Siena — not about to be outdone by its rival — planned to build an even bigger church…in fact the biggest church in all Christendom. …whether it's wine, food, art, or friendships. Less picturesque and much more rustic than most other wineries in the area, a tour at Santa Giulia is a Back Door experience. On the outskirts of the town of Torrenieri, this is a quintessential family-run winery, with an emphasis on quality over quantity (only 20,000 bottles a year). And in Siena Il Campo is perfect for a nice aperitivo. With Adamo's passion and guidance, wine can be enjoyed by anybody visiting Montepulciano. It took in and raised orphans — from wet nurse through schooling — to a civil wedding. This quintessential Tuscan landscape features clay hills — the topsoil washed away by ages of rain and wind — and iconic lanes of cypress trees, planted to slow that erosion. Watch "Turning into a Tuscan Pasta-Making Machine" - new video of Rick Steves Europe Series. Rick: And it's, uh, solo tufo… [completely made of tuff] Under the Etruscans there were 25,000 inhabitants. Today the stony walls are peaceful…growing ever more graceful with age. Roberto: They're wonderful. The tower's Italian nickname, Torre del Mangia, comes from a hedonistic bell-ringer who consumed his earnings like a glutton consumes food. Posted by cathy. Many hotels won't take reservations until the end of May for the Palio, and even then they might require a four-night stay. We’re staying in a B&B run by Signora Sylvia Gori. Annie: So, every Saturday morning when the town market is held, this little corner is where all the farmers meet to discuss, you know, how they're going to sell their wheat, what fertilizer they are going to use, or whatever they need. Matteo: It's perfect. You want get to the heart of the Tuscany drive until you're about 1 1/2 hours in. This museum, opposite the Duomo, operated for centuries as a hospital, foundling home, and pilgrim lodging. And you don't have to speak Italian to understand that Adamo believes they make excellent Nobile di Montepulciano right here. Adamo: Il Nobile viene invecchiato in queste botti di rovere — di rovere francese, rovere di slovonia, rovere italiano. and roughly hewn by hand, this former tomb now houses the taverna's fine wine and cheese. South takes us through some of Italy's finest wine country. see our FAQ. Lighting shows off the translucent quality of the stone and the expertise of these artists. Rick: Quello italiano? See the Travel Details above for recommendations highlighted in bold, excerpted from Rick's guidebooks. The entire family was buried in several sarcophagi in this tomb. Sangiovese grosso from Montalcino and traditional — aged five years. The son, Gianluca, and his wife, Kae, enjoy showing off their entire working farm — ham hocks, cheese, and winery — before giving you a chance to taste their produce. Florentine Delights and Tuscan Side Trips, ©2021 Rick Steves' Europe, Inc. | This soil is a mix of clay and sand. As evening falls, we gather for a cultural experience. Rick: Tell me about this "slow food." Rick: Here's to good wine, and good family. Ecco…fantastico…perfetto. In his vineyard, as they do each spring, tender shoots are bursting out of their gnarly vines filled with promise. Like many popular Tuscan towns, Volterra sits on an Etruscan foundation. Rick: Come on, I've been relaxing for 45 seconds — have you guys got it yet? It's Sunday, and Roberto's Slow Food group is enjoying a convivial lunch on the farm. This intentionally rough brick work patiently waits for its final marble veneer…which will likely never arrive. Season 9 Episode 7. They love to share their family's products with the public. He always has some creative ways to get off the beaten path and closer to the culture…this time it's truffles. At their powdery workshop you can watch Roberto Chiti and Giorgio Finazzo at work, and they're delighted to share their art with visitors. Long appreciated for its translucent quality, it was sliced thin to provide windows for Italy's medieval churches. Thank you! Butcher: Assaggio della casa: Si chiama "finocchiona," un salami fatto… [House sample: It's called "finocchiona," a salami made...] Rick: OK. And where do you find them? With our Tuscan farmhouse as a base, there are plenty of things to experience within a short and scenic drive. All over Europe, farms are renting rooms to travelers — now harvesting their rural charm as well as their produce to help make ends meet. All the full length Rick Steves Europe PBS Episodes that I could find. It's that time in the early evening when friends gather and stroll. This family-friendly farm welcomes visitors for weeklong stays (Sat–Sat) in six comfortable apartments. Rick: So that's the front door of the house? The tower's nearly 400 steps get pretty skinny at the top, but the reward is one of Italy's best views (closed in rainy weather but otherwise open daily in summer until 19:00, off-season until 16:00). Volterra's 700-year-old city hall claims to be the oldest in Tuscany. I hope you've enjoyed our taste of Tuscany — from rich and exuberant Siena to the rustic and equally rich countryside. Rick: Look at that! A peaceful home base for exploring the region, these rural Italian B&Bs are family-friendly and ideal for those traveling by car. Italy is the size of California, and the region of Tuscany grabs the center. Medieval Siena was a self-assured republic, and this tower stands like an exclamation point — an architectural declaration of independence from both the pope and the emperor. Meanwhile, back at the agriturismo, the cattle — oblivious to their fate — are raised in free-range bliss. City Hall also has a fine and manageable museum that displays a good sampling of Sienese art, including Siena's first fresco (with a groundbreaking down-to-earth depiction of the Madonna). Lunch is the main event on this timeless Tuscan Sunday. I love bruschetta, and my favorite is without toppings — just the olive oil and garlic. First we'll learn about the original Tuscans — the ancient Etruscans — at Volterra's Etruscan Museum, then we'll tour a hill town that was important to both the Etruscans and the Romans, head into the woods for a truffle hunt, eat slow food Italian-style during Sunday lunch in Chiusure, and finish in Montepulciano, where we'll get passionate about the local wine. Roberto: These dogs are trained for years before they can find the mushroom. "Aperitivo" is Italian for "happy hour," basically. To qualify as an agriturismo, a place must still be a working farm. A hundred bucks! It turns out that quaint little Volterra was a significant player in both ancient Etruscan and Roman times. Annie: Just about anywhere you dig you can find something that's Roman. The kids take part as well, as everybody's learning and having fun. This robust red can be tasted in any of the cantinas lining Via Ricci and Via di Gracciano nel Corso, but the cantina in the basement of Palazzo Contucci is both historic and fun. And keep on travelin'! Rick: Like here? Roberto: No chemicals first, but also, the varieties. Signor Hescanas rides the chariot into the afterlife. Pienza's classic main square is famous for its elegance and artistic unity: the city hall, two palaces, and the cathedral. Rick: Everybody's out. Rick: It's nice. Roberto: Absolutely, it's the idea that you have to eat quality and not quantity. Back in the 1300s, Siena was a major banking, trading, and military power. Roberto: Yeah. The resulting church is still impressive. One word of caution: Be aware that an agriturismo is truly a working farm. Five are new "superior" rooms with grand views across the Tuscan valleys. And we cap our meal by descending into their ancient Etruscan wine cellar. Across Europe, festival traditions go back centuries, and are filled with time-honored pageantry and ritual. Three hundred winding steps take you high above the town. They were architectural exclamation points declaring that townspeople, rather than popes and emperors, were calling the shots. Siena's loss became our sightseeing gain, as its political and economic stagnation preserved its purely Gothic identity. Chianti, with its rugged hills and farmland, charms visitors with a slower, more rustic lifestyle. Butcher: Qui prodotti di Siena. And the town that was named "Corsignano" was renamed "Pienza," after Pope Pius II. Roberto: It's called a vanghino. Siena's claim to caloric fame is panforte — a chewy local delicacy that tempts even fruitcake haters. Roberto: The famous truffle. Rick: Oh there it is! Alabaster is softer and easier to work than marble. When the winner crosses the line, the winning contrada goes berserk. Roberto: Yes. Until next time, keep on traveling. Tuscany offers a dolce vita mix of hearty cuisine, fascinating history, and gentle beauty. Roberto's passions are Sienese culture, Tuscan history, and local cuisine. A heavenly chamber orchestra provides music as women in fine gowns and jewelry dance. Rick: This is salami? Rick: So this is the precious truffle? They suggest the Etruscans were influenced by their ancient Greek contemporaries. It looks like the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence because it was built under Florentine dominance five centuries ago. Looking at this evidence of such an advanced civilization it's amazing that these earliest Tuscans are still largely a mystery. Its mighty Etruscan gate — built of massive tuff stones — survives. Her husband Francesco, an easy-going sommelier and wine critic, leads a "Wine Tasting 101" crash course in sampling Tuscan wines. When it gets to the right temperature she mixes in a thistle-flower solution, instead of rennet, to get it to curdle. These Chianina cows are celebrated throughout Tuscany for their lean and tasty beef. This one features Siena as a she-wolf at the center of the Italian universe, orbited by such lesser lights as Rome, Florence, and Pisa. 6 posts. The dramatic beauty of the countryside changes with the season, and with the time of day. Rick: I like it as simple, because you can taste the oil. Rick: So, it's a tradition they gather right there? A Nobile — taste, sir.]. Roberto: The olive oil. We're grating some of those exquisitely pungent truffles on our pasta. The snorting horses and their nervous riders line up, jockeying for the best spot. Since 1953, your wine tasting host and very passionate tour guide has been…Adamo. And travelers who call in advance are welcome to visit and tour the wineries. We'll enjoy an aperitivo on a great square, marvel at exquisite art, eat cheese in an Etruscan cellar, settle into a farmhouse B&B, learn to make pici pasta, taste one of the world's finest wines, prepare for a festival, and go to the races. I'm standing atop what would have been the front of that church. A challenge for me in my guidebook writing is to take a slice of a town — like Volterra's main drag — and, with help from local guides, give travelers a peek into the culture. The crenellations along the roof were never intended to hide soldiers, just to symbolize power. Annie: …and they would have to build wooden additions and balconies hanging over the streets so it was a tangled mess of balconies and roofs. For coronavirus (COVID-19) travel information, Annie: By ancient standards, Volterra was huge. Surrounded by stainless steel vats that produce 10,000 bottles a year, father and son monitor the process, carefully tasting and discussing the potential of this year's vintage. Tuscan wines are some of the tastiest and most famous in Italy. The motion and realism captured by the fourth-century B.C. That you have to preserve the variety of foods. (Go with an empty bladder as there are no WCs, and be prepared to surrender any sense of personal space.) Rick: So basically, what are truffles? There are rousing choruses with everybody cheering their contrada. In the video here on the right, Rick Steves describes Tuscany with fondness, showing us beautiful images of the Siena and Florence countryside. We can read the family name…spelled [out] what we would call backwards…HESCANAS. After enjoying a great day out, the guests gather for a convivial happy hour. Isabella: We'll recognize that. But after being weakened by a devastating plague and conquered by its bitter rival, Florence, it's been a backwater ever since. In this side chapel, St. John the Baptist, carved by Donatello, wears his iconic rags. Rick: So, no chemicals? Like a people-friendly stage set, it's the heart of Siena, both geographically and metaphorically. Farmer: Solo tufo; si, si. Annie: Exactly. She presses the curds into forms made of beechwood, gently squeezing the moisture out. The artifacts were mostly excavated from tombs. Annie: Exactly. Reservations are a good idea here. Need a break? Rick: They smell it out? I'm Rick Steves. Here…fantastic…perfect. In their cantina they welcome visitors to appreciate their wine and how it's made. Rick Steves' Europe Travel Guide | Tuscany offers a "dolce vita" mix of hearty cuisine, fascinating history, and gentle beauty. Here it's clear modern technology complements tradition, and after centuries of trial and error, wines are better today than ever before. Annie: That was the front door — to get inside the house — and it was made so narrow so that you couldn't possibly get inside wearing armor. Rick: You can use your hands? We're dropping in on a farm to visit the tomb of the Hescanas family. A short and scenic drive. [How old?] Roberto: It's wonderful...with pasta. Our agriturismo [Agriturismo Cretaiole], perched on a bluff overlooking pristine farmland, is perfect for those who want to settle in and fully experience Tuscany. Adamo: Ora vi faccio vedere, come…molto antico…attenzione! It was a key trading center protected by a four-mile-long wall. It had a population of about 50,000 people — that was one of the biggest cities in Europe — about as big as Paris. The artichokes are gobbled down raw by young and old — a leafy delicacy. Rick: I can see why. Rick: So…quanto vecchio? Skip the palace's formal wine-tasting showroom facing the square, and instead head down the lane on the right to the actual cellars, where you'll meet lively Adamo, who has been making wine here since 1961 and welcomes tourists into the cellar. Tuscany is named after the Etruscan people, who lived here centuries before this region was conquered by ancient Rome. There's so much to see and learn…if you know where to look. Piazza Grande is dominated by the city hall. But there are wineries that still have the vine from a century ago. The vineyards here produce some of the very best wines in the world. Posted by Laura. And food just doesn't get much slower than cheese making. Rick: The way of the French. These towering marble arches hint at the immensity of the vision. Washington State. Rick: What kind of environment do they like? Roberto: $100 a pound. BMB provides a great springboard for a world of side trips. La Vena di Vino, just across from the Etruscan Museum, is a fun enoteca where two guys who have devoted themselves to the wonders of wine share it with a fun-loving passion. Tour Account › Travel Forum › Home / Travel Forum / Italy / Tuscany information; Please sign in to post. A refreshing break from its more commercial neighbors, it's my favorite small town in Tuscany. Farms like this are part of Italy's growing Slow Food movement, where producers maintain the labor-intensive traditions, and consumers are willing to pay extra for the quality. In the springtime the rolling fields are splashed with colorful flowers. Farmer: É tre cinquanta avanti Cristo. Tuscany Travel Guide by Rick Steves For coronavirus (COVID-19) travel information, see our FAQ . Here in Italy, farmhouse B&Bs are called agriturismos. The unfinished Duomo glumly looks on, wishing the city hadn't run out of money for its facade. Check PBS Video. Agriturismos are subsidized — part of a government effort to help small, family-run farms survive in this age of large-scale corporate farming. This farmer prunes his olive trees, employing a lifetime of experience to maximize the fall harvest. For special offers, short stays, and discounted rates for all three properties, check their umbrella website. You'll twist up on cypress-lined gravel lanes to this perch, which looks out over an expanse of vineyards and Montalcino in the distance. Jump to bottom. And it doesn't hurt to have Giorgio for a driver. Rick: So, under all of this, there's Roman ruin just like this? Matteo: Definitely! So they have a festival every year then, huh? We rented at the Rome FCO airport and drove part way up the Autostrada, then hopped off to drive through the countryside. Roberto: Yeah! [Now I'll show you…how…very antique [the method]…watch out! Had it been completed, this square would have been not a parking lot, but the nave itself. With their mascots and flags, these have long been competitive and filled with rivalry. 16773 posts. Grand as Siena's cathedral is, it's actually the unfinished rump of a failed vision. Sprawling before the City Hall backdrop, the gently tilted piazza offers the perfect invitation to loiter. Our meal couldn't be more fresh — local wine, Victoria's cheese, today's crunchy bread. It's Siena, the Palio, and a whole lot more! email; facebook; twitter; google+; linkedin; stumble; pinterest < Prev; Next > THE EXPERIENCE OF CRETAIOLE. Rick: Wow. Get inspired with Rick Steves’ recommended places to go and things to do, with tips, photos, videos, and travel information on Tuscany. Roberto: Absolutely. In fact, throughout the Mediterranean region, early evening is the time to be out and about. Rick: Mmmm! In the spring, the fertile Tuscan countryside becomes a green mosaic of farms. Siena's City Hall (Palazzo Pubblico), still the seat of city government, symbolizes a republic independent from the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. Give it back! The faint but still readable frescoes take us back to the funeral ritual. Others are simple and rustic, offering casual farmhouse hospitality and the smell of whatever is being produced. We'll enjoy a front-row seat at its wild horse race — the venerable Palio — and marvel at cultural treasures from the days when it rivaled Florence for leadership of Tuscany. The same family runs two properties in the atmospheric medieval village of Castelmuzio, five miles north of Pienza (both with access to activities at the main agriturismo): Le Casine di Castello is a townhouse with two units, while the more upscale Casa Moricciani is a swanky villa with dreamy views, a garden terrace, and loads of extras. To cap our visit, Gianluca's mother is orchestrating the final touches of a delightful lunch — which of course includes homemade pasta. And these sights have a consistent theme: The Republic of Siena is independent and perfectly capable of ruling itself. The winners thunder through the streets and eventually into the cathedral — filled with jubilation. We recommend our favorites in the Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany ... especially because of the magnificent 360-degree video projection in the palazzo leading up to the New Year countdown. There's something charming…almost seductively charming about this region and its rustic good living. The enticing array of pecorino cheeses, prosciutto, and salami are all an ideal complement to what this family believes is the best wine in Italy. Roberto: Well, they like a lot of moisture. Tonight we're learning to make the local favorite — a pasta called "pici." Get Started; Community Guidelines; Shop Online; Rick Steves' Europe. Rick: Ah, they love their artichokes here. Rick: Didn't understand a word he said. It's "the sweet life" in Tuscany. My Account. We did an all day tour with Tours by Roberto (recommended by Rick Steves) a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Siena's 13th-century Gothic cathedral, with its striped tower, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and covered with art. The three seriously eroded heads date from the second century B.C., and show what can happen when you leave something outside for 2,000 years. Then, as if a reward for all the kneading and rolling, we sit down together and enjoy the fruits of our labor. [Products here are from Siena.] Sienese society cared for its poor. We were on the bus from Florence to Rome on Thanksgiving. This is wine country, home of the famous and much-loved Brunello di Montalcino. Peering down from above are 172 heads. We're meeting Fabio and his prized dogs Nic and Susi to hunt the beloved truffles — one of this region's specialties. Ah, smell that… Montepulciano's most popular attraction isn't made of stone — it's the famous wine, Vino Nobile. Also facing the main square is the Contucci Palace, where the Contucci family still lives, produces, and sells their wine. Rick: And people pay a lot of money for this? Fine galleries show off the expertise of local artists. Hairy on the outside, but prosciutto in the inside. They race bareback like crazy while spectators go wild. Rick: OK. We didn't stray from her directions and were rewarded with lovely drives through Tuscany and on the way to Orvieto all on back roads. 05/31/19 11:02 PM. Roberto: Yes, absolutely. Rick: Oh, OK. Now, he's got this tool here… Crowning yet another ridge, Montepulciano welcomes visitors with views, villas, and vino. Reserve ahead for tours and tastings. Rick: The wild boar. Roberto: Like this…. Silence takes over. Roberto: More varieties — better. Year round it's the perfect temperature for wine…and the perfect humidity for cheese. Adamo: Si, si…molto feminili…quello di Slovonia, rovere più maschio, eh? Regardless of the size of your group, they charge per person, so these minibus tours are economical. Rick: So these little nubs supported wooden…add-ons, basically? For days, processions break out across the city. As fate–and the surprising Italian planning would have it–the video was completely Beatles themed, if I recall correctly. When travel dreams take people to Italy, Tuscany is often their first stop. And our Florentine-cut steak is cooked just the way locals like it: rare — and sliced thin…good enough for a Medici prince. Farmer: Original, si. Annie: It was a private home, but it also served a defensive function. First time posting so go easy on me. Here in the heart of Italy, the rustic soul and historic charm collaborate, seducing travelers into tossing their itineraries and settling in. Rick: That's nice. The frescoes look nearly as vivid now as the day they were finished, over 500 years ago. So much to see, so little time. Roberto: Tartufo, correct. And they built this theater down here to seat up to 2,000 spectators. Each July and each August the entire city readies itself for the big race. I'm Rick Steves, and we're exploring more of the best of Europe. It's a pre-Christian judgment day as a divine magistrate deliberates his case. Farmer: Anche oggi come oggi, qui nelle nostre zone ci sono i funerali accompagnati da…da banda musicale… [Even nowadays here in our area there are funerals accompanied by music bands…]