If your boots are made for walking, then Siena will certainly warm your heart and soles!
Siena is a medium size, yet incredibly quaint, medieval commune in the forever enchanting and breath-taking Tuscany. All of that, along with it's amazing energy, should be more than you need as inspiration to hit these Tuscan stone streets. I am one for venturing around my destinations on foot whenever possible. In Siena, just like many other villages in Italy, this is a must as no driving is permitted within the city center with it being a ZTL (limited traffic zone). Besides, there is nothing like hitting the pavement and being able to fully experience the true soul of a city on foot. After a recent visit, I felt the need to share a little walking adventure that includes some not-to-miss and take your breath away sites, delectable eats and shopping “musts” that I am anxious to visit time and again!
Let me start by saying, if you are traveling around Tuscany via automobile, parking around Siena is easy and plentiful. Some of the lots have escalators nearby to take you to the top of the hill and directly into the city center. On my last visit we parked in the San Francesco Lot along Via Baldassarree Peruzzi which has just a very short walk to the escalator and actually takes you right up along the Basilica di San Francesco. If you are coming in by train you may definitely want to save your energy and take a taxi toward the city center. The station is outside of the city walls and just over a mile if you walk - and it is a somewhat steep walk uphill. Personally, I prefer to save my soles for trekking around inside the walls!
I have 2 favorite stops for morning caffe and pastry when I am ready to kick-start my day. One is Blandis Wine & Caffe along Via Esterna di Fontebranda. If you perhaps wander your way into the city center through the Porta Fontebranda you must stop in here to fuel up. They have captured my heart with their fantastic depictions of Siena artistically created atop my froth! Since I am GF, I can never miss out on their beyond-words, utterly delicious gluten free cakes, and other menu items - they also have amazing Vegan and Vegetarian options! My other absolute fav is Torrefazione Fiorella on Via di Citta. They produce their own remarkable coffees that you can even purchase to take home with you or brew on your travels - and trust me - you will want to, especially the Fiorella Blend!
After getting a little morning "fuel" for my feet - and the rest of my body - it is time to venture onward...
First Stop - Duomo di Siena
In my opinion, this is the first “must” see site that should be on any travel bucket list! Simply standing outside of this stunning, 13th century medieval cathedral in the shape of a Latin cross will be enough to take your breath away. It is far and away one of the most magnificent Duomos in all of Italy and contains incredible art treasures and statues by Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini.
What makes it so different aside from the spectacular Gothic and Roman architecture, as well as art? All you need to do is step through the massive bronze doors. Let’s just say I stopped in my footsteps and found myself almost unable to breathe due to its magnificent beauty. It is difficult to put into words the impressive and unique wonder of the greenish-black and white striped marble that make up the walls and columns. Here is a little tidbit for all of you history & horse folks - Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena and link back to the black and white horses of the city’s founders!
Walk the cathedral and enjoy, in awe, the ornate floor mosaics that flow through the church depicting sibylls and scenes from the Old Testament. Before leaving be sure to sneak a view into the Chapel of Saint John the Baptist and wander through the Libreria Picolomini. The library is full of illuminated choir books and frescoes. One of my personal notes when in the library, be sure to look down and view the fabulous ceramic tile where your happy soles are wandering.
To fully experience this impressive cathedral and its history, I definitely recommend purchasing the OPA SI Pass for 8-15 Euros depending on the season. This pass allows you access to take in the beauty of the Duomo, Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Museo dell’Opera and also gives you access down into the Crypt, the underground quarters that had been hidden for more than seven centuries! (http://www.operaduomo.siena.it/eng/opa_si_pass.htm)
2nd Stop - Accademia Musicale Chigiana
Siena plays a very important part in the Italian music world. For the music lover that I am, and if you are too, a visit to Palazzo Chigi Saracini, home of the Accademia Musicale Chigiana on Via di Citta, 89 is more than needed. The academy was founded by Count Guido Chigi Saracini, who also created La Settimana Musicale Senese festival in 1939. The hour-long, guided tour (5-7 Euros) of the palazzo with it's stunning art collection, along with a stop into the Music Shop and cafe will undoubtedly refresh your soul & soles! Siena is full of classical, opera and jazz enjoyment not to be missed. If you have time - musically take in more of the what truly makes Siena unique!
3rd on the Footpath - Piazza del Campo
Il Campo, as it is also called by the locals, is the center square of this legendary city. It is home to the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall, and a fantastic place to get an all-encompassing sense of Siena. The piazza is unique to all others with it’s concave flooring, dating back to the 1300’s. It is the ideal location to sprawl out with gelato or a caffe and take in the Sienese vibe. It may feel reminiscent of back in the day when the people of Siena would gather in the square for events, tournaments and races. With races in mind, if you can travel to Tuscany in July and August you won’t want to miss the spectacular Palio horse race, Il Palio (www.ilpalio.org), which circles the piazza and guarantees to be a thrilling addition to your trip!
And then - Palazzo Pubblico
The amazing town hall of Siena is the focal point at Piazza del Campo. This magnificent red brick and stone Gothic-influenced palace was built to host the nine lords of the Republic of Siena. It is more than worth the trek inside, and up its bell tower if you are feeling adventurous!
While inside you must visit the Museo Civico. The precious frescoes, paintings and statues by the great Sienese artists are truly exceptional masterpieces and everywhere you turn.
In consideration of this amazing structure, I have three words for you – Torre del Mangia! Who doesn’t need more steps on the exercise tracker! This 14th century tower with its travertine crown is only 400 steps to the top, but you can do it because the view of Siena and picture-esque Tuscan countyside will be beyond worth it. One thing to keep in mind is the climb up, time on top and descent can take most people up to an hour and a half or more! You can purchase combined tickets for 20 Euro to visit both the museum and tower, and also the Santa Maria della Scala!
My favs if you want to - Shop, Eat & Drink!
I am always up for shopping on my travels...ALWAYS! I always make it a point to shop from local artisans or independently owned shops and purchasing only “Made In Italy” items. As you make your way through the streets of any city, don’t be afraid to wander down one that seems a little off-the-beaten-path. These are normally where you will find artist and designer studios. The market in Siena is held each Wednesday and they have almost everything you could want, including fantastic clothing finds and fresh food treats! The 3rd Sunday of the month is the Antiques Market in Siena at Piazza del Mercato and is full of amazing collectibles and antiques. I have yet to attend the antiques market, but plan to check it out on my next trip – I just need to budget in shipping costs for my purchases!
While on my way to visit the Duomo, I discovered, Silvia Tanganelli. Her shop is filled with gorgeous Murano Glass! Everything from jewelry, glassware, atomizers, and more. I am self-professed ring jewelry addict and pick one up in every city I travel to, so I had to leave with not just one new addition, but two! If you can't make it to Venice and Murano on your Italy visit, her place is the next best thing for the real-deal glass goodies!
One insanely tasty shop stop is Nino & Friends. A little touristy, but I am still hooked! They are a wonderful Italian company with a few locations throughout Italy including Sorrento, where their production facility is based, also in Capri, Anacapri, Venice and , of course, Siena. So, let me tell you a little tidbit about this place – they want you to taste EVERYTHING – and we did not need to have out arms twisted! They actually had us in deep when we spied the dripping chocolate in the window! Once we realized there was also coffee, Limoncello and biscuits (cookies for we Americans), oh my! The biscuits are to-die-for and made with organic, natural-stone-ground flour and filled with lemon, hazelnut, cocoa and cappuccino creams. Needless to say, we walked away with gifts for friends, as well as tasty biscuits and coffee for breakfast at our next travel stop in Tuscany!
Siena is full of incredible, authentic restaurants with more than a dozen outlining the Piazza del Campo and come complete with fantastic people watching if you dine al fresco. You could literally stand in the middle of Il Campo, spin in a circle 5 times pointing your finger and whichever restaurant you land on would be amazing. On my last visit, we dined on the piazza at a fabulous place called, L'Osteria del Bigelli. It poured down rain not long after we were seated outside. The wait staff hustled to get the canopies up which completely sheltered us for our meal and lead to a wonderful "cena" with such a refreshing ambiance which truly characteristic of Siena. One thing to keep in mind when dining in Italy - service is not "slow" - meals, wine and good company are to be enjoyed at a leisurely and memorable pace!
Wine is always on my agenda when in Italy - who am I kidding, it is ALWAYS on my agenda! I love to seek out the local wine shops in every Italian destination, have a tasting and get their expert recommendations. In Siena, I can't miss stopping into Enoteca I Terzi on Via dei Termini. With the medieval charm, amazing service and about 1800 different labels in their cellar - It never fails, I leave smiling, blissfully satiated and with several bottles!
The perfect pre-dinner treat is a Spritz and apertivo at Cacio & Pere which is also along Via dei Termini - being a young-at-heart creative, I LOVE this place! The funky atmosphere, live music and entire concept makes it beyond the coolest hotspot in Siena! They are open late so if you are not ready to crash after over-indulging on the Sienese cuisine, after dinner cocktails here are another "must"!
If tea is your nightcap beverage of choice then you can't miss enjoying the charming, cozy and super cool Tea Room on Via Porta Giustiza. They also occasionally have live music and their desserts are true heaven and don't worry - they also serve cocktails just in case you have a tag-a-long who isn't a "tea"totaler!
My last little note - This was one of my favorite "full" days absorbing the awe-inspiring Siena. You can easily spend a glorious 3 days here taking in all of the museums, shops and more. Your soles will be exhausted, but your heart will be oh-so happy!
I had 2 full days on this visit and day tripped out to San Galgano on the 2nd day - Blog Post on that jaw-dropping place coming soon - Arrivederci!