Expert tips for a perfect day in Siena
An Exotic Yoga Retreats travel recommendation!
Siena is one of Italy’s most iconic cities, and an absolute must-see on any Italian holiday itinerary. It is a charming, arty, more low-key cousin of Florence, the biggest city in the Tuscany region. Both are esteemed in their architectural and cultural heritage. Indeed, the whole Tuscan region is ancient, and feels like a journey through the pages of time. Siena offers the visitor a taste of Tuscan heritage and splendour, and yet, in its charming and understated way, persuades you linger, is never brash or hurried, and encourages you to feel the true Italian ‘la bella vita’. This is precisely why the Exotic Yoga Retreats team adores Siena, and has included it as a special excursion during our Tuscan Villa Holiday this June. Here is our recommendation for how to spend the perfect day in Siena:
In true Italian style, begin the day with an espresso, a pastry, and a vantage point to watch the passing crowds. There is no better place to do this than the heartbeat of Siena, Piazza del Campo. This famous square was designed in a conch, or shell shape, and has a uniquely intimate feel to it. There are many cafes to choose from, and many imposing structures to gaze at whilst you sip your espresso. Look out for the Fonte Gaia, the largest fountain in the city with stunning marble sculptures, the Palazzo Comunale (the town hall), and the Torre del Mangia (the red brick tower – you can’t miss it!).
From here you are well placed to get a cultural fix. Most tourists go directly to the Palazzo Comunale, which houses the Civic Museum and an array of works by Sienese artists. They also flock to the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta, a cathedral with outstanding examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture and decor. Both are incredible, but often overrun with other tourists. If you are out and about early enough, we highly recommend walking up the 400 steps of the Torre del Mangia to get an unprecedented panoramic of the city and surrounding Tuscan Hills.
If you fancy something a little less frenetic, we think the most visually astounding site is the Biblioteca Piccolomini. The frescos on the walls and ceilings inside the main library hall are truly extraordinary. It is a spellbinding visit. Look out for some scenes in the frescos of the life of Pope Pius II, who commissioned the library for his uncle. This is a unique must-see (take care, the library is secretly tucked inside the Duomo, it’s easy to miss, and many do!)
Fresh from your cultural feast, you may want to stop by fountain Fonte Gaia, named after the emotion of joy! This is not the biggest or most famous fountain in Siena, but we consider it the most charming. Drop a coin, and make a wish! It is much quieter here than around other main attractions in the city, so you may even want to pause and bask in the sun for a few mellow moments of meditation.
From there, it’s lunchtime! Walking away from Piazza del Campo, head down Via di Cittá and turn onto Via s.Pietro. You will notice many restaurants and bars along this street. We highly recommend Bar Osteria Enea, right at the very end of the street on the corner of Via s.Pietro and Via Saint ‘Agata. Grab a crusty loaf and some of their divine antipasti and salads of the day. This gorgeous, small, family run restaurant is the perfect stop to take-away your meal, and then walk directly across the road to the Botanical Gardens (Orto Botanico del’Università di Siena), which lie just behind the Natural History Museum. Find a shady spot beneath some trees, listen to the chatter of birds, and savour your fresh, casual lunch at leisure.
For motivation, walk back along Via s.Pietro towards the centre and stop in at a gelateria for a post lunch treat. From there, stroll onto Via Banchi di Sopra, which is the main shopping street in Siena. This small city is famous for its ceramics and leather goods, so brace yourself for some divine boutique shops and handbags to drool over. There are plenty of tiny and quirky cafes on this street too, if you need a quick espresso to fortify you. Don’t forget to stop and look around between shops. You will be walking through a UNESCO World Heritage protected ancient conglomerate on buildings, piazzas, and cobbled walk-ways.
Alternative to an afternoon of shopping: If you are looking for a different kind of indulgence, why not head towards the Tuscan Wine School? They are conveniently situated on Via Stalloreggi, right in the historic centre. They run a daily 2 hour tasting from 4pm – 6pm, which is intended to deliver an expert guided and very jolly run-through of the top Tuscan cultivars and vineyards. They also run express tastings on request for around 45 mins.
Head north east of the Piazza del Campo. You would have worked up an appetite from the shopping, and may be in need of an Italian tradition – an aperitif before dinner. We recommend Il Cavaliere Errante’s terrace seating. Although this is a cute restaurant, they have superb wines by the glass, and all the classic Italian cocktails, as well non-alcoholic spritzers. The outdoor seating looks directly onto the beautiful facade of the Insigne Collegiate di Santa Maria. There are charming frescos inside the church, if its still open and you are interested. It is also directly en route from the centre to our top top recommendation for your dinner: Tre Cristi Enoteca Ristorante.
While the building Tre Cristi occupies dates to the fifteenth century, it began operating in the 1830’s. The name derives from the incredible and enormous original artwork placed in the main dining room in 1865, depicting three Christ figures. All other furniture and decoration dates to the 1920s. Apart from the decor, the food is sublime. Expect to journey through the sensations of a traditional Tuscan country villa.