Siena : a city worth living, eating, and drinking
There are places you can get to know by just visiting them – some on a 1-day trip, others on a few
days, and there are those which may require weeks or months. Siena is not one of those.
To get to know Siena you must live in the city.
More than that, you must live the city. Even some
friends who went to university there did not experience in 5 years what I (luckily) did, in 6 months.
Siena is not just its walls and history, but its people and traditions. The soul of the city is the Palio, a
horse race in the main square “Piazza del Campo”.
The Palio takes place twice every year – on the 2nd of July and 16th of August – when 10 of the 17 traditional neighborhoods (or contrada) compete for the so-called Drappellone, a large painted silk
canvas designed and created each year by a different artist – Guttuso and Botero having been amongst them. The winning contrada displays the canvas in its museum during district celebrations.
A few days before the race we can watch the city transform – with the first morning birds chirping we can hear the trucks starting to bring the tufo, a special type of soil, to the square. The scent of a
typical salami with fennel seeds (finocchiona), coming out of deli stores, freshly baked traditional local biscuits (cantucci) and sweet wine from raisin grapes (Vin Santo).
Contrada colours start to take over venues and flags are seen outside every house’s window.
Each day you will see a sort of “procession” with residents walking around the city at the rhythm of drums, waving their contrada flags in a medieval kind of dance, and echoing a typical song of the city
of Siena called La Verbena. If you get the chance to either join one of their dinners in the city streets the day before the Palio, or come and watch the race, listening to La Verbena will give you goosebumps.
Enough of the Palio and let’s talk about another very important piece of your stay here: food!
If you can stay for 2 or 3 days, whether it’s on the weekend or during the week, a few places have a special spot in my heart (and stomach) from the months I spent there.
Gastronomia Morbidi (Via Banchi di Sopra, 75) – You can come to Morbidi at any time of the day –
and all options are good. Living in the city center made my stops here after work on Friday
afternoons almost a must, either with friends or alone, for an apericena. The system is quite simple:
you pay for your drink (aperitif) and that allows you to sample from the food buffet as much as you
want – almost as much as having dinner (cena).
La Taverna di San Giuseppe (Via Giovanni Duprè, 132) – Rule #1: always make a reservation. Rule #2:
always make a reservation (many) days in advance. The authentic traditional Senese cuisine, so rich
of flavors, in elevated dishes. Enjoy your meal in a charming, brick-&-stone space with an ancient
Etruscan cellar. Usually, countryside Tuscan food tends to be heavy, so it might be a good idea to
come here when you are hungry. Personal note: I still dream about those cocoa tagliatelle noodles
with wild boar ragout cooked in milk.
Osteria Da Divo (Via Franciosa, 25/29) – always a choice for a fancy and high food quality dinner or
lunch. The restaurant is divided in 3 floors (from ground to underground) naturally marked by the
different historical periods of the city: Medieval, Etruscan, and Ancient. Your phone won’t work in
those last two, which makes it great a option for a candle lit romantic dinner. As well as the refined
dishes connected with traditional flavors and amazing atmosphere.
Osteria La Sosta di Violante (Via Pantaneto, 115) – very close to Leocorno, the contrada in which I
lived in. Informal atmosphere, friendly service, very tasty food, good price-quality ratio, and
traditional ingredients. They also offer very interesting and affordable wine options. Either eating
inside or at their tables just in front can be a good option for lunch or dinner for solo travelers,
friends, families, and couples.
Siena has many other nice places to offer, these are just some of my personal favorites from the
time I lived there, and that was a time I’ll never forget.
Siena taught me what my life in Italy would be like, how much tradition means and how important
friendship bonds are. Living those experiences was far more important than any picture taken in one
day for an Instagram story.
La Verbena sung from balconies during Covid-19 lockdown: