Your Ultimate Siena Travel Guide

Your Ultimate Siena Travel Guide

Discover the charm of Siena, one of Italy's best-preserved mediaeval cities and a UNESCO heritage site since 1995. With ancient traditions and a strong sense of pride, the old town is a must-see for anyone visiting Tuscany. Surrounded by picturesque cypress trees and rolling hills filled with wheat fields, the surroundings resemble the dramatic scene many people have of Tuscany.

To help you explore this beautiful area of Tuscany, we have put together a guide with all the information you need  to start planning your trip. We also have a selection of handpicked villas to rent in Siena if you still need to sort your accommodation.

Piazza del Campo and the Palio

Siena: jockeys running the Palio, people in the grandstands

Siena was built on three hills around Piazza del Campo, which today represent the heart of the old town. Piazza del Campo is also known to be where the famous Palio di Siena takes place: an  ancient tradition that is proudly carried on.

Piazza del Campo (or the Campo) is renowned throughout the world for its unique shell shape, beauty and architectural integrity. There are two main tourist attractions: Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre Mangia. The Palazzo houses the Civic Museum, where you can find some of the most famous masterpieces of Italian mediaeval art. Visitors are also allowed to climb the Torre del Mangia.

The most distinguished thing about the city is, without a doubt, Il Palio di Siena. The roots of this event are in the Middle Ages, but it was only at the beginning of the 19th century that the race assumed the characteristics it still preserves today. Since then the celebration has always taken place in Piazza del Campo twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th

The event consists of an equestrian tournament between the Contrade of Siena: the city is divided into 17 Contrade, or neighbourhoods. Each one is, still to this day, a defined community that has its own tradition and intense pride.

Only ten Contrade can run the Palio: the seven that didn’t participate in the preceding race, plus three that are chosen by lot.

For the Sienese the Palio is a very serious matter, and many activities, events and institutions revolve around it.

Siena Cathedral

Siena Cathedral: internal view

Siena Cathedral, officially the Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta, was built in the Italian Romanesque-Gothic style, and is one of the most significant churches built in this style in Italy.

The cathedral contains works by masters in European art history, with sculptures by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini, and paintings including Duccio di Buoninsegna‘s famous Maestà.

But even more stunning is the Cathedral’s marble mosaic inlay floor, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Divided into 56 panels, the floor shows many scenes, all revolving around one theme: the Revelation through the Scriptures. The oldest panels are from the second half of the fourteenth century up to the late nineteenth century. Over forty artists, almost all from Siena, have worked over the centuries on the creation of this work.

Due to preservative reasons, the floor is frequently covered, but can usually be seen  during the July and September. 

Siena Culinary Traditions - Typical Siena Sweets

Ricciarelli cookies: typical Siena sweets

The cuisine of Siena is typically similar to that of Tuscany, sharing many recipes and ingredients. In fact, when you experience Sienese dishes, you’ll find they’re delicious local variations on classic Tuscan regional cuisine.

As a starter, you can have the Pici all’Aglione, a typical kind of pasta, similar to spaghetti, but bigger and (usually) handmade, served with a garlicky tomato sauce; aglione is, in fact, a local kind of garlic. If you like meat we suggest you try the Peposo Sense, a take on the traditional Florentine recipe. This is a stew slowly cooked in red wine and lots of black pepper (“Peposo” comes from pepe, pepper in Italian), which in Siena is made with Cinta Senese, a renowned local meat.

But the city is mainly known for its various cakes and cookies made from recipes dating back to mediaeval times. Sienese sweets include Cavallucci (sweet spice biscuits), Panforte a dried-fruit cake made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, and a secret blend of spices, Ricciarelli (almond-paste cookies), and Castagnaccio (baked in the fall and winter from a batter of chestnut flour, topped with pine nuts and rosemary).

If you want to try one of these local luxuries, one of the best places to do so is Pasticceria Nannini, Siena's oldest pasticceria.

The Surroundings - Val d’Orcia and Crete Senesi

Val d'Orcia landscape: a small chapel with cypresses

Siena’s surroundings embody the most iconic image of the Tuscan countryside: rolling hills, farmhouses and ancient villages, cypresses and poppies sprouting from wheat fields. Indeed, if in Siena, a tour of Val D’Orcia and Crete Senesi is one not to miss.

Val d’Orcia is a protected area located in the south of Tuscany, between Siena, Mount Amiata and Umbria; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful places in the region. Among the most known products of the area, we have Montalcino wine and Pienza cheese. This area has a very iconic landscape and has been the setting for many movies. The most known is The Gladiator: the famous scene where Russell Crowe walks in a wheat field was shot in Pienza.

The Crete Senesi area, located North of Val d’Orcia, also has a very distinguished look: the name “Crete” derives from the clay present in the ground, which gives the landscape its characteristic grey-blue colour and an appearance often described as lunar. This distinct region feels like an island, where time passes slowly.

The best way to explore Siana and its surroundings is to drive and wander in this magical land. There are many small villages worth a visit, perfect for taking a glimpse of the local traditions, tasting some wine or having a quick lunch. The Salogi team will be happy to help you explore our range of Tuscany villas, and plan your tailored vacation in Siena, so please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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