Siena and surroundings
Siena, city of Saints, Stories and Legends
Siena, our city. Bashful, proud, it loves to slowly unravel itself to visitors; meticulous guardian of its glorious past, but at the same time looking towards the future, it is defined by Art historians the Italian Gothic Capital since it preserves its fourteenth-century character like no other city in this country.
In order to preserve its beauty, the old town centre has been closed to traffic since the end of the 1960s, the first example of a limited traffic zone in Italy. This ensures peace and tranquillity to visitors wishing to discover Siena, its alleys, churches and breath-taking views.
You can start off your journey across the historical centre of Siena with the majestic Duomo, a jewel of marbles, cusps and pinnacles, which is well worth an extensive visit. Do not miss the adjacent Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where you will see the originals of the statues of the façade made by Giovanni and Nicola Pisano, the stained glass window of the apse, and the famous Majesty painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna, the founder of the Sienese school.
From the Duomo you can go down to the Campo, Italy’s most beautiful square according to many writers, and visit the magnificent Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall of the city of Siena. Inside you will find many frescoes, among which the Majesty by Simone Martini and the cycle of The effects of good and bad government, by Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
“Siena is full of bells,” goes the old Tuscan saying. The most beautiful churches in the city besides the Duomo are the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi, with a staircase from which you can enjoy the most beautiful view of the town; the Basilica of Santa Maria in Provenzano, the only baroque church in Siena; the Basilica of St. Francis, with the nearby Oratorio of Saint Bernardino; and, finally, San Niccolò, with a beautiful canvas by Domenico Beccafumi.
How can we forget Siena’s most famous daughter, Saint Catherine, patron saint of Italy and patron saint of Europe? Right in front of our hotel the beautiful Basilica of San Domenico, also known as Basilica Cateriniana, an interesting combination of Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. Nearby there is the house where Saint Catherine was born, with a shrine and Portico of the Municipalities of Italy.
After walking along the streets and alleys of the town (among which we recommend the picturesque Castellare of the Ugurgeri, located between the Campo and the church of St. Christopher) you can stop in one of the numerous “botteghe” of typical products to taste our cold meats of Cinta senese breed of pig, ewe’s milk cheese from Pienza, and other simple but savoury delights of our gastronomic tradition, accompanied by a glass of good wine: you will be spoilt for choice among Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano and the white Vernaccia of San Gimignano, all produced in the vineyards around Siena.
Do not forget to taste Panforte, Ricciarelli, Cavallucci and Copate, typical Sienese sweets which have been made here for centuries, served with a little glass of Tuscan Vin Santo.
Siena is not only a city of art, but it is also home to many institutions that increase its reputation: Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest bank in the world, founded in 1472, is located in the stunning Rocca Salimbeni and can be visited upon reservation; the University, one of the oldest in Europe, famous nowadays for economic and banking as well as literary studies; the Chigiana Musical Academy, which organizes concerts and events in Siena and its Province. It was founded by Count Chigi Saracini in the splendid palace with the same name, which can also be visited. The 16th century Medici Fortress houses the National Wine Library, which promotes and showcases Italian wines and organizes wine and typical food tasting events.
Once you have visited the town, you can go discovering the splendid Province of Siena
To the North, you can visit San Gimignano, famous all over the world as the town with a thousand towers.
A few kilometres away from Siena to the northeast, along the national road 408 Chiantigiana, you will find the Chianti, a land where the renown red wine is produced. Along the road you will discover breathtaking views of vineyards and castles such as Meleto and Brolio, the house of Barone Ricasoli, and Rocca Castagnoli. There, you can taste wine along with delicious local dishes.
South of Siena, you can discover the “lunar” landscapes of the Crete Senesi (clay hills), famous for white truffles, Cinta Senese breed of pig, and excellent ewe’s milk cheeses.
Alternatively, travelling along the national road 2 Cassia, you can cross the Val d’Arbia and then climb up to Montalcino and visit this medieval hamlet, which in the sixteenth century was the last bulwark of the Republic of Siena. There, it is a must to taste some Brunello, the best red wine in the world, according to the experts.
From Montalcino you can go on towards the Monte Amiata slopes, in an area far from mainstream tourism but with magnificent natural landscapes, with its woods rich in chestnuts and mushrooms, and beekeeping, which is widespread all over the South of the province.
From Monte Amiata you can descend to Val d’Orcia, which has hot springs, among which Bagno Vignoni with its huge hot water tub that dates back to the Roman period.
The splendid town of Pienza overlooks the valley from the top of a hill and is considered to be the fruit of a utopia, rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town in the fifteenth century by will of Pope Pius II who was born there in 1405.
Going eastward along the famous white roads between cypress hills, you will first encounter the beautiful medieval village of Monticchiello and then the splendid town of Montepulciano, on a hilltop, a jewel of the fifteenth century architecture, where another celebrated wine, Vino Nobile of Montepulciano, is produced.
There are many hot springs in this province. Besides the already mentioned Bagno Vignoni, there are Rapolano Terme, 25 km away from Siena and Petriolo, in the green Merse valley.