Six years ago, I visited this beautiful Tuscan city and it left a magical imprint in my heart. I never imagined coming back to the same place and almost didn’t want to spoil the first impression. But it turns out that Siena second time round is equally as beautiful. This time, it was Winter, which meant fewer crowds and cheaper prices, plus exceptionally passionate customer service! We were treated like royalty everywhere we went, indulged in a multitude of delicious foods, drank plenty of limoncello and immersed ourselves in beautiful architecture and endless breathtaking views of the Tuscan countryside. This time round, we stayed in a medieval house from the 14th Century, which gave us the feeling of stepping back in time.
The legend says that when Romulus killed Remus, his two sons fled Rome on black and white horses, with a statue of the She-wolf in their arms. They decided this piece of countryside would be a perfect place to settle and so, Siena was born. You can just imagine them galloping through the countryside, hunting for wild boars for their dinner and watching out for approaching enemies from the clock tower, that stretches high above the city. After climbing an extremely narrow stair case to the top, you can look down over the shell-shaped town square (Piazza del Campo) which has hosted a bi-annual horse race, the Palio, since medieval times. We were not there for the race, but nonetheless, there is plenty to do in this small city.
First, have a wander around all over the narrow cobbled laneways. The city changes with the sky, so be sure to walk during the daylight, on dusk and at night time. You can search out statues of the She-wolf, which can be found all over the city, as well as on the buildings. In the Town Hall, this same figure appears within many of the gold-leafed paintings, so be sure to pop in for a visit there too. The legend of Siena is what gives this city such charm!
The story of Siena is woven into the architecture of the place. The fairy-tale Cathedral is built in black and white marble, just like the colours of the brothers’ horses (and the flag). It displays horizontal stripes both inside and out. To this day, it remains my favourite cathedral in Europe, with elaborate paintings and mosaic floors, covered in moons and stars. Make sure you go inside and visit the Piccolomini Library too – the ceiling is covered in stunning colours and bright patterns.
Good Tuscan food is easy to find and seems to taste delicious whichever restaurant you choose. For lunch, try the Ribollita, a hearty vegetable and bean soup perfect for Winter. There are also many small pizzerias, offering calzone and pizza by the slice. Dinner-time means Wild Boar stew, or Parpadelle Pasta. Even if you’re vegetarian, it is worth getting involved with the local feasting, just for the sake of history and tradition! Accompany the meal with a bottle of the local Chianti red wine and finish off with a dessert of Tiramisu. No doubt, the passionate waiters will come around with a shot of Limoncello as a final course. This digestif is a delicious alcoholic lemon spirit and always a perfect end to a delightful evening!
Even in Winter, it is still worth stopping by for a gelato! For something warmer, the bakeries offer delicious espressos and hot chocolates (the rich, thick, syrupy kind), not to mention a wide selection of pastries and cakes. Any of the above provide enough energy to continue shopping – somehow I managed to walk out with Italian leather products on each visit to this town. Shoes and handbags are excellent souvenirs don’t you think?
Let’s see what happens on the third time I come back to Siena. Maybe I will be old and grey, with many years of life experience behind me. I will climb that clock tower for a final time, look over the Tuscan country side and breath in the beauty of the world and all its adventures!