Siena in Tuscany has always been an Italian city I’ve wanted to visit ever since watching the exciting opening scenes of the Palio from 007 movie A Quantum of Solace. If you haven’t heard of the Palio, it’s Italy’s most famous sporting event and takes place twice a year.
Ten horses and bareback riders dressed in the appropriate colours, represent 10 of the 17 Contrada (city wards). Each Contrada has its own unique colours and represents an area of the city – with their flags and emblems adorning the streets during the four-day event. It looks phenomenal.
So when we stayed in Villa Pia on the borders of Perugia and Tuscany, and discovered Siena was only just over an hour away – we jumped at the chance to go and spend the day there. But unfortunately we had just missed Palio by a week. Sob…
No matter, I was still excited to be able to get a taste of this wonderful medieval historical centre. And, after finding a tight parking spot and walking in from the outskirts of town, we were met by the most stunning views of Siena from above – the glinting roof of the Duomo glistening in the sunlight.
Siena doesn’t spring to mind as the most child-friendly place but with so much to see and do, there really is plenty to keep the whole family entertained, and with most of it pedestrianised, it’s really easy to get about with or without a pushchair.
The Piazza del Campo
Once the site of a Roman marketplace, you can’t fail but to find yourself amongst the pigeons and tourists in the sloping Il Campo Piazza. Not only will you be able to follow the steady stream of people heading to the Siena’s civic and social centre – but the scores of cafés around the perimeter offer welcome relief from the searing Italian heat. We enjoyed a pizza lunch (of course) and Monkey loved watching all the different groups, from students singing to street performers, as well as chasing the birds across the square. Instead of a Church at its centre, the 330-foot municipal tower of Siena’s City Hall dominates – and you can take a ride right up to the top to get the most glorious views of the city.
The ice cream
On every corner of the city we came across numerous gelato parlours – several with long queues outside! And it’s not surprising, such is the quality of the Sienese ice cream. For just a few Euros you can buy yourself several scoops of deliciousness. We were absolutely amazed by the inventiveness of different flavours and choices on offer and made sure we tried several.
Situated in the piazza above Il Campo, the Cathedral or Duomo is a spectacular sight. Monkey loved climbing the steep stairs that lead up to the square. It may not be the most exciting attraction for a young child, but believe me when I say Monkey was pretty impressed with the not only the architecture of this 13-century Gothic building but the details inside. From the wood carved doors, to the green and black marble stripes as well as the marble floors designed by leading artists from the era, we were all entranced for a good while.
Wandering the streets
The maze-like streets leading off from the Il Campo means that there is plenty to discover. We found ourselves just strolling the roads discovering quaint shops, restaurants and cafes, as well as hidden gems such walls lined with ornate iron rings – used to tie horses to. That’s was the fun of it – getting lost in this architectural gothic time-warp of warm-coloured buildings and ochre roof tops, and trying to make our way back to the centre. We didn’t have a map and nor did we really need one. Monkey needed to hitch a lift at this point – but it mean he got a good view from up high!
Wandering the streets means that you end up find some unexpected gems including children’s playgrounds. A great respite from all the crowds for little ones, we came across a park called Orti Dei Tolomei, near the Natural History Museum and Botanical Gardens, and it was so pleasant to sit in the shade under the olive trees and admire the views of Siena. Monkey loved the climbing frame. We also found another near the Piazza Gramsci, which had a playhouse a small pond.
Exploring Siena means walking through medieval history. But if you want to discover more about the area and get away from the searing heat then there are plenty of museums to satisfy inquisitive minds and art lovers. However, the most child-friendly being The Natural History Museum, which has a stuffed animals section on the first floor. Meanwhile, over near the Duomo is a Children’s Arts Museum which has interactive installations and workshops.
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