Siena is situated in the centre-south of Tuscany. The lush province extends over some of the most enchanting Tuscan territories like the southern hills of Chianti, Val d’Elsa and Val di Merse, Val d’Arbia, Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia, right up to the slopes of Mount Amiata.
Check out the beautiful abbeys of Sant’Antimo, Duomo and Romanesque parishes. To get a close look at the Italian countryside, visit the small town of Quirico d’Orcia that preserves its ancient culture even today. Other important destinations are the University of Siena and San Nicolo – an ancient monastery.
One thing you must take home from Siena is panforte, a 13th century Sienaian dessert made using honey, nuts and fruits. Second-hand books and ceramics are also widely available throughout Siena’s street markets.
The Sienaese cuisine is high on homely flavors, making abundant use of garlic and aromatic herbs like fennel and tarragon. Popular dishes at most restaurants are the flavorful herbed sauces, pastas and stuffed meat preparations. Even though Siena is a quiet town, evenings here can be quite entertaining with live music, rock performances and theatres that stage works by Shakespeare, ballets and plays from around the world.
Located between the provinces of Florence and Siena, the Chianti Valley carries the spirit of old Tuscany. Its name is historically associated with a squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket. The green landscape of this region is speckled with dense vineyards, chestnut forests, oak and maple trees, rustic villages, magnificent castles and colonial homes.
An ideal way to visit Chianti is from Florence, on the way to Siena, as it gives you a chance to appreciate the beautiful greenery that passes by. In this area, you can visit the charming villages – Greve and Radda. Another well-known landscape is Gaiole, popular for numerous farms and castles. The church of San Giusto immersed in Salcio’s vineyards and the church of Santa Maria Novella with its characteristic Roman cover-up, are also worth a visit.
Produce from the vineyards that stretch across the city is the most obvious purchase from this locality. The local market in Greve works on bargain buys and stocks everything from cheeses, olive-wood furniture, leather goods, ceramics and jewellery.
Restaurants in Chianti mainly serve the typical Tuscany cuisine, where crostini with chicken liver pate and bruschetta with tomatoes are the two most celebrated dishes. The biggest event in Chianti is held in October in Poggibonsi, where, every year, an ancient grape crushing festival takes place. Apart from that, a lot of cafes host live music, concerts, karaoke, movie screenings and plays.
The beautiful town of San Gimignano features in E.M Forster’s novel ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’. The medieval hill town is also known as the ‘Town of Fine Towers’ since the region still has well-preserved towers from another era.
While most Italian cities have lost their towers due to wars, catastrophes and urban renewal, San Gimignano manages to have 14 towers of varying height. Torre Grossa and Torre della Rognosa are of historic significance and the Historic Centre of San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also check out the Collegiata and Sant’Agostino cathedrals, which are beautiful and have several artworks displayed.
Just like Florence, this region too is famous for its leather. You can browse through stores offering leather bags, totes, clutches, jackets, diaries and other products. Local pottery and hand-woven fabrics, too, make up small businesses here. This region is very popular for its saffron, honey and a variety of cheeses.
San Gimignano serves some spectacular Tuscan food and also has a vibrant coffee culture. Restaurants serve gourmet food and brilliant espresso and desserts. This place provides two entertainment options. The first is to get invited to any of the house parties that locals here host. Since it’s a little district a lot of homestays and hotels entertain guests at these parties. And the second is to walk around the tiny cobbled streets and soak in the fresh air. It’s best to time your visit with the International Festival of San Gimignano, where a summer-long series of theatre and performing art events take place each year.