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Siena Travel Guide

About Siena

Gloriously Gothic and effortlessly civilised, intimate Siena is Tuscany’s most seductive calling card. This compact, Italian city is endlessly intriguing, from the shell-shaped Campo to the galleries full of doe-eyed Madonnas and sad-eyed saints.

Born middle-aged, Siena is an antidote to fashion lists. It has smugly looked the same for 900 years and has no truck with trends. In essence, it's Italy’s last surviving city-state: a provincial capital with the psychology of a village and the grandeur of a nation.

Siena is the counterpoint to nearby Florence. It’s as medieval as its rival is Renaissance. It’s the feminine foil to Florentine masculinity: Siena paints Madonnas; Florence prefers the machismo of Michelangelo’s David.

Change is anathema to the Sienese, but what is there to alter? The rose-brick cityscape is too coherent to tweak. The locals have been giving lessons in living since the enlightened city council first set the tone in the 13th century. Its hearty food and wine still converts hardened sinners and the biannual Palio horse race continues to command the passion of the population.

Today, romantics drift along medieval alleys suffused with melancholy charm. Tall, flush-brick palaces conceal world-class art collections. Culture vultures slaver over the turreted town hall and the theatrical mansions. Mystical churches and monumental fountains are simply part of the furniture; quaffing Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino wines in the Medici Fortress an everyday joy. Tomorrow they might tour the vineyards by Vespa or take a Tuscan cookery course in a countryside kitchen. Carved into Etruscan cellars, the city’s homely inns are full of foodies salivating over truffles and wild boar pasta.

Siena is a chiaroscuro city, from its striped marble Cathedral to its black-and-white city emblem. Tunnelled backstreets open into the brilliant, light-bathed Campo, where all roads eventually lead. Locals liken it to the enveloping cloak of the Madonna, the city’s patron saint, yet Italians know it as a city ‘a misura d'uomo’ (a city ‘made to the measure of man’).

When your horizons shrink to a single neighbourhood bar, you will have discovered the Sienese spirit. It’s time slow down and start walking.

Key facts

Population:
252,288
Latitude:
43.320210
Longitude:
11.328352

Featured Hotels

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Hotel Italia Siena

Well situated for those arriving at the city by train, this friendly 3-star hotel is set outside the city walls and is convenient for drivers as it has a few private parking spaces. Rooms are clean and bright, and its superior and executive rooms have soundproof windows.

Hotel Athena

Inside the historic centre, just a 10-minute walk from the Piazza Campo, this smart hotel boasts a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun turn Siena's buildings rose-coloured. Rooms have tiled floors, many also have balconies, and there is free Wi-Fi throughout.

Hotel Alma Domus

In the heart of the city centre, this hotel is actually part of ancient compound containing the Sanctuary of Saint Catherine. Watch the world go by from your balcony or take in the wonderful views of the cathedral. Rooms are basic but not shabby. Free Wi-Fi and a continental breakfast also included.

Campo Regio Relais

Renovated in 2012, this boutique hotel oozes style and luxury from its six well-appointed rooms. On a quiet cobbled street in the medieval old town, marble floors, frescoed walls and antiques abound. There are fabulous views from its terrace and from many of the rooms too. Enjoy a tot of grappa from its honesty bar.

Hotel Santa Caterina

Set just outside the city walls, at the Porto Romano gate, this small friendly hotel has medieval Tuscan charm and is furnished with antiques. There is a lovely garden, as well as a conservatory where breakfast is served. If coming by car, remember to book a parking space when reserving the room.

Hotel Garden

This hotel complex, situated around a 17th-century villa on the outskirts of the city, is convenient for business travellers. Set in parkland, it features a swimming pool, tennis courts as well as conference and banqueting facilities. You can also enjoy a terrace bar and cable television in every room.