Tuscany is the dream destination of every traveler, and the city of Siena and the Sienese Hills are growing more and more in popularity. Among the tours of Italy this is certainly one of the most sought-after itineraries because of its uncontaminated medieval villages, stunning countryside, elaborate gardens, little-known wine roads and, of course, its genuine and traditional cuisine.
Siena is situated in the heart of Tuscany and is one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Italy. Siena has maintained the Gothic style of the 13th century and it’s especially noticeable in the Duomo, which houses numerous treasures by Donatello, Pisano and Michelangelo and the frescoes of the famous Pinturicchio.
Siena is the only city to have a sloping conch-shaped central square that is reminiscent of an amphitheatre: the famous Piazza del Campo, the central hub of city life and home to one of the most famous events in the world, Il Palio di Siena.
The Palio is a horse race that still maintains its medieval origins, colors and customs. It takes place twice a year: on July 2nd in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano and on August 16th in honor of the Madonna dell’Assunta. The city is divided into contrade (neighborhoods), and these contrade challenge each other, bringing their best horse and their best jockey into the field. Only during the period between these two dates is the Florentine mosaic flooring inside the Duomo of Siena fully uncovered for viewing.
This period, from June to September, is when Siena is at its liveliest: it’s the best time to get to know the city and its habits, and of course, to attend the Palio and its celebrations. Itis the moment when the Sienese population pours through the streets of the city to participate in the Palio, and the city is filled with colors, sounds and tradition.
In Siena, colors are important. In addition to the various colors of the contrade, the color that most represents the city is the red-brown of the roof tiles called Terra di Siena that alternates with the grey stone of the towers built by the old nobility.
The Sienese hills are the birthplace of the Renaissance, and the home of the distinctive Chianti region, an area known above all for its vineyards. These hills contain a combination of exceptional beauty, art and culture. The landscapes here are among the most breath-taking and romantic in Italy and are steeped in history. The Siena Hills are the ideal place to relax and enjoy the traditional cuisine, take long walks in the countryside, and explore the hills by bike.
The medieval villages are beautiful to visit, and in the township of Monticiano, the natural spas whose waters flow underground at a temperature of 43 °C (109°F), form small pools for bathing and relaxing.
On your tour of Italy you cannot miss visiting San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Montepulciano the most important three stops of the Siena Hills, a wellspring of nature, wellbeing, beauty and taste.
Not far from the medieval city of Siena is San Gimignano, famous for its 16 towers that give it the status of a medieval city par excellence. One of the stages of the Via Francigena, it is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The best time to visit San Gimignano is spring or autumn, perfect for enjoying the season of the vineyards and to immerse yourself in the colors and scents of the countryside.
If you are a wine lover, do not miss the journey along the Vernaccia Wine Route of San Gimignano. There are four itineraries that connect the wineries of the area where you can taste the wines in authentic Tuscan wine cellars and learn about the history of wine and the Tuscan vineyards.
The picturesque village of Pienza is in the beautiful Val D’Orcia. Its position is strategic. Pienza is perched on top of a hill and dominates the entire Orcia valley.
Pienza is considered the “ideal” Renaissance city, thanks to the great Silvio Enea Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II. It has obtained the status of UNESCO site, and, because of its organization of space and the perspectives of the buildings, it is typical of Renaissance urban planning.
Pienza is also the city of cacio (cheese), Pecorino di Pienza. This cheese, made with sheep’s milk, with a sweet, creamy flavor, is so renowned that it even won over the New York Times. The center of Pienza is full of shops that sell the many varieties of pecorino cheese which can be tasted accompanied by wines, spices and honey.
In September there is the Fiera del Cacio, a fun festival dedicated to the famous pecorino cheese and other local products that can be enjoyed for free.
During the festival the Palio del Cacio Fuso takes place. This is a competition that consists of rolling a whole form of pecorino cheese around a wooden spindle that is located in the center of the square.
This event is really a lot of fun, and September is one of the best months to relax in Val D’Orcia.
The last stop in a journey of relaxation and well-being is Montepulciano, a spa town where the healing properties of its waters, and its mud, are made the most of.
Following the shooting of the famous movie New Moon, of the Twilight vampire saga, Montepulciano has become a very popular tourist destination.
Walking through the streets of the village is the best way to enjoy the views of the vineyards that produce Vino Nobile and that cover the surrounding countryside.
As well as the naturalistic beauty, the spas, the visiting of castles and villages, yet another highlight of the Siena Hills is the taste: sampling the many local dishes with their traditional flavors is a true joy for the senses. Some of the delicacies not to be missed are Sienese pici, vernaccia wine, the saffron of San Gimignano, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the crostini and the panforte. Then, let yourself be won over by the wide variety of salami of the Valdorcia and Pienza cheeses accompanied by a ruby red glass of Chianti.