More and more people include a visit to Siena to the classic tour "Venice - Florence - Rome". This stunning jewel of Tuscan medieval beauty attracts visitors for its history, its spectacular architecture and of course, its Palio and the many traditions linked to this ancient horse race. But Siena, like most other Italian cities, is worth a trip also for the food it offers.
Compiling a list of best places to eat and drink in a gourmet paradise like Tuscany is quite a challenge but I tried to suggest all the places I love to go to every time I am in town. Siena, without sounding over-biased, certainly hosts smaller hordes of tourists (or at least they manage to blend more with the bricks and the locals) and maintains an atmosphere that is pretty unique to any other place in Italy.
Where to have a bite
*) Fortress Market: from 7am to 1pm every Wednesday of the month the entire perimeter of the Medieval city walls gets carpeted with dozens of stalls from clothes, shoes, bags, and, best of all, fresh produce including fruit and vegetable, bread, cakes, meat and fish. If you feel peckish after your shopping, do not miss the porchetta stall. You can have a large panino for only €4 stuffed with porchetta, a hog roast which in Tuscany is cooked with a mixture of rosemary, sage, salt and pepper (while in Umbria for example wild fennel is added instead).
*) Pizzeria Poppi, in via dei Banchi di Sotto (just behind Piazza del Campo) is the right place for a perfect pizza, and in particular a stuffed white pizza, ciaccino ripieno, filled with cooked ham and mozzarella - soft, stringy and crunchy at the same time.
*) For a good ice cream, gelato, try the local Caribia in via Rinaldini (first road on the left facing the City Hall in the Piazza) or the ethical Grom (originated in Milan) which changes flavours every month and sources ingredients from all over the world (the best I had last Summer was "Caramel with salt").
*) If candied fruit, spices, chocolate and mint & milk sweets are what you are after, do not miss Manganelli in via del Corso (next to Accademia Chigiana), a real Alladin's cave filled with smells and colours which will bring you automatically back to the middle ages. Don't leave without a slice of their peppery panforte.
*) Ham and cheese cannot be missed at Pizzicheria de Miccoli with a very intellectual looking wild boar above the entrance. Don't leave without due etti (200g) of Prosciutto Toscano and a large slice of Pecorino di Fossa (sheep cheese matured in a muslin cloth and kept buried in a pit for 3 months).
(Boar picture by Francesca Re Manning)
*) For a sweet treat, stop at Pasticceria Sinatti in via del Paradiso (opposite the public library) and try either "Brutti ma buoni" (ugly but good-tasty) biscuits or the typical diamond shaped almond cakes which every family in Siena eats during the Christmas period. They are soft and lightly flavoured of orange and anise seed - a bite of paradise!
Where to eat
*) Osteria Le Logge in via del Porrione (on the left hand side of the city hall of Piazza del Campo) serves traditional dishes with a twist in a relaxed atmosphere – and boasts an unusual book case filled with bottles.
*) Another wonderful place to have your dinner is Trattoria da Renzo which serves seriously great food for very reasonable prices (you can have 5 course for €25!).
*) When I was still at school a must-stop was "Il Grattacielo", the Skyscraper, in via delle Terme; the name is exactly the opposite of what the place is, a tiny, low-ceiling tavern where to sample traditional dishes like fagioli all'uccelletta (beans with sausages) or al fiasco (kept in a barrel of oil for a month) as well as pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) and panzanella (a bread salad with tomatoes, basil and onions), delicious in the Summer!
*) For a perfect aperitivo with either a glass of wine or a Spritz (a mixture of Prosecco, Aperol and Soda) - served with a atste of focaccia, ham, olives, pasta salad or crostini in a young relaxed atmosphere crowed with students and locals try Cafe' di Beccaria in via Beccheria, which offers a breath-taking view of the Romanesque San Domenico).
For a more elegant experience head to Cafe' Nannini, a Sienese institution for sweets, coffee and, of course, aperitivo as well sitting down and enjoying the atmosphere of "Il Campo" with a glass of Prosecco.
Where to drink
Of course you can find good wine almost anywhere in Siena being surrounded by its hills of Chianti, but I would recommend two places in particular as they offer a wide choice of wine, have knowledgeable staff, and offer interesting nibbles to accompany your glass of red.
*) Enoteca I Terzi, in via dei Termini, which has a great ambiance, wonderful wines and interesting platter of mixed, unusual cuts of cold meat and cheese.
*) La Compagnia dei Vinattieri, in via delle Terme, which brings back the historical society of wine merchants under one roof and where wines from all over Tuscany. You can read all about the Compagnia in a thick dusty book!