Siena is one of the jewels of Tuscany, with one of a kind buildings like its spectacular Duomo, which has an unfinished second facade from whose top you can enjoy a splendid panorama of the surrounding countryside. Siena is also the home of the Enoteca Italiana, the only national institution dedicated to showcasing the DOC and DOCG wines of Italy. The wine cellars of the enoteca, located deep in the vaults in the imposing 16th century Fortezza Medicea, hold bottles of every classified wine from across Italy, all of which are available for tasting by the glass or bottle in the enoteca's lounge area. Because of its location inside the huge stone fortress, the Enoteca Italiana's lounge doesn't have too much atmosphere or any view, but it is worth a visit if you are a serious student of Italian wine or want to taste something unique. The enocteca also holds special events and classes throughout the year.Enoteca Italiana Siena
The Palio is an event like no other in the world -- part sporting event and part like watching a piece of living history. This bareback horse race around Siena's central shell-shaped plaza, the Campo, unfolds with a pageant and rituals that date back hundreds of years. Every year on July 2 and again on August 16, 10 out of Siena's 17 contradas are selected to compete for the Palio, a silk banner. The contradas are named after animals and signify the different wards of the city, each with its own church and social center. Much of the fun of the Palio occurs in the parades, festivals and dinners held by the participating contradas in the week leading up to the race. To really get into the spirit, we suggest selecting one of the contradas to cheer on, including wearing a brightly-colored scarf with the contrada's colors and symbol. On our first trip in 1996, Maureen selected the Contrada delle Oca, or goose, which had colors of green and yellow.
That year we attended a trial race two days before the July running of the Palio, held at 6:45 in the evening. Because it was a trial, the center of the Campo did not fill up until an hour before the race (on Palio day people claim a spot early in the morning and wait packed together all day). The horses enter to the roar of the crowds, led by youths who chant the fight songs of their contrada. The trial race went fast, with just a few perfunctory laps of the Campo. After the trial race was over, the crowds dispersed quickly as people fell in line behind the horses of their respective contrada to begin the walk back to their church. We joined the group behind the horse of the Contrada delle Oca as they made their way to St. Caterina of Siena Church. In the courtyard of the church, the horse was blessed and then walked around in circles to cool down before being spirited away.
The Contrada delle Oca has its own social center, the Societa Trieste Fontebranda, named after the fountain at the foot of the street where its church is located. We stayed for the contrada's dinner that evening, which was open to visitors for a nominal ticket purchase. Long wooden tables were set up in the narrow, steep street outside the social center. The meal was an authentic Tuscan feast, with bowls of pasta in a light marinara sauce followed by roasted chicken and vegetables drowned in olive oil, all washed down with copious amounts of vino de tavola. After a while, we began to talk with some of our neighboring diners, who enjoyed practicing their English on us. We developed an even stronger rooting interest for the Oca, which gave us reason to celebrate when we heard that they brought home the Palio in the race two days later!
On our second visit to the Palio in 1999, we attended a ceremony in the Campo for the selection of the horses, held three days before the August running. We again rooted for the Oca and made our way back to St. Caterina for the blessing of the horse and to stay for the contrada's dinner that evening. The food and wine were wonderful and we especially enjoyed the company of our tablemates, including three hearty gentlemen who were all named Mario.