SIENNA, ITALY: Sienna is one of the most popular destinations in Tuscan region of Italy. It is famous for its enclosed medieval old town and charming old alleys. Sienna is one of many towns of Tuscany which is ringed with a medieval wall and has web-like narrow alleys to get lost into. It’s rich and historic atmosphere will impress anyone effortlessly.
We rented a car during our visit in Tuscany. Finding a parking can be a bit of a challenge here. Once you are in the old part of Sienna, covering the old town and its cobbled-stone streets on foot is preferably the best option. I couldn’t take my eyes off of those lovely medieval buildings and some newer architectures as well…it’s amazing how they all blend in just perfectly.
TIME of TRAVEL: Our first trip to Tuscany was in February of 2012. It was a cold and bitter winter in Europe that year. We visited Florence and Pisa that time. We planned to go to San Marino but had to turn back around from the mountains because of heavy snow blizzard. That wasn’t really the best way to enjoy Tuscany…we had to go back there for the second time. This time it was in October 2013 and it was as perfect as one could expect.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in “My One Hotel in Radda” for the whole time in Tuscany. It’s located in the hills of Chianti…a place which is not only famous for its wine, but also for its art, history, natural beauty, and simplicity. This was a 4 or 5 star resort. We had free grand breakfast buffet, spacious room, clean linens, and excellent customer service. But above all of those, the best part of it is the view from our balcony or from the hotel terrace. Standing on the upper terrace one early morning, I got the perfect glimpse of Tuscan hills and trees hugging the autumn clouds…it was a breathtaking feeling. I felt like I didn’t need to get out, I could have just sit in my hotel balcony all day and enjoy Tuscany right from there.
EATING and SHOPPING: Our lunch in Sienna was at a place called “4 Cantoni”. We had some porcini fried as appetizer, then some Tuscan soup with bread. If you are in the mood for some desserts, try tiramisu. The restaurant had many options of pasta and gnocchi too.
This old part of Sienna is filled with quick-luncheons to sit-down restaurants and bars. Italian cookies or biscotti are famous here too. For those fancy shoppers, you can find stores with brand names and designer shops to local boutiques and small artisans. Olive oil, leather items, and potteries are just some of the things you can bring back from Sienna or whole Tuscan.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Old city of Sienna is enclosed within a city wall which is few centuries old. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes. There are lots of slopes and stairs to climb. But the fun part is walking around in between the medieval walls and buildings.
We spent about little more than half a day in Sienna and followings are some of the sites we managed to visit. But if you have more time, there are plenty of other palaces to visit from the 15th century, art museums, and historic buildings. If you have spare days in Tuscany, explore other small towns and villages like Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Volterra, or the scenic hillsides and vineyards of this region.
1) PIAZZA del CAMPO and PALAZZO PUBLICO (SIENNA CITY HALL): After entering the old city wall of Sienna, our first stop was Piazza del Campo. This is the main square at the center of Sienna. It’s the gathering point for locals as well as for tourists and a lively place to hang out. Countless restaurants, bars, gelato places, and shops surround the square…a great place to enjoy meals while watching the world go by.
Palazzo Publico or Sienna City Hall dominates Piazza del Campo and its tower Torre del Mangia overlooks the square. This is an 800 years old city hall and is still in working condition. We couldn’t do it with the kids, but tourists can climb some 300 steps of “Torre del Mangia” to get a 360 degree panoramic view of whole Sienna and its countryside. The ticket is 8 euros per person and only 25 people can access it at any given time for 15 minutes.
Civil Museum is also located near the city hall. It is 8 euros, another place we couldn’t visit.
2) SIENNA DUOMO: From the main square of Sienna we headed to the main highlight of Sienna…Sienna Duomo. If you have time to see only one thing in Sienna, this would be it. This is one of the most extravagant cathedrals in whole Tuscany. Its black and white interior and Italian Romanesque style architecture with grandly curved entrance never fail to please the visitors. Loved the gorgeous altar, magnificent ceiling, artsy floor tiles, medieval frescoes, and every single statue.
You can rent an audio-tour for a fee which elaborately talks about the history of this cathedral. We spent about little less than an hour inside the cathedral (yeh, it’s that big and filled with relics and beauties) and enjoyed every corner of it.
Opposite of the duomo is Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. It has separate door and entrance fee. Both of these are located in Piazza del Duomo.
3) BASILICA SAN FRANCESCO: About 7/8 minutes of walk from Piazza del Duomo is Basilica San Francesco. It was quiet and empty when we were there late in the afternoon. But the oversized paintings and gorgeous altar with black and white interior immediately caught our attentions. It was a bit similar to Sienna Duomo but a simpler version.
There is no charge to enter the basilica. It is open 7:30am-12pm and 3:30pm-7pm.
4) SANTUARIO di SANTA CATERINA: This is a small church but very gorgeous inside. We spent some time with the kids in its cozy courtyard. I think the best of this place was getting here…we passed some old residential buildings, climbed slopes, and enjoyed looking at laundries hanging from the windowsills.