The Best Of: Siena

Siena's 15th-century republican experiment, its affluence as the home of banking, and its outstanding patronage of the arts forged a city that, for today's visitor, is packed with treasures.

Siena's 15th-century republican experiment, its affluence as the home of banking, and its outstanding patronage of the arts forged a city that, for today's visitor, is packed with treasures. It is also famous for the Palio, the dangerous and glamorous bare-backed horse race that is run round the irregularly curved slopes of the Campo. But it is through painting that this miniature city has exerted its influence worldwide. Today, the vivid livery of the Palio, shop windows stuffed with art and covetable fashion, and the strawberry blond sunlight on Siena's calm frontages make for colourful walks through traffic-free streets and, out of season, largely deserted alleys.

Best hotel

You virtually need planning permission to put your hat on in Siena, so the extraordinary restoration of the Grand Hotel Continental (00 39 05 77 56 011; www.royaldemeure.com), once a fine palace in the Banchi di Sopra, one of two fashionable streets that scoop through the centre of the city, was a considerable achievement. Rooms include a totally frescoed suite, with views of the Duomo and of the church of San Domenico. There is also a turret with rooms on two floors and 360-degree views, and some of the eaved rooms have balconies. The Salle delle Feste is a frescoed public room on the first-floor, alone worth a foray into the hotel. Double rooms cost from €480 (£330).

More modest rooms with prices to match are available in the historic houses that are classified as residenze d'epoca. Simple en-suite rooms, with no restaurants on site but in central locations, are a cheaper option. Il Casato, via Casato di Sopra 33 (00 39 05 77 23 60 01; www.hotelrooms.it) and Il Casato Due, via Dupre (00 39 05 77 22 69 93; www.hotel rooms.it) charge from €150 (£103) for a double room.

Best restaurant

Local people mostly avoid the many eateries lining the Campo, but if a meal with a view of the great Palazzo Pubblico is irresistible, head for Al Mangia (00 39 05 77 28 11 21), Il Campo (00 39 05 77 28 07 25) or trendy new Liberamente with its transparent chairs (00 39 05 77 27 47 33). Indoors and out, Nello La Taverna (00 39 05 77 28 90 43) in via del Porrione serves vegetarian delicacies such as chick pea and artichoke pie with tomato coulis, and parcels of grated pasta, beans and cheese. Three courses with wine cost around €35 (£24).

Best sightseeing

The star turn at the Palazzo Pubblico is the frescoed depiction by Simone Martini of the effects of Good Government and Bad Government. At the Duomo, the winning horse in the Palio (2 July and 16 August) clip-clops up the steps for a blessing. The (nowadays, hard) hats of the riders hang in thanksgiving in a side chapel. The humbug-striped cathedral is a riot of pattern and shamelessly ill-matched treasures. The nearby Pinacoteca houses the city's exceptional collection of painting from the 15th-century onwards. At the Museo delle Opera del Duomo, the Duccio Maestà is the star attraction. Visitors are encouraged to leave the Campo and go "urban trekking" up and down the three hills on which the city is built, for vistas that include beautiful Chiantishire.

Best cultural attraction

An orphanage and hospital opposite the Duomo has cared for the sick and poor since the 15th century. The story of this ministry, complete with accurate depictions of early medical methods, is recorded in an entirely frescoed room in the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, a labyrinthine building that was still a working hospital until recently. Painstaking restoration has revealed arresting frescoes by Domenico di Bartolo and contemporaries. Tableaux include the dream of the mother of the hospital's founder, Sevore, in which she sees abandoned babies climbing a rope ladder to the Virgin. A seven-day pass to the Palazzo Pubblico, Santa Maria della Scala, the Baptistry and other star turns is a bargain at €16 (£11).

Best shopping

Nannini, Banchi di Sopra 24, has the best panforte, Siena's fruit and nut cake, and cantucci and ricciarelli, tough, nutty biscuits for dunking. Fine art souvenirs such as calendars and stationery cost a fraction of comparable products at home. The Fortress has a reputable enoteca: look for good deals on red Brunello. The Wednesday-morning market at La Lizza attracts shoppers from miles around. The antiques market at Piazza del Mercato is on the third Sunday of the month.

Best nightspot

Owls like to congregate in the cafés of the Piazza del Mercato, the via Pantaneto and the Piazza del Sale. The Café del Corso opposite Nannini will still serve a slug of coffee at 3am. In the summer, classical concerts attract world-class artists. The music school is in the Palazzo Chigi Saracini, open to visitors, for the first time in 200 years, until 15 June.

How to get there

Ryanair flies from Stansted to Rome Ciampino from an advertised £1.99; trains and buses from Rome to Siena take around two hours and cost from £15 return.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us