Siena is the polar opposite of Los Angeles – in comparison to LA's sprawling series of towns accessible only by car, Siena is a compact city with a clearly defined heart and soul: the campo. It doesn't matter how far you wander up and down the cobblestoned hills and how lost you become, eventually, all roads lead back to the campo. This beautiful piazza is deeply woven into the fabric of daily life and is vibrantly alive at all times of day and night. Unlike many of the grand piazzas I've visited in Italy and other parts of Europe, the campo is not just for tourists – little kids learn to bike ride on its relatively flat surface at twilight, college kids drink beer sitting on its brick pavement at night, and the revered palio horse race takes place around its perimeter each summer.
The seventeen contradas, or neighborhoods, of the city spread out from the campo like the spokes on a wheel. People are fiercely loyal to their contradas and while you can technically marry into one, most families have been part of the fabric of their contrada's life for centuries. I lived in the Tartuca contrada, which won the palio this summer. This was a huge source of pride and wooden horse statues were erected around the contrada and photos of the race were enlarged, framed, and hung in restaurants and homes.
The city also has an amazing number of sites packed into a very small area. Climbing the 400 steps of the Palazzo Pubblico tower in the campo and seeing the city and surrounding countryside arrayed before you as your hair whips in the wind and the tower vibrates with the ringing of its bell is a fun and memorable experience. It pairs well with a visit to the Museo Civico next door, with its famous and prescient allegory of good and bad government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The black and white marble Duomo, with its cotton candy pink trimming is remarkable from the outside and equally impressive inside. In addition to intricately inlaid marble floors, an entire room is devoted to illuminated manuscripts which I found to be utterly mesmerizing. Then there is the famous shrine to Siena's Saint Catherine at San Domenico church, complete with a relic of her preserved thumb. From there, a walk to the ramparts of the old fortress is in order, particularly at sunset when friends and couples bring wine or jog around and watch the changing colors of the landscape. And of course, there is the campo, slightly different at each stage of the day.
I did not eat out very much in Siena since I was cooking such huge meals for lunch but there were a few highlights worth mentioning:
Liberamente: This is my favorite of the many bars and restaurants lining the edge of the campo and is the perfect place for a twilight aperativo spritz. The friendly waiters serve a free antipasti of bruschetta, a small tart, olives, cheese, or some other tasty treat with your drink. While many places offer a free snack, I found the quality to be much better at Liberamente and the staff will happily let you linger as you enjoy the view.
Compagnia dei Vinattieri: I just had a glass of wine at this atmospheric wine bar and restaurant but I have heard that the food is fantastic as well. The impressive and well-priced list of wines by the glass include Brunello, Barolo, Chianti Classico and the staff could not be nicer.
Enoteca I Terzi: I wrote about this place during my first week in Siena – a lovely wine bar with great food that is popular with locals. Upon going a second time, I found that they are much friendlier if you order food, rather than stopping by just for a drink.
Osteria Le Logge: I went to this fantastic restaurant over the summer and wrote about it then. While I didn't eat here again this time, it would definitely be my top recommendation for a fancy meal.
San Giuseppe: Another atmospheric traditional restaurant, the menu is a wonderful cross-section of Tuscan and seasonal specialties that are well prepared and aren't too expensive. A tourist hotspot, they take reservations for seven and nine pm and will usher you out the door at nine on the dot, regardless of whether you wanted to order more food or linger over a drink. Although the food is good, I prefer the more leisurely pace of traditional Italian dining, even if it means I can't show up until eight pm.Additional information:
Il Campo 27, Siena
Compagnia dei Vinattieri
Via delle Terme 79, Siena
Enoteca I Terzi
http://www.enotecaiterzi.it/ Osteria Le Logge Via del Porrione, 33, Siena
La Taverna di San Giuseppe
Via G. Dupre 132, Siena