Honeymooning in Italy, Part 3: Siena

When traveling through Tuscany, Siena is a must-see. It has one of the most memorable cathedrals I've ever seen, an impressive piazza, and lots of shops and restaurants. If you're strapped for time and want to see a classic Tuscan hill town, I would put Siena at the top of your list. I had stopped here once in 2012 only for a few hours, but this trip we got to enjoy it for most of the day. It ended up being Andrew's favorite Tuscan city!

We parked in a convenient garage just outside the city (Parcheggio Santa Caterina) for 2 euros per hour or 6 euros per day. Then we made the roughly 10-minute walk into town. Siena is built on a tall hill, but unlike other hill towns, it has escalators that take you most of the way up to the city center. As much as we like the climb, it was another very hot day, so we couldn't complain.

Before we knew it, we were in standing in front of the Duomo di Siena.

Even Andrew had to stop and say "wow."

We had to wait about half an hour for tickets. You can opt for a ticket to just the cathedral, or you can buy a combined ticket that also grants you access to the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypts, and the Museo dell'Opera. You also have the chance to climb up to the unfinished facade of the new cathedral with the combined ticket. I heard the view on top of the facade was well worth the cost, and you know how much we love climbing, so we went for the combined ticket. Tickets were about 14 euros each.

Unlike the inside of the Duomo di Firenze, the Duomo di Siena is even more beautiful inside.

I always love beautiful ceilings, and this cathedral had those in spades.

We especially loved the gorgeous marble mosaic floors.

There is just so much to see inside. Every way we turned, there was some new detail.

The crypts below were stunning as well for their giant stained glass windows.

We powered through the museum (is it bad to admit that we're not all that interested in old religious artifacts?), and got in line to climb the Facciatone. Unlike the Duomo in Florence, this is only a 131-step climb, so much more doable.

At the top, we were rewarded with terrific views of Siena and the cathedral.

In comparison to the main cathedral, the Baptistry was much smaller and not quite as impressive, though still worth the time.

In all, we spent a little over 4 hours going through all the areas of the Duomo. We could have spent more time, but we were pretty hungry at this point and were more than ready for a late lunch. If you are a big fan of religious art, you could easily spend all day in this area. However, we were satisfied with the quick overview we got.

After leaving, we walked through the Piazza del Campo, which is the heart of Siena, and most famous for the twice-yearly horse races right in the piazza.

It's hard to get a sense of just how big the Piazza del Campo is from this picture, but it's pretty huge. The tower in the middle of the picture is the Torre del Mangia, which you can also climb, but we had enough climbing for the day. The piazza is lined with restaurants and gelaterias all around which make prime people-watching spots, but are also more touristy and overpriced. We had other plans for lunch.

Instead we walked to La Prosciutteria. You're greeted by what looks like an old-world deli counter at the front. Their specialty is tagliere, which is basically a wooden charcuterie board. You just tell the people behind the counter how many people you're trying to feed, and they'll slice you an assortment of meats and cheeses. Our tagliere for two came out to around 20 euros.

It was hard to fit the whole tagliere in the picture, but here it is in all its glory.

We couldn't believe this was all for two people. Somehow we finished almost all of it, except for a couple of slices of cheese and bread. It was tasty, even though we began to realize we don't love Tuscan bread (it tends to be on the dense, drier side and is never flavored with salt). I wish I could have this for lunch every day.

After lunch, we did a little shopping and a lot of wandering around the city. Unlike San Gimignano, Siena definitely feels more like a place where people live. It doesn't have a crumbling medieval look, but the winding roads and red-brick buildings were charming in their own right.

We stopped into one of the smaller churches and lit a candle for Andrew's friend's mother, who was battling cancer.

On our way out of the city, we happened to pass by a gelateria that I had saved, Gelateria il Masgalano.

I got the pistachio and the ginger and honey, both of which were excellent. They could definitely hold their own with the big gelato stores we enjoyed in Florence.

Andrew got the almonds and cinnamon...and honestly I can't remember the other flavor. I remember the almond being a little bitter but not in an unpleasant way, kind of like almond extract. The pistachio was the real winner though! We really enjoyed the gelato in this little shop.

Our final stop on the way out was the Fontebranda, which is the oldest medieval fountain in the city.

Inside is not particularly interesting (just a lot of fish swimming in an old fountain), but it's free and worth a quick stop.

It was starting to get late at this point, so we hopped in our car and started driving to our next agriturismo, which was an hour away near Pienza.

The region south of Siena extending to Mount Amiata is known as the Val d'Orcia, noted for its beautiful rolling golden rolling hills and vineyards. In all, we spent a couple of days in the Val d'Orcia, and as you'll see, the views we enjoyed in this part of Tuscany were particularly beautiful.

We were in a bit of a hurry to get to our agriturismo before the check-in time ended so we didn't feel like we had time to stop by the side of the road and take pictures (I later found out it wouldn't have been a problem anyway), but this was the perfect place to do this.

We finally pulled up to Agriturismo il Macchione with minutes to spare. As much as we loved Fattoria Poggio Alloro, somehow we were even more in love with this place. Everything was so quaint and peaceful. It felt like living in an old Italian movie.

Our room was huge, delightfully rustic, and the owners even gifted us a bottle of their farm's red wine.

The best part was waiting for us in the courtyard patio.

Kitties!! Specifically, a momma cat and her little kitten. We were so excited and spent a long time playing with the kitten and the surprisingly chill mom.

We quickly bonded with the curious and sassy little kitten.

The amused owner of Il Macchione asked if we wanted to take the kitten with us, and as much as we loved it, somehow we didn't quite think that would work out. That didn't mean we didn't enjoy all of our time at Il Macchione playing with the cats.

Eventually we pulled ourselves away and took a swim in the infinity pool. After the very hot day in Siena, this felt wonderful.

We were joined by a friendly fellow from northern Italy who was here with his friends staying in one of the apartments. We chatted a bit about the agriturismo system, which appears to be a popular vacation option for other Italians.

Agriturismo il Macchione, unlike Fattoria Poggio Alloro, does not have a working farm next to the farmhouse. The farm is located elsewhere. There is no restaurant either, but this wasn't an issue for us, as there was another agriturismo down the road that offered a well-reviewed one.

We showered, changed, and got back in our car to get some photos of the Tuscan hills before the sun went down. We actually drove back the way we came trying to find some of the wonderful views we had passed.

Everything was bathed in this magical glow. We and a few other cars just stood there by the side of the road snapping picture after picture and having a hard time believing any of this was real. Unfortunately at this point, my dad's DSLR that we borrowed for this trip started having issues, so most of these were taken with my cell phone and are a little blurry as a result.

We could just make out the Vitaleta Chapel off in the distance, which is one of the most photographed churches in Italy.

Even our little Fiat Panda looked more beautiful.

Once the sun got low enough, we drove to Agriturismo La Fonte for dinner.

Due to its restaurant, this agriturismo was busier, but still quite bucolic. We got to watch kids and dogs playing in a field while we ate our dinner.

The menu was short but full of Tuscan classics.

We got three first courses. It's not on this side of the menu, but we got their stuffed roasted onions with some kind of cheese on top. This came highly recommended on Tripadvisor, and they did not disappoint. I'd never thought to stuff an onion before, but it's such a great idea.

The tagliatelle with wild boar sauce was savory and delicious.

The pici pasta with courgettes and pecorino was milder, but Andrew just loved it. All of their pastas were so well-cooked.

As we were waiting for our main courses to arrive, I decided to check my bag for our room key and realized, to my horror, that I didn't have it. I frantically searched my bag and the car multiple times, turning up nothing. We realized that the sun was rapidly going down, and after dark, the key would be nearly impossible to find. We made the tough choice at that point to cut our dinner short and go looking for the key.

Our server checked with the kitchen, and our main courses had just finished cooking, so we had them packed to go and quickly paid the bill. We retraced our steps and realized that the key must be somewhere on the side of the road where we took all of those photos earlier. We drove as fast as we safely could in a race against the sun. Luckily the roads were pretty empty as everyone was at dinner.

We pulled over to the side of the road where we had just parked an hour earlier, and there on the gravel was our room key! It was a miracle! I was so relieved that I cried. It turns out I had left the key on my lap after we left the agriturismo. It had gotten buried in the folds of my skirt, and then when we stopped by the side of the road, I had been so excited that I had leapt up and the key had fallen out onto the road.

Here's where I'm going to get all mushy. Throughout this ordeal, my amazing husband was nothing but supportive and understanding. I expected him to be angry with me, but his focus was solely on doing what we had to do to find the key. He knew I was already beating myself up, and that turning it into an argument would only slow us down. I've never been so sure that I made the right decision marrying this wonderful, mature, sensible man. What started out as a stupid mistake on my part ended up bringing us closer together.

With our leftovers in the back of the car, we headed back to the Il Macchione and ended up having the rest of our dinner in the courtyard patio.

Our main courses were braised Chianina beef with peppers, onions, and wine, and the eggplant parmesan (technically a side dish, but we had ordered three starters).

The pictures are really crummy, but the food was sensational. Really truly a revelation. The beef was so flavorful and tender, and the eggplant Parmesan was like no eggplant Parmesan we've ever had in the US. Instead of being breaded and fried, it was roasted and tender, more like a ratatouille with layers of Parmesan.

We uncorked our complimentary bottle of red wine from the agriturismo and immensely enjoyed it with our food. It ended up being the perfect pairing for the braised beef.

Perhaps it was the relief and residual adrenaline that made the food taste extra good, but we agreed that even if the room key incident hadn't happened, this was still the best food we ate during the entire trip. Everything was perfect.

Then we played with the cats some more and went to sleep.

The next morning, we were greeted to the lovely sight of breakfast.

I have to admit, the extravagant breakfast spread was one reason why I had booked this place. It was a nice opportunity to try a number of Italian cakes at once, most involving lemon zest. We enjoyed our breakfast outside on the patio at the same table where we had eaten dinner the night before.

Since there were more than just a few people outside, the cats didn't make an appearance, but we did get to say goodbye and play with the kitten one last time before we left.

We checked out of Il Macchione after breakfast and got ready to make the short drive to Pienza. In total, we paid 91 euros for the one night we stayed here, which included breakfast. Quite a steal, right?

We couldn't recommend Il Macchione enough. It was probably our favorite place we stayed at during our honeymoon, and we only wish we could have stayed longer. It's a convenient home base to a number of Tuscan towns and just down the street from our favorite restaurant! The owner was very friendly and kept in touch afterwards via Instagram. We still follow his Instagram and are delighted to see photos of our little black kitty now an adult and still greeting travelers at the agriturismo. If you're interested, we booked through booking.com.

We absolutely plan to come back one day. Who knows, maybe there will be more kittens?

To read about the next part of our trip (Pienza and Monticchiello), click here.

To read about our time in San Gimignano (Part 2), click here.
To read about our time in Florence (Part 1), click here.

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