It’s day 10. We’re up in the Florentine hills for the second week of our adventure and we almost missed Siena.
Honestly, it was nearer to Montepulciano (days 4-6) but we didn’t manage it as there was just too much going on.
Then on day 8, I told the coffee waiter in Florence that we didn’t have time to visit Siena. He threw his arms up in disbelief. Of course we must visit Siena – it is the most beautiful city.
So on day 10, we visit Siena, and boy are we glad we made the effort.
It’s an hour south of Florence on the autostrada, so we tootled down late morning intending to stay until the evening and enjoy dinner out.
Siena is a traffic-free city so you have to park a little way out in a free tourist car park. No public toilets but if you buy a espresso in the cafe opposite you can use their loos for free. It’s about a 15 minute stroll downhill to the centre.
Here’s our 6 reasons why you must visit Siena and don’t nearly miss it …
We made our way to the Piazza del Campo for our first stop – a light lunch to keep us going. We sat ourselves in one of the restaurants around the circle of the piazza. Mr Bond ordered a “nizzarda salad”, or nicoise, of tuna, beans, egg, tomatoes, onion, olives and rocket leaves. I had a beautifully presented Insalata Caprese, with a glass of prosecco. The perfect start to our Sienese visit.
Dinner later on was on the opposite side of the Piazza and equally delicious. Pasta with porcini for me and a bowl of homemade tuscan soup for him. Then chocolate cake with strawberries, and that italian classic – tiramisu, washed down with the local Chianti Classico.
Perhaps we should have ventured further into the side streets and sought out where the locals eat, but we loved the open view across the piazza, the people watching and the friendly relaxed ambience.
You only need a quick flick through the guide book to realise that it’s all about the architecture. Piazza del Campo is one of the most famous and pleasant piazzas in the whole of Italy. The shape of a crescent moon, it was designed on a significant slant down towards the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, the 2nd tallest tower in Italy. Aesthetically beautiful, it also effectively drained away the heavy rain shower that came during our lunch. Mr “retired water engineer” was very impressed with the attention to detail.
Another cool detail – this is where they filmed the opening scene of Quantum of Solace. I spent the whole of lunch with Mr Bond imagining Daniel Craig running around the top of the buildings during the Palio di Siena. See what I did there?
The medieval centre is another UNESCO World Heritage site so everywhere you look the buildings are stunning. It’s easy to let your mind wander to how life would have been in days gone by.
Siena was a buzzing centre of commerce in the early medieval period but it’s growth came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Black Death. A staggering 40,000 people died, some 4/5 of the population, returning the city to it’s rough beginnings.
Such an unspeakable tragedy has left it’s mark on this burgeoning city. Florence took up the reigns and quickly became the Tuscan capital as it is today.
But Siena has developed it’s own unique identity and a strength of spirit that is best shown twice a year in the Piazza del Campo when cafes are packed up and the famous Palio di Siena comes to town.
We’re huge coffee fans so headed straight to Paticcerie Nannini just outside the Piazza. It’s recommend in the guide book as the best place for a cup of coffee. A buzzy local meeting place, bustling with many nationalities it’s kind of an italian version of Betty’s Tearoom of York. Polished wood furnishings, waistcoated and bow-tied waiters, glass cabinets full of biscotti, cantuccini and ricciarelli (our new favourite), and the largest coffee machine I have ever seen turning out perfect cappuccinos and mighty strong espressos.
It could be a biscotti, or it could be a dolce. We had a little debate and we’re still not sure. It looks like a biscuit, with a crackled outside but the soft almond centre just melts in your mouth.
I’m determined to have a go at making these at home so watch this space.
We spent the day dodging rain showers so an hour in the duomo seemed like a plan. There’s a duomo is every town in Italy, often in the central piazza, and often quite large – but I have never seen one quite as magnificent as Siena’s cathedral.
Mr Bond secured us 2 free tickets into the cathedral, must have been the name! You’d be surprised how being a Bond gets you into all sorts of places.
Photographing inside the cathedral was permitted but without flash and with tripod, which snappy friends will know are the 2 things you need to do a decent job in a dark space! I struggle immensely with low light but was determined to get some decent shots inside this stunning building. Fortunately the building was held up by very large, wide columns which I wedged myself against to create stability and avoid camera shake.
You can judge the results as you please, but don’t be too harsh – I’m still learning!
Siena was my favourite shopping place of the holiday. My favourite shop? “Dolce Siena” a little artisan bakery just on the edge of the piazza. Their speciality? Panforte, of course. Panforte Chocolate, Marzipan, Margharita, Fig and Nuts – whatever takes your fancy.
I managed to run up an eye watering bill which in my defence included Christmas gifts as well as nibbles for the rest of our holiday. Also it gave Mr Bond the perfect excuse to treat himself to a pair of italian “fancy shoes” that he spotted earlier. Wait till you see them – they really are fancy!
So thank you to the waiter in Florence who persuaded us that we really must visit Siena. If it hadn’t been for him – we might not have bothered.
I think I might ever prefer it to Florence. It feels smaller, more friendly, less crushy and more relaxed. There’s a really sense of the old-style traditional italian life here. There’s plenty of tourists, of course, but it’s loved by the italians too.
If you’re visiting this area, you really must put it on your list of places to visit. We had a wonderful day which we’ll remember for a long time to come.
It’s a tuscan treasure not to be missed.