Weekend Breaks to Siena
Planning a short break to Siena? Check out Travel Library's recommended Top 10 Things To Do in Siena. It's a perfect companion for weekend city breaks to Siena. Once you've been you can add your own tips and suggestions to help other visitors.
Top 10 Things in Siena on a Short Break
No other festival in Italy is as colourful, as intense, or as spectacular as Siena's Palio. Twice a year, Siena packs the Piazza del Campo with dirt, and runs a no-holds-barred bareback horse race around it. These races are the highlight of a full week of trial runs, feasts, parades, spectacles of skill, and solemn ceremonies. The tradition goes back to at least 1310.
The Palios rally start on June 29 and August 13. Although both races are technically equal in importance, the August Palio gets the most attention, partly because it is older, but mainly because it is a sort of rematch, the last chance to win for the year.
You can try to buy a ticket for a seat in the grandstands or at a window of one of the buildings surrounding the piazza. These are controlled by the building owners and the shops in front of which the stands are set up, and cost anywhere from 348 $400 for a single seat. Palio Viaggi (Piazza Gramsci 7. Tel: 0577/280-828), can help you score a few.
Aside from the two annual Palio races, Siena throws a pottery fair in honour of the Festa di Santa Lucia on December 13. The prestigious Accademia Musicale Chigiana music center ( Via di Citta 89. Tel: 0577/22-091), sponsors concerts and opera year-round. Culminating in the week of the Settimana Musicale Senese (in July or August), St. Cecilia is celebrated on November 22, with church concerts.
For more information visit - www.chigiana.it
The remarkable Caterina Benincasa, took a nun's veil in 1355, at the age of 8 (after her first of many visions of Christ). In 1375, a Crucifix in Pisa cinched her holiness by giving her the stigmata of Christ's wounds. Her name and reputation for devout wisdom and saintly life spread, and in 1939, she was declared patron saint of Italy. The house where she was born was converted into a sanctuary in 1466, and it remains a peaceful, reflective spot. The entrance is a small brick-lined courtyard, and beyond this is a small loggia built in 1533. Under the loggia, the stairs lead down past Catherine's cell, frescoed in 1896. The old family kitchen was transformed into an oratory and decorated in the 16th and 19th centuries. The church opposite the oratory was built in 1623 over Catherine's orchard, to house the 12th-century Pisan-school Crucifixion, in front of which the saint received the stigmata.
Admission to this site is free and it is situated between Via della Sapienza and Via Santa Caterina. Costa di San Antonio. Tel: 0577/247-393.
Please go to www.caterinati.org for extra information
The best choice for a special night out, offering excellent cooking in a sedate atmosphere. The taglierini al tartufo has a light butter sauce that does not mask the delicate flavour of the black truffles. Heavier primi include malfatti all'Osteria (spinach-and-ricotta balls in a creamy tomato sauce) and ravioli ripieni di pecorino e menta (ravioli stuffed with sheep's-milk cheese and mint, in a sauce flavoured with port).
Meatier palates can enjoy the bistecche di vitello (tender veal steaks) or delicate carpaccio di pesce spada affumicato (smoked swordfish sliced and pounded into thin disks). The staff are friendly and very accommodating. Expect prices of: 7-10 (primi), 14-18 (secondi), tasting menu 40. Reservations are recommended. Located Via del Porrione 33. Tel: 0577/48-013.
Siena's northern third spreads off either side of the palace-lined Via Banchi di Sopra. Two blocks up on the left is the oldest Gothic palace in the city, the Palazzo Tolomei, begun in 1208 and now home to the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze bank. The piazza out front is where the city council met from the 11th century until the Palazzo Pubblico was built. Two blocks further is the piazza formed by the Gothic Palazzo Salimbeni and its tributary palaces. It is linked to form the seat of the Monte di Paschi di Siena, Siena's powerhouse bank, founded in 1472, and still a strong player in Italian finance (and the city's largest employer).
The 16th-century Fortezza Medicea has been turned into a public park. Its courtyard is an open-air theater, and it is a good place for a stroll and a view. Its vaults are filled with Italy's National Wine Museum. Seated at small tables in the tunnel-like brick halls or out on the terraces in summer, you can sample a choice selection of Tuscan and Italian wines by the glass, or go all out on an entire bottle from their extensive cantine (more than 1200 labels available). It has been Italy's official state-mandated Museo Del Vino since 1950. Admission to the venue is free. A glass of wine will cost you 2 - 5, and a cold plate of typical regional foods 7.50 - 12. Located on Fortezza Medicea. Tel: 0577/288-497.
For extra info www.enoteca-italiana.it
Oratorio di San Bernardino e Museo Diocesano
The church of San Francesco was built in the late 15th century. It houses the Oratory of San Bernardino, which marks the exact spot where St Bernardino prayed and began preaching. The lower level of the oratory was frescoed by the best 17th-century Sienese artists, including Francesco Vanni, Rutilio and Domenico Manetti, and Ventura Salimbeni. It also houses a little Madonna by Sano di Pietro. The upper level has higher-quality frescoes by 16th-century artists Sodoma, Domenico Beccafumi, and Girolamo del Pacchia. The rooms that make up the Diocesian Museum contain paintings and churchly artifacts. Just outside the gate you will find the 1262 Fonte Ovile, one of the city's most picturesque public fountains. The museum is open daily from 10:30am to 1:30pm, and 3 to 5:30pm (March 15 to October). Admission is 2.50. Located Piazza San Francesco 18. Tel: 0577/283-048.
This 1469 palace was designed by Bernardo Rossellino in the Florentine Renaissance style. It is now home to the Archivio di Stato (head down the corridor off the left of the courtyard to grab the elevator to the 4th floor). The state archives preserve, among other notable documents, Boccaccio's will and Jacopo della Quercia's contract for the Fonte Gaia. The main thing to see is a remarkable set of wooden covers made for the city's account books, called the Tavolette di Biccerna, painted from the 13th to 17th centuries with religious scenes and important events in Siena's history. Open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 1pm, and admission is free. Located Via Banchi di Sotto 52. Tel: 0577/247-145.
For more info go to www.comune.siena.it
The Park Hotel is your 16th century villa in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. All of the public rooms were totally renovated in 1991. In the reception rooms, bar, restaurant you will see splendid stone door surrounds, antique terra cotta floors and antique furnishings matching the style of the Villa. Although restored, the hotel maintains its original charm with authentic antique furniture. The hotels panoramic restaurant offers Tuscan cuisine. There is also an American bar. Sport facilities at the hotel include a large swimming pool and a tennis court. A short-game, executive golf course with 6 par 3 holes, is available in the park of the Hotel. Expect to pay from 151.00 to 163.00 (single), and from 163.00 (double). The hotel is located only 3 km from the heart of Siena, on Via Marciano 18. Tel: 0577/44803.
The best place for fabrics and linens, both as raw materials and made into sheets, curtains, or embroidered hand-towels, is the Antiche Dimore, located on Via di Citta 115. Tel: 0577/45-337.
Antichita Monna Agnese - The best antiques shop in town, with a main branch at Via di Citta 60. Tel: 0577/282-288. Another across the street, at no. 45, specializes in jewelry.
There are lots of ceramics shops to be found on Via di Citta, and they are mainly of souvenir quality. For outstanding quality ceramic wares and articles, visit Ceramiche Artistiche Santa Caterina, with showrooms at Via di Citta 51, 74, and 76. Tel: 0577/283-098. Maestro Marcello Neri trained at Siena's art school, Tuscany's foremost ceramics center. Look especially for their wares painted in "Sienese style" using only black, white, and terra di Siena reddish brown, with designs inspired by the oldest pavement panels in the Duomo.
Antica Drogheria Manganelli - Siena's classiest stop for food. This glass-and-wood shelved shop has been making its own panforte and delicious soft ricciarelli almond cookies since 1879. It also carries the tops in Tuscan products, like vinegar from Castello di Volpaia and cured meats from Greve in Chianti's Falorni butchers. Located on Via di Citta 71-73. Tel: 0577/280-002.
The Duomo's baptistery was built in the 14th century, beneath the cathedral's choir, and supports a Gothic facade left unfinished by Domenico di Agostino (1355). What you are here to see, is the baptismal font (1417-30). The frames are basically Gothic, but the gilded brass panels were cast by the foremost Sienese and Florentine sculptors of the early Renaissance.
The final panel is perhaps the greatest, Donatello's masterful early study of precise perspective and profound depth in the Feast of Herod
The baptistery is open daily 9am to 7:30pm (March 15 - September); 9am to 6pm (October); and 10am to 5pm (November - March 14).
Admission is 2. Located on Piazza San Giovanni. Tel: 0577/283-048.
Go to www.operaduomo.it for details
Ceramics by Neri
In early March of 2005 my wife and I were lucky enough to discover the ceramics shop of Marcello Neri, mentioned in the top 10 things to do in Siena list. Maestro Neri is a wonderful man who loves to discuss his work. His ceramics are gorgeous and come in all price ranges. He allowed me to videotape his shop. I urge anyone who wants to meet the people to stop in and meet this wonderful man.
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