City of Siena, Siena
Concierge.com's insider take:
This gloriously preserved historic city is among Italy's most perfect examples of organic medieval urban planning. The centerpiece of Siena is café-lined Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped "sitting room" of the city where the Palio, a fiercely contested bareback horse race, is held every year on July 2 and August 16. On the south side of the square, elegant Palazzo Pubblico has been the seat of the city's government since the 13th century. The view from the top of the Torre del Mangia is spectacular, and the elegant Palazzo also houses the Museo Civico, which contains frescoed masterpieces such as Simone Martini's Maestà and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Effects of Good and Bad Government. Don't miss the Renaissance Libreria Piccolomini inside Siena's stripy Gothic cathedral (Piazza del Duomo), with lively frescoes by Pinturicchio and a graceful ancient Roman sculpture of the Three Graces. Also in Piazza del Duomo, there's a new museum complex, Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala (santamaria.comune.siena.it), that was a hospital until a few decades ago. A fascinating 15th-century fresco cycle on the life of the pilgrim hospital (Siena was on the Via Francigena, the vitally important pilgrimage road to Rome) and the new archaeological museum can be visited; the sprawling complex also hosts regular exhibitions. Traffic within the centro storico is highly regulated; nonresidents can drive in only to drop off bags at hotels (ring your hotel for guidance) and must then park in one of the (pricey) car parks outside the walls. Try one or more of the four Trekking Urbano routes (one specifically geared for children)—the "Vicoli e Giardini" (lanes and gardens) itinerary is a particularly good introduction to Siena's unique mix of country and city. Leaflets can be picked up from local tourist offices or downloaded from the town's website (www.comune.siena.it). In summer, the city hosts the international Siena Jazz festival (www.sienajazz.it) and the classical Estate Musicale Chigiana (www.chigiana.it) in magnificent historical palaces, courtyards, and churches.