Sleepy Siena is waking up. The choice of the discerning Tuscan traveller, this pocket-sized provincial city is full of quaint cobbled alleys, beautiful churches and mouthwatering vineyards.
Siena is the best preserved medieval town in Europe. It was the first European city to ban cars from its centre, which is now a World Heritage site, and the historic Piazza del Campo is the heart of the city and its main meeting point.
Admire the bareback Palio horse race (website: www.ilpalio.org). Ten horses and riders represent 10 of the 17 city wards in a bid for local supremacy. The pageantry and thrill of the race is unmatched.
Take mass at the Duomo, whether you’re Catholic or not. Siena’s cathedral is a cavernous tomb filled with mosaic flooring and its walls are painted in black and white stripes like a giant humbug.
Watch the monks chant at the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo (website: www.antimo.it). Tucked into the countryside on Siena’s southern border, the abbey is a peaceful retreat, with beautiful stained glass windows, smoky incense and heavenly chanting.
Go ballooning in the Tuscan countryside (website: www.ballooningintuscany.com). Leaving at dawn, you see the sun rise over Siena, before touching down for a champagne breakfast. Perfect for special occasions.
Go wine tasting. The Chianti wine region borders Siena city, and there are loads of tours available to get you swilling and spitting. Try Enoteca Italiana (website: www.enoteca-italiana.it), which has been Italy’s official Museo del Vino since 1950.
Stroll down Via Banchi di Sopra. This market street has always been Siena’s main shopping area, but it now mixes elegant designer stores alongside weather-beaten stalls.
Italy is awash with culinary delights, and Siena is no different. You can eat fantastically at any number of restaurants. Try wild boar for a main course, with panforte (a dense, spicy cake filled with nuts and dried fruit) for dessert.
The nearest airports to Siena are Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport (website: www.aeroporto.firenze.it) and Pisa’s Galileo Airport (website: www.pisa-airport.com). It takes around two hours by train to get to Siena from either city.
Did you know?
It is illegal to be a prostitute in Siena if your name is Mary.