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Savor Siena

Kids Europe
Savor Siena )
 Discover Italy Newsletter  
in this issue

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

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 run deep.

There 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 favorable omen.

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 pacifier.

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 1 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:

Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio

The Wildest Horse Race in the World

Here are some books filled with pictures and information about the Palio:

La Terra in Piazza: An Interpretation of the Palio in Siena

Siena, City of the Palio

Villa 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.

Villas in Tuscany

Siena's Strong Bread
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 1100s.

Here is a recipe just to whet your appetite.


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.

Art in Siena
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.

Overview of Siena's art and architecture

Beautiful Photos of Siena

Contrade of Siena
You don't have to be in Siena for the Palio to enjoy this medieval city and the colorful rivalries of the "contrade" or neighborhoods.

When 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?

Contradas 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.

Each 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 are in.

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.

Siena 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 Swenson

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.

The Italy Discovery Journal

Train 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 information.

Kids love to travel by train in Italy...

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