The Jewels of Siena… A Travel Guide for the Uninitiated
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The Jewels of Siena … A Travel Guide for the Uninitiated
Siena is one of my favourite Tuscan towns, great for a day trip anytime of the year and if you are up for emersing yourselves into the bustling crowds for the Palio then it is a once in a lifetime experience. Obviously it depends as to what time of year you are visiting Tuscany, but rest assured anytime of the year you will be awestruck by this wonderful medieval town.
Centred around the fan shaped ‘Piazza del Campo’, Siena is a 360° immersion into medieval Italy. Many of the city’s lovely buildings were constructed between the years 1260 to 1348. This period was the peak of Siena, known at that time as one of the richest urban centers of the continent. Later during war of the 1500’s , Siena was eventually lost to the city of Florence who was in alliance with Spain at the time. At a later stage, Spain, having accrued a huge debt to the Medici Family gave the city back to Florence as part of their debt repayment.
The Piazza del Campo
This fan-shaped, brick paved main square of Siena is the main attraction and is the host of the Il Palio, Siena’s frenetic and high energy bareback horse race. If you want to witness this famous Tuscan festival then you’d better make sure you’re around when it happens on July 2 and August 16. Seats are actually sold in advance so you need to secure seats or else find a spot amidst the huge crowd to stand to see this ancient and unique horse race. There are apartments for rent in Siena located on the actual piazza so you can enjoy prosecco and a great view right from the comfort of your own home. Beware – these apartments book out long in advance!
Siena is great place for an easy stroll with friends and family on regular days, when there is no Palio. There are also many restaurants and cafes both surrounding the piazza ( remember more expensive when on the piazza itself) and then many scattered in the smaller streets where you can sample authentic Tuscan cuisine. Siena is not as busy as Firenze, and it is here where tourists can examine more closely the beautiful medieval buildings that remain to this day. There is a tourist assistance office at the Piazza where you can make inquiries and get maps of the region.
There is great shopping here (some say better than Florence) and some traditional delicacies to enjoy many originating from the medieval or renaissance periods. Hand rolled pasta called ‘pici’ is something to try. These are chewy spaghetti type pasta wonderful with a wild boar sauce or even with ‘cacio e pepe’ which is sheep’s cheese & black pepper. For the sweeter tooth, ‘panforte’ is not to be missed, a rich fruit and spice laden cake wonderful with a sweet wine or coffee.
From Il Campo, visitors can go directly to the Duomo. Make sure you leave enough time to explore this magnificent structure because the interior of the Duomo is really breathtaking. Another important landmark along Il Campo is the Gothic Palazzo Publico, the town hall and Torre del Mangia, the 102-meter tall bell tower. If you have the energy, climbing the 505 steps will definitely reward you with one of the most panoramic views of this part of Tuscany.
For museum lover’s there is also the Museo Civico, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and the Pinacoteca Nazionale.
Its easy to get here, with both the train coming from Florence ( about an 1.5hr trip) or by car it is approximately an hour ( 60 kms). You can park in the various parking stations situated around the cities walls and if arriving by train take one of the local buses from the train stations. Almost all go in that direction anyway and if you need some easy italian to help you get there ask anyone ‘Questo autobus va in centro?‘ ( which means ‘Does this bus go into the centre? ) . It is part of the lower Chianti region so either from your Florence rental apartment or from your Siena villa rental it is easy to get here. Trains also run from Rome, though bear in mind they are the regional ones and not the fast Eurostar.
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