- By Verdiana Fioravanti - When you’re talking about Siena it’s impossible to start mentioning the Palio: Piazza del Campo which is the heart of life for people from Siena. I’m from the contrada della Lupa, also known as “grandma” because it hasn’t won since July 1989. Let’s hope for this year. I have some wonderful memories of the Palio: from time to time I used to watch it from Palazzo Zondadari, an incredible museum-home overlooking the Curva dei Materassi. It’s not open to the public but I can assure you that’s the dream! The local scene isn’t limited to the Palio of course: all year round, the true Sienese’s day is not properly ended without a drink in the square.
Everyone has their own favourite bar, but I’ll let you in on a secret: for us it’s “Il Palio”. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and so have all my friends: it’s simply “ours”. Either that or Nannini, if you move from the square: it used to be run by the racing driver Alessandro and remains as a local institution. It also has pastry shop and coffee-roaster, so it’s perfect for breakfast and snacks! If you don’t know where to stay, my tip is to move a little bit away from the center of Siena and take a room at Agriturismo Vico D’Arbia: it’s a unique place, lovingly managed by a mother-daughter team, vineyards and olive groves in the rolling hills. As for art, I’d recommend a newly opened gallery, FuoriCampo, a great initiative. It’s run by real experts who really believe in promoting a new type of contemporary art. Located just below the Torre del Mangia, and they often organize films, theatre and music there.
- By Giovanni Neri - Montalcino revolves around its wines, so visitors should get ready for a unique experience. The ideal breakfast is to be had in one of the town’s institutions, going back over a hundred years and in perfect Art Nouveau style: the Caffè Fiaschetteria Italiana. It’s the social hub of Montalcino, so you can hardly ignore it.
For lunch or dinner I’d recommend Drogheria Franci: it hasn’t been open long but it immediately met with the approval of visitors and locals alike thanks to its refined atmosphere, sophisticated cuisine and the staff’s warm hospitality.
In the afternoon a visit to Montalcino’s Castle is a must: built in the fourteenth century, it has changed little since then, and towers over the whole town. For a romantic experience, especially for couples, I’d recommend a walk along the battlements at sunset; followed, of course, by a nice glass of Brunello in the Castle’s splendid wine bar. A spiritual trip to the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo would be a good idea for the following day. It stands in a magnificent valley 10 km outside Montalcino. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never been there how moving the place is. Whether or not you’re religious, try to visit the church when mass is being said: the community of friars still pray in Gregorian chant. For the evening we’re back with our reds: at the Enoteca di Piazza you can choose from over a hundred varieties of Brunello all year round. The two main windows offer a breath-taking view of the Val d’Orcia. What worthier finale could there be?