We are not afraid to say that there is nowhere in the world more beautiful than the Province of Siena. The landscapes of places like Val d’Elsa, Crete, Val d’Orcia and Chianti, to name the most famous, can be appreciated in all their uniqueness and enchantment, as seen by Dante Alighieri. The villages, farms and castles dotted across the ridges of the famous hills are all intact. And the people, the characteristic dialect, the habits perpetuated through time and the food, all this and more tell the story of wisdom and of an ancient culture that is well-known the world over.
'Siena opens its heart to you', as is written on the prospect of one of its main entrance gates. Its unmistakable skyline can be recognised immediately from the hills that surround it and it arouses a whole series of emotions that make you want to discover it. It has been described as the “city of details” because, in its twisted maze of roads and lanes that run up and down the city’s three hills, often the gaze stops at the façade, focuses on the triple lancet windows and embattlements, letting itself become confused by the red of the bricks of the shell in Piazza del Campo. After travelling the most well-known itineraries, it is absolutely necessary to “lose yourself” in the little streets and look for different observation points, enjoying the view from the splendid “Basilica dei Servi” for example, in the Contrada del Montone, or visiting one of the small jewels of art like the “Cenacolo” of San Bernardino in the delightful Piazza di San Francesco. It is always best to arrive or find yourself in the Campo, the famous square, at sunset, with the lapis lazuli sky and the red of the bricks lit up by the reflection of the sun as it sets: unforgettable. Travellers should never miss a visit to Italy’s first hospital, Santa Maria della Scala, which was set up before the year 1000 or, in September, a visit to the famous, immense and inestimably valuable floor of the Cathedral, made of polychrome marble.
The area that is closest to us than any other is Valdelsa, with its “capital”, Colle Val d’Elsa. The lower part of the town dates back to the late 19th century and has recently undergone extensive urban renovation. The designs were created by internationally acclaimed architects such as Jean Nouvel and most of the work was focused on the 19th century Piazza Arnolfo and the surrounding areas. A lift offers access to the older part, Colle Alta, which has an evident medieval layout. It is here that one of the most genial minds of the Italian 14th century, the sculptor, architect and town planner, Arnolfo di Cambio, was born. Colle has a beautiful Crystal museum (the production of crystal being an ancient tradition in the town) and some excellent restaurants (the perfect example being the "Arnolfo", which has been awarded several stars), and it is a pleasure to stroll along its narrow streets, possibly as far as the great rampart with its splendid view.
Breath-taking landscapes can be enjoyed from the little town of Casole d’Elsa, a real medieval jewel which dominates a little-known but magical area rich in biodiversity (the Larderello area for example, with its extraordinary geysers). The village of Casole develops along the main street, Via Casolani. Access is via a panoramic lift which will take you to the fortress. The Diocesan museum is home, among other things, to the precious furnishings of our chapel, devoted to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary at the Temple, which are on permanent display. In summer its streets are often crowded due to the numerous musical and gastronomic events that are held, often every week. Monteriggioni, with its ring of towers: the portrayal of Italy, a beautiful woman dressed in Roman style, wears a crown that resembles the towered walls of Monteriggioni. This is definitely a trip into the past and the current administration has focused considerably on this strong identity and continuity with Italy’s medieval history. Once a very important stronghold in the defence of the Republic of Siena, along the border with Florence, Guelphs and Ghibellines fought fiercely over it, as Dante narrates in his Inferno. This tiny village has been gradually enriched with small shops selling “no miles” products made by local producers, there is an excellent restaurant (Il Pozzo) and also the possibility to visit the perimeter walls.
San Gimignano and its towers certainly need no introduction. Outside the more well-known and extremely crowded circuit, however, I recommend visiting the Church of Sant’Agostino, where Benozzo Gozzoli, the extraordinary representative of early Florentine Renaissance court art, painted a remarkable cycle of frescoes which mainly narrate the stories of the saint to whom the church is devoted.
Even though it is not in the province of Siena, Volterra is another place which is definitely worth visiting, even if only to enjoy the spectacular panoramic road... The Etruscan city by antonomasia, also famous for the art of crafting alabaster, it boasts an extraordinary museum dedicated to this extremely famous, genial and mysterious population from which it seems that the Tuscans descend directly. Mush less crowded and less “touristy” than San Gimignano, Volterra has an innate charm and is a tiny box of jewels: the famous Porta Etrusca, Piazza dei Priori, with its singular shape, and that of the Baptistery, the 13th century walls and the little but well-kept picture gallery which is home, amongst other treasures, to a spectacular "Deposition" by Rosso Fiorentino, to name but a few.