Nothing, absolutely nothing, had prepared me for the beauty of Siena.
The reading up, the photos I d seen; all of it paled (and how), to the experience of actually being there. And, for me this was definitely the most special time of our holiday in Tuscany.
We drove in from Florence (an hour and a half if you do it without any stops). We stopped at San Gimignano for lunch, then did our winery tour and the wine tastings; annnddd then drove on to Siena, making an entire day out of it, in true holiday (honeymoon 😉) mode.
The drive is gorgeous enough to warrant several photo stops enroute.
Arriving at sunset, the medieval red brick buildings, just the right touch of fog and the cold weather – it was the ultimate ‘fairy tale’ moment. Even a movie set especially created for a romantic block-buster, could nt have got it more perfect.
Siena is just as stunning in the day. The thing is its architecture and that brick red colour is so peculiar; and surrounded as it is by hills, forests and farms for as far as the eye can see.
It appears straight out of the middle ages (well that it is 😅 ).
Frozen in time…
Everything s centred in and around the Piazza del Campo –public gatherings, royal events and the famed ‘Palio’(an event that even today draws tens of thousands of people to the town). In ancient times the odd shaped piazza was the valley between the 3 hills that make up Siena . Its almost like an oval amphitheatre, with buildings fanning out around it; and further up (some very steep steps and ramps) leading up to the cobbled streets and eventually the Duomo.
The Cathedral stands above the main town. On its own as if it were overlooking and blessing the residents. Unlike most other cities, it doesn’t have a bustling pizza just outside. Its solitary and majestic in its own street.
The Cathedral is also a total contrast to the town. Where Siena is earthy and rustic, the Gothic church is intricate, refined and luxurious. Its also almost a shock even after the immense and grand Duomo of Florence. In Florence it is the external structure which is overwhelming – and the insides are fairly spartan.
In Siena on the other hand, you don’t know where all to look once you re inside. The dual color marble columns, the gilt, the busts above; and most of all that, impressive floor. The intricate mosaic pavements have several stories flowing through them and have been worked on for over 600 years!
If you count just the number of sights (monuments) to see in Siena, they d add up to less than the fingers on one hand. But it warrants at least 2 evenings and a full day. First and foremost, the food. The variety and excellence of Tuscan cuisine deserves a whole separate story. Suffice it to say – its divine and you can plan to be here – even if just for the food. Not only are the traditional dishes amazing..They ve added a different take on things and created food that s even better (no – not ‘fusion cuisine’ – that s something I have an aversion to)..
Now – to that superlative food add in this – a cappuccino while crowd watching in the piazza, gazing at the Torre di Mangia (400 steps to the view from the top), strolling hand in hand in those ancient streets; and window-shopping (its Italy – fashion s foremost even in the ancient and tiny towns 😉 ). Can it get any better – I mean, really?!
And a lazy afternoon with unreal desserts at Nannini after feasting on ‘Pici’ pasta. Finally, sunset on the balcony above Bar Palio and a long leisurely dinner..
Prosecco and Pecorino with M, while perched on the balcony of an adorable small bar, music from the 90s and the Piazza del Campo laid out below us. Its one of the most romantic evenings that I ve EVER had.
It’s a university town, so there s quite number of bars, Irish pubs and a great buzz; late into the night.
Where to stay in Siena definitely needs to be pre-decided . Once inside the city walls – its entirely a pedestrian zone. So you either stay as close as you can get to the city walls-and no luggage lugging over the cobbled lanes. Or, you stay in the centre (prettier and more luxurious options) but struggle with finding parking and then with the baggage when leaving and exiting.
We chose the former ( Hotel Athena) and were more than satisfied, coz the 2km stroll is part of the town and its ambience; and filled with bars and restaurants and cafes, anyways.