Sienna is an easy 1 hour road trip driving South from Florence. It is totally worth the effort. One of the most beautiful medieval towns on the planet, it is “preserved” in the 13th-14th century as rivalries with nearby Florence meant it was eventually a poor annex to the Florentines who then did nothing to modernize it over the years. This hilltop town is historically mind bogglingâ€¦everything the guide shows you is a good 600-700 years old! The duomo or church in town is a spectacular black and white marble structure that took a good 200-300 years to construct!!! If they were using eggwhites as a binder they must have eaten a whopping couple of million of egg yolks! This town was a hopping place with several spectacular pallazos before Magellan even set out to discover the Philippines and get whacked by Lapu-lapu on the shallow flats of Mactan Islandâ€¦ Siena also boasts the oldest bank…The Monte de Paschi Bank (second photo), established in 1472 and still open for business today!
Since we only had a few hours in the town, we zipped around like crazed banshees and even ate lunch while literally walking around the narrow and quaint lanes. The unusual fan shaped Piazza del Campo is where the famous Palio is run every year, when riders from the different neighborhoods compete with each other in a bareback horse race. Unfortunately, the place is completely overrun by day tourists and itâ€™s a bit like being in a 13th century outdoor mall. There are lots of beautiful food shops but many are geared towards serving the lucrative tourist trade. A Diet Coke can run you USD3 for a can if you buy it in the wrong placeâ€¦Since we only spent Euro 4 each on a skimpy prosciutto sandwich and some bottled water consumed while walking, we decided to splurge and check out the townâ€™s most famous pastry or sweets shopâ€¦A. Nannini. Their chilled cases filled with pastries (mostly cream filled) were tempting, but as usual, we opted for several flavors of spectacular gelato instead.
To complement the gelati, we purchased a selection of Nannini cookies that were almost all to die for. Some crisp, some surprisingly spongy and ephemeral, just the right amount of sweetness, lots of nut and other natural flavorsâ€¦
And hereâ€™s a travelerâ€™s tipâ€¦as soon as you get off the tourist buses or the rented car parking lot, you will likely pass a huge â€œgroceryâ€ or cooperative called the Consorzio Agrario Sienaâ€¦ GO IN and look around. They have the best prices on packaged food items and more importantly, stock up on bottled water, sodas, munchies, cheese or cold cuts here rather than buying them closer to the center of Siena where you will pay 3-4x the price! We were bowled over by the selection of dried mushrooms, olive oils, vinegars, dozens of different kinds of dry and fresh pastas, etc. You will probably pass it on your way out of town as well.
If youâ€™re looking to take home some sweets, check out the pan forte that is a dense cake often with whole almonds in itâ€¦they have perfected food packaging in this townâ€¦
Finally, look into the little offshoot alley and passagewaysâ€¦you are bound to come across nice flower shops with their flowers displayed right on the cobblestone pathsâ€¦