Been inspired to visit Tuscany by the film Stealing Beauty? Or perhaps you’ve just always wanted to see Siena and the surrounding countryside? Native Italian blogger Italo Rizzo lays out his regional highlights…
The Italian town of Siena, with its UNESCO-listed historical centre, is one of the country’s most visited attractions, but its surroundings are stunning, too… breathtaking sights, gentle hills dotted with cypress trees and old hamlets stand out in this area and represent the typical Tuscan landscape you’ve always dreamt of. A place where time seems to have stood still for centuries.
The first landmark you’ll want to see in Siena is Piazza del Campo, one of the largest medieval squares in the world. It is characterized by the shape of a shell and it has always been a special place and a gathering point for the Sienese.
Next, you could head to the Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption, rich in esoteric symbols and old frescoes. The Baptistery is also worth a visit: it dates back to 1325 and has a wonderful bronze and marble baptismal font. Those who are not afraid of heights shouldn’t miss the opportunity to climb the 400 steps of the tower called Torre del Mangia, to get an astonishing view over the city and the hills.
South of Siena there is a special place the Italians call Crete Senesi. This area is famous for its lunar landscape and the greyish colour given by the presence of a clay sediment. Wheat fields, old farmhouses and gentle hills are surrounded by a steady breeze and the sounds of nature. While you’re in this area, visit the impressive Accona desert, a semi-arid area where the hills have steep-walled inlets and dome-shaped formations.
San Gimignano has an ancient story and a wonderful historic centre: that’s why UNESCO declared it part of the World’s Architectural Heritage. You will immediately see its timeless beauty entering its old gate Porta San Giovanni, located in the south side of the town, finished in 1262. Walking in the town centre you will also see a big cistern in the middle of a square: the space was laid out in 1287, and is the Piazza della Cisterna. But the heart of San Gimignano is Piazza del Duomo, surrounded by impressive medieval towers and beautiful historic buildings.
Best wine and food
A good dinner in an old style restaurant is the best way to taste the region’s typical food. Sit at the table of a small tavern and ask for Cinta Senese wild boar, ribollita soup, and the thick pasta called pici. Great wines are made in the district: have some Chianti, Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, or Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Vin Santo wine is for desserts, so try it with Cavallucci or Ricciarelli biscuits.
Dream the Tuscan fairytale
To live the perfect Tuscany holiday, you should feel like an Italian for all the time of your stay. Then why not try sleeping in a late Renaissance structure in the middle of the countryside? Villa Armena is built of red brick, and has original oak beams and roof, terracotta floors and a beautiful Italian Renaissance garden. This exclusive place is situated in the heart of the Sienese Crete, the perfect location to start a tour of Siena and its surroundings.