Siena

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Famous for its crazy horse race (Il Palio), Siena is one of Italy's most enchanting medieval towns. Its walled centre, a beautifully preserved warren of dark lanes punctuated by Gothic palazzi, piazzas and eye-catching churches, is a lovely place to get lost. The action centres on Piazza del Campo (known as Il Campo), the sloping scallop that serves as a communal sunbed to scores of day trippers.

According to legend, Siena was founded by the sons of Remus, although it was the Middle Ages that heralded the city's golden age. Between the 13th and 15th centuries, painters of the Sienese School produced significant works of art, and Sts Catherine and Benedict called Siena home.

Orientation

The centre’s main streets – the Banchi di Sopra, Via di Città and Banchi di Sotto – curve around Il Campo.

Internet Train (Via di Città 121 & Via di Pantaneto 57; per hr €4; h10am-10pm)

Left Luggage (per day €5.50) At the bus station.

Police station (Questura; Tel 0577 20 11 11; Via del Castoro 23)

Tourist office (Tel 0577 28 05 51; http://www.terresiena.it/; Piazza del Campo 56; h9am-7pm)

Wash & Dry (Via di Pantaneto 38; h8am-10pm)

Ever since the 14th century, Piazza del Campo has been the city’s focus. Forming the base of the piazza, the Palazzo Pubblico (or Palazzo Comunale) is a magnificent example of Sienese Gothic architecture. Inside, the Museo Civico (Tel 0577 29 26 14; adult/concession €7.50/4.50; h10am-7pm mid-Mar–end Oct, to 6pm Nov–mid-Mar) houses some extraordinary frescoes. Soaring above the palazzo is the 102m Torre del Mangia (admission €7; h10am-7pm mid-Mar–end Oct, to 4pm Nov–mid-Mar), which dates from 1297. A combined ticket to the two costs €12 and is only available at the Torre del Mangia ticket office.

The spectacular Duomo (Tel 0577 473 21; Piazza del Duomo; admission €3; h10.30am-7.30pm Mon-Sat, 1.30-5.30pm Sun Mar-end May, 10.30am-8pm Mon-Sat, 1.30- 6.30pm Sun Jun-end Aug, 10.30am-7.30pm daily Sep-end Oct, 10.30am-6pm Mon-Sat Nov-end Feb) is a Gothic masterpiece. Begun in 1196, it was completed in 1215, although work continued well into the 13th century. Inside, it’s the 14th-century inlaid- marble floor (floor viewing €6; h10.30am-7.30pm mid-Aug–late Oct) that’s the highlight. Other noteworthy features include Donatello’s bronze of St John the Baptist, and statues of St Jerome and Mary Magdalene by Bernini.

Behind the cathedral and down a flight of stairs, the battistero (baptistry; Piazza San Giovanni; admission €3; h9.30am-8pm Mar-Sep, to 7.30pm Oct, 10am-5pm Nov-Feb) has a Gothic facade and a rich frescoed interior.

On the western edge of the walled city, the Chiesa di San Domenico (Piazza San Domenico 1; admission free; h7.30am-1pm & 3-6.30pm) is the last resting place of St Catherine’s head and thumb.

Festivals & Events

Siena’s great annual event is the Palio (2 July and 16 August), a pageant culminating in a bareback horse race round Il Campo. The city is divided into 17 contrade (districts), of which 10 are chosen annually to compete for the palio (silk banner). The only rule in the three-lap race is that jockeys can’t tug the reins of other horses.

Pasticceria Nanini (Tel 0577 23 60 09; 24 Via Banchi di Sopra) For the finest cenci (fried sweet pastry), panforte (dense fruit-and-nut cake) and ricciarelli (almond biscuits) in town, you need go no further than this Sienese institution.

La Chiacchiera (Tel 0577 28 06 31; Costa di Sant’Antonio 4; meals €18) With its rustic wooden tables and stone walls, this is an atmospheric spot serving earthy, filling seasonal food. In summer, there’s outdoor seating on a quiet pedestrian street.

L’Osteria (Tel 0577 28 75 92; Via dei Rossi 79-81; meals €25) Great food, big portions, no-nonsense red wine – the ideal recipe for a memorable meal. Service at L’Osteria is efficient and prices are right for this touristy neck of the woods.

For self-caterers, there’s a handy Conad supermarket (Tel 0577 27 77 15; Piazza Matteotti 17) in the town centre.