I started my holiday this year in Siena and I can’t imagine a better introduction to Italy. I’d spent years saying I wasn’t interested in Italy, spending my holidays further north instead, away from romantic languages and sun-drenched landscapes. Even once I started planning this holiday, Tuscany held no particular appeal. However, the walking tour that worked best with my itinerary was based in Tuscany so to Tuscany I went. I had one night between arriving in Europe and the start of my tour so I decided to spend it in Siena. It made for a long trip (Vancouver to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Florence, Florence to Siena with no sleep at any point – I hit that really fun weepy/giddy no-sleep stage during my four hour layover in Amsterdam. Good times) but was absolutely the right choice. As soon as I arrived in Siena, I feel in love with it.
I arrived just before dusk, giving me enough time to enjoy the stunning view from my hotel before the sun set. After tidying up a little (there is nothing so wonderful as a hot shower and a change of clothes after 24 hours in transit), I went out into the streets and found them alive with locals out for their passeggiata evening stroll. I spent two hours just walking, seeing the Duomo lit up at night, watching children race around the gently slopped Campo (Siena’s famous clamshell-shaped square) while parents and grandparents chatted nearby with neighbours, and just generally taking in the atmosphere. By the time I sat down to dinner, I was thoroughly enchanted with the town. The seemingly endless number of (sometimes bizarre) events taking place around town only added to my enjoyment – Siena may be small but that doesn’t make it sleepy!
The next day I had to join my walking tour group further south but not until the evening. The weather was stunning, so I climbed the tour on the Campo, enjoying the fantastic views of the city and the surrounding countryside. After that, I just wandered, enjoying the slow pace of a sunny Sunday in Siena. It’s been a busy and stressful year for me and this was the perfect break from that to get me into proper, relaxed holiday mode. I walked empty streets and thronged ones, through building-lined squares and tree-lined parks. I had a leisurely lunch in the sunshine and licked a gelato while wandering later in the afternoon. And then, revived and excited to start my Italian adventures, I left.
But I came back! Later in the week, as part of my walking tour, we had a free day to explore Siena. It was pounding rain (making me very happy I’d made the most of my sunny day there) but that made it the perfect day to explore the Duomo – which had been closed for Sunday service my first day there. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as comfortable in a cathedral as I was in Siena’s stripped, pattern-mad Duomo. It’s an extraordinary space and I spent hours exploring it and the rest of the cathedral complex before venturing out again into the wet streets. The best thing about rain is that it gives you an excuse to duck into shops and cafes. I had a lovely, leisurely lunch in one of the restaurants on the Campo, bought beautiful marbled notebooks at Il Papiro and, later in the afternoon, was revived by a visit to Nannini, the city’s famed bakery.
My two weeks in Italy were wonderful but, for me, Siena was the highlight. Yes, Venice was magical, Lake Garda was breathtaking and the Tuscan countryside was like walking through every Renaissance painting you’ve ever seen. But Siena was perfect and my time there was too short. It was a wonderful taste of a city I can’t wait to visit again and already I am plotting how and when I can return.