Under the Tuscan Sun, A quick guide to Siena
Well not really under the sun I have to say. On a mid-week break in May, as rain absolutely poured, I finally ticked Siena off my bucket list. I’ve visited many a medieval town and hamlet across Italy, so I’d convinced myself that it was ok that Siena hadn’t yet made the list. Now that I’ve been there – it is actually not ok!
Located 70km south of Florence, the historic centre of Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s no wonder really. This medieval city is rich in historical sites. Its sheer beauty charms you at every turn and its medieval qualities are felt throughout. It’s the kind of city where you turn a corner and your breath catches; where your eyes widen and your heart constricts. Siena is one of the most visited small cities of Italy, in a region that sure as hell knows how to do tourism.
Here are my tips for a mini break in the lovely, lovely Siena.
La Taverna di San Giuseppe
It’s simple. Don’t miss La Taverna di San Giuseppe while you’re in town. If you’re ok with rustic, cosy, full of locals and soft light by candles on tables all over the place, then like me, this is your place. This meal was one of the best I’ve had in Tuscany – from the board of salumi and cheese (Tuscan fennel infused salami, finocchiona and delicate sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino of Pienza the stand out) to my main course of brasato of Brunello di Montalcino (braised beef in the same wine) to their house special dessert, tiramisu with a secret twist. The service was so warm and super friendly, we felt like we knew each other from way back! (Dining tip from my friends at Ciao Tutti)COOK
Cook Dinner with Nonna Ciana
What could be more Tuscan than driving through the hillside, than admiring it all from a lovely villa? Add to that a cooking class and you got me! Nonna Ciana is bossy, sassy and a great home cook! Together (and with another 6 lovely people – from Australia and the USA) we cooked up a storm: tomato bruschette, egg pasta with fresh tomato sauce, eggplant parmigiana and saffron flavored pannacotta. Classes cost around €100, run all year round (for lunch or for dinner) and can be booked here (located about 20 mins drive from the centre of Siena).COFFEE
The Nannini family are famous in Italy for Formula One (former driver Alessandro) and music (singer, songwriter Gianna). They remain an institution in Siena with Pasticceria Nannini still a bustling local bar and cake shop. Stop here for your morning coffee and try the ricciarelli. These macaroon type biscuits can be either chocolate or plain and have been a sweet staple in Siena since the 14th century!DO
The Duomo di Siena is a must and is the main tourist attraction in town. A stunning architectural mix of classic, Romanesque and gothic, it features mosaic floor and works of art by none other than Bernini, Donatello, Michelangelo and the list goes on.Piazza del Campo
The huge Piazza del Campo blew my mind. You can peek out to the town hall (Palazzo Pubblico) and imposing tower (Torre del Mangi) from arches along the encircling streets of the old town. It’s regarded as one of the most beautiful medieval squares in Europe and is where the famous Palio (historic horse race of sorts) is held twice annually.Piazza Salimbieni
I loved this pretty gothic square. It houses the Palazzo Salimbieni which, built in the 14th century, is the home to the famous Italian (and scandalous of late) bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. At night, it’s like a bright light beacon and in my opinion, the best way to enjoy it. STAY
Grand Hotel Continental
There is only one 5 star property in the historic centre of Siena, making it even more exclusive and my choice. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the Grand Hotel Continental is right on the main drag and a short walk to all the sights. Awe is what I honestly felt waking in. This 18th century palazzo has been restored in the loveliest way. The old blends in with the chic and boutique with Sapordivino Restaurant and Enoteca Sapordivino. The restaurant serves up an elegant fare of Tuscan classics and the wine cellar is state of the art with an extensive stock list of local and international labels. It is available for wine tasting and other events.The hotel features a number of suites (many with gorgeous views of the Tuscan and Sienese hills) in addition to their regular rooms, prices start from €350. Be sure to check out the Salone delle Feste (the party room). This opulent hall (available for small events) has marble floors, high ceilings, ornate features and sparkling Murano glass chandeliers. If the walls here could talk, they’d tell a tale of noble weddings and lavish banquets. Signing off from Trastevere,
Acknowledgements: I was a recent guest of Grand Hotel Continental. Thoughts and words expressed are my own because nobody tells me what to write.0