Siena is one of the most interesting towns in
Tuscany. I just visited it again in October and, as
always, found some new delights. It is a busy little
city in the heart of Tuscany, but not on the scale of
Florence. If you plan on traveling to Italy this coming
year, consider taking the family to Siena. A little
advance preparation in learning about Siena will reward
you and your family with a very enjoyable visit, so I
have provided links below to a variety of resources.
My reason for bringing Siena to your attention this
early in the year is twofold:
1. If you wish to get tickets to view the Palio in
comfort you must act right away to make reservations
(email me if you need information email@example.com).
2. I have found some very nice villa accommodations
near Siena that I heartily recommend to you whether or
not your visit coincides with the Palio.
Freely forward this newsletter in its entirety, you
will find a forward link at the bottom to make it easy.
(c) Copyright Kids Europe 2005.
The Palio of Siena
The Palio horse race is one of the most exciting
events you will ever see. The neighborhoods or "contrade"
of Siena have been competing since 1656, so rivalries
are two races each year, July 2nd and another August
16th. The medieval processions that precede the race are
filled with awe-inspring, colorful pageantry.
Even if you don't see a final race there are a series
of trials that are easier to catch and being in Siena
during the summer is exciting. You'll see the town
decorated with flags and local people banter with their
rivals in the street.
The shell shape of the piazza makes the race really
interesting. What is the usual shape of race tracks? Why
do you think there are mattresses in certain places
against the buildings?
If you watch a race, even on TV, you will see jockeys
whipping each other in addition to their horses.
Betrayal and bribery are part of the event. There are
almost no rules for the race. Riderless horses can win
and, in fact, a win by a riderless horse is considered a
Watch for people, grownups, wearing pacifiers or even
sucking on them! That means they belong to the contrada
that has just won the race. They consider a winning
contrada to be born again, so it's a baby, hence the
Learn more about the Palio,
Contrades, and Siena.
Here is an urban "trek" for children
through Siena with all the little highlights that will
especially interest them. There are three pages of a
brochure that print out very small, but it is legible: Page
2 If your family stays near Siena, you can use this
itinerary for several explorations of the city.
This captivating event in a charming city can be the
centerpiece of your travel. If you never go anywhere but
Siena, you will be able to experience depth of Italian
culture and history within this one city or region. It
doesn't hurt that some of the best food and wine in
Italy is found here, too!
Here are two perfect books for children about the
Palio, boys, and horses:
Pride of the Palio
Wildest Horse Race in the World
Here are some books filled with pictures and
information about the Palio:
Terra in Piazza: An Interpretation of the Palio in Siena
City of the Palio
Agosto at Siena
This villa is in the countryside very close to
Siena and, in my experience, an excellent place
to vacation with your family. It is close to
Siena itself, a lovely town, and near to many
other charming Tuscan towns. Yet it is in the
countryside which beckons you to stroll or pedal
out along the lanes. The villa has a large pool
for family relaxation and play.
Villa Agosto has been organized into several
large apartments, each with its own private
barbecue and al fresco (in the fresh air, i.e.
outside) dining area. Some accommodations are in
independent cottages, too. I like that there are
several apartments (but not a lot, just 10), so
kids may find some playmates by the pool and
adults may find some other vactioners to lift a
glass of wine with.
The accommodations are top quality with many
amenities. The furnishings that include gorgeous
antiques are also very comfortable. Really, the
best thing is to just look at some photos and
contact us for reservations.
If you are considering a vacation rental in
Italy, take a look at the "Manual"
we are compiling with ideas and advice.
in Tuscany »
When you go to Siena, be sure to buy some
Panforte, literally "strong bread," a
delicious and very special desert that is a
cross between fruit cake and candy. It is strong
due, perhaps, to its strong, spicy flavor and
also it is solid. It is made of made of ground
nuts, spices, candied fruit, honey and a little
flour to hold it all together.
This is a great gift to bring home because it
is relatively small, unbreakable, beautiful,
different, and, best of all, delicious!
After I eat my panforte, I find it hard to
throw away the beautiful box that is decorated
like a medieval manuscript. That reminds me that
the origins of this cake go back to at least the
Here is a recipe just to whet your appetite.
PANFORTE DI SIENA
1/2 c. flour, sifted, 1/4 c. unsweetened
cocoa powder, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp.
ground allspice, 3/4 c. shelled, blanched
toasted almonds, 3/4 c. shelled, toasted hazel
nuts, 3/4 c. diced candied orange peel, 3/4 c.
diced candied citron, 3/4 c. diced, candied
mixed fruit, 3/4 c. honey, 3/4 c. granulated
sugar, Powdered sugar
Sift flour with cocoa, cinnamon and allspice.
Mix in nuts and fruit, set aside. Combine honey
and sugar in a large saucepan. Cook over medium
heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a
wooden spoon. Syrup should register 238 degrees
on candy thermometer. Remove from heat. Add
flour mixture and blend well. Pour into a
well-greased 9 inch pie plate or spring-form
cake pan. Smooth surface with a wet knife. Bake
in 300 degree oven for 30 minutes or until firm.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with powdered sugar
and cool on rack. When cake is cool, remove from
pan and dust all sides heavily with powdered
sugar. Cut into wedges and serve.
In the Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall, in Siena
there are famous frescoes that depict the result
of good and bad government, very much a concern
of the princes that ruled their city-states. I
suggest finding the murals but don't read their
signs, then try to tell which is good and which
is bad. Look for the differences.
In the same building is one of the earliest
paintings that shows a landscape in perspective.
It's the one of a prince riding in front of hill
towns that he governed. You can compare the
perspective in this painting with the way it is
treated in later paintings.
There is a color used in painting called
"burnt siena," a dark brown that
celebrates local painters and the subtleties of
color that fill the Tuscan countryside.
of Siena's art and architecture
Photos of Siena »
don't have to be in Siena for the Palio to enjoy
this medieval city and the colorful rivalries of
the "contrade" or neighborhoods.
a Sienese is baptized, s/he is accepted into the
contrada of her/his family's home. Each year on
the contrada's Saint's day, all the children born
during the last year are baptized at once at the
contrada fountain - not the church. They are then
members of that contrada for life and are brothers
or sisters to every other member. Do you belong to
any organization as close or long-lasting?
emulate military companies. If you see a Palio
procession, each member of the military company
has a different uniform with special colors and
designs of his contrada.
contrada has its own museum, church, social
center, and fountain; look for them as you explore
the city. You can spot decorations on the
buildings that will tell you which contrada you
This picture is of "my" adopted
contrada Leocorno or Unicorn that I like as much
for the unicorn as their colors which are waves of
orange and white.
in the Discovery Journal
"When I ordered the Italy Discovery Journal
last spring, I wasn't sure if my 11 yr. old
daughter would be very interested in using it on
our trip. We just returned from Italy and I
wanted to let you know how much she enjoyed the
Journal. Her very favorite part was about the
contradas in Siena. We walked all over Siena and
found all but one contrada, that made Siena her
favorite part of the trip. She also enjoyed
writing down all of the different types of
gelato she tried, counting the number of steps
on the Spanish steps, looking for the different
fountains in Rome and looking for the flood high
water marks on the buildings in Florence. I also
enjoyed all the little pieces of information we
learned from the Journal. Thanks!" Krista
Much of the Italy Discovery Journal is
devoted to general aspects of culture with a
little, palatable history thrown in. But I have
also added pages of specific places that you
will find very useful. For example, the Siena
pages include a check list of all of the
Contrade, so you can keep track of the ones you
have located. It also prompts you to select
which contrade you would want to belong to.
Italy Discovery Journal »
Travel in Italy
Train travel throughout Europe is fun for kids
and easy on parents. You can get to almost any
town in Italy in comfort. No navigating, no
parking hassles. You will have a chance to meet
other passengers and view the countryside as it
rolls by. You can easily stretch your legs and
enjoy a yummy box lunch purchased from a vendor.
Consider taking a sleeper train between major
European cities. Children will love the
experience of sleeping on bunks in a train.
You'll save a night's lodging and wake up at
your destination. This rail site offers rails
passes and point- to-point ticketing and
reservations, go to "Fares &
Schedules" to get point-to-point
love to travel by train in Italy... »