The Tuscan hill town of Siena, Italy, is centuries old and steeped in delectable cuisine, treasures of art and architecture, a tangle of intrigue, and flamboyant character. First settled by the advanced Etruscan civilization centuries before the time of Christ, throughout the middle ages and renaissance the Siena city-state vied with Florence and Pisa for dominance of Tuscany.
From the Basilica of San Domenico—which houses the head and thumb of Italy’s patron saint, Catherine of Siena—to the ancient Palio—the frenetic 1.5-minute bareback horse race through the city’s main square, most recently featured in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace—Siena offers a wide variety of the ghoulish, the sacred, and the exciting.
To help navigate the complex and delightful town that is Siena, licensed Siena Province guide Antonella Piredda offers a few insider tips in this exclusive interview. Since 2006, Antonella has guided travelers throughout the Province of Siena, a territory that includes Siena, itself, and the area from San Gimignano in the north down to Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, and Chiusi.
Antonella, why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I love art and history as well as food and wine. In fact, I am also a sommelier—a wine expert—and an official cheese taster. My husband is a famous wine maker, so I am lucky to know the wine world from within and am in contact with many wine professionals around Italy. We have also renovated (and rent to travelers) an apartment in the medieval Tuscan village of Montisi. It’s a beautiful place we call Casa Parva, and it’s built against the raw stones that form the base of the town’s old castle.
What do you consider one of the most interesting facts about Siena?
Siena, one of the best well-kept cities in Italy despite the huge amount of monuments and sites, still retains a certain intimacy. In addition, it always surprises visitors because they don’t have as many expectations before coming, contrary to what happens to sightseers in Venice and Florence. Therefore, Siena always exceeds your expectations.
If you could only see one thing in Siena, what would it be?
I would visit the Palazzo Pubblico which houses the most important cycle of political frescoes of the Middle Ages: The Good Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Although it was painted in 1338-1339, it has a very modern message!
If a visitor has only one day to spend in Siena, what should he do?
He should visit the Cathedral and the Campo square where the Palio horse race takes place every year, but they should also . . . get lost! Every traveler should take time to discover Siena’s tiny streets, little piazzas, traditional water fonts, and amazing views.
What is your favorite restaurant in Siena?
I like Taverna di San Giuseppe in Via Dupre’. Their pasta with porcini mushrooms, or “truffles,” is to die for!
What is one fact you think most people don't know about Siena?
Most people don’t know we have the oldest operating bank in the world established in 1472 and that the main street in Siena is part of the oldest pilgrimage route of the Middle Ages and, therefore, it’s “just” about 1000 years old!
What insider tip would you like to share with visitors to Siena?
Get to the church of Santa Maria dei Servi and sit on the steps. From there enjoy the best view of Siena with its medieval buildings and Palazzo Pubblico, and dream of the life in those ancient times.
What is one piece of cultural advice you would share with travelers to Siena?
Visit one of the oldest hospitals of the Western world, now an amazing museum, the Santa Maria della Scala, right in front of the Cathedral. Discover the amazing things this institution did in the past for orphans, pilgrims and poor people.
Thank you, Antonella!
If you're interested in Antonella's guide services or Casa Parva, please visit the links above or contact your travel advisor for assistance.