If you have clients planning a trip to Tuscany during the coming
high-priced, high-traveled months of July and August, help them
turn a potential minus into a plus by steering them towards Siena,
a gem of an ancient walled city.
Nestled in olive tree-covered rolling hills under an azure sky
strewn with wondrous white clouds, Siena, Florence’s historic
rival, has the architectural complexity and richness of its
northern neighbor without any inconveniences associated with a
larger city, such as traffic (the center of Siena is closed to
vehicles), pollution or noise.
And here, unlike some parts of Italy, summer is the best time to
visit. It’s when Sienese life revolves around one of the most
dramatic and anachronistic public spectacles in all of Europe the
Palio a bareback horse race run at death-defying speeds around the
town’s central Campo.
The race, which has been run since the 1300s, happens twice a
year July 2 and Aug. 16 and pits the city’s 17 neighborhoods, or
contrade, against each other. Until you’ve walked Siena’s
cobblestone streets on the days preceding each race, you can’t
possibly imagine the passion behind the rivalries and alliances
that have formed over the course of seven centuries.
If you are born in Siena, you are born into a contrada. Your
neighborhood is the center of your universe, and every year
culminates with the running of the Palio. Husbands and wives born
into different contrade separate during the weeks leading up to the
“It’s not so much that my contrada wins, but that my enemy
loses,” I was informed by a Sienese aristocrat who rents out his
apartment overlooking the Campo for $10,000 during the afternoon of
Each contrada is named after an animal the snail, the porcupine,
the elephant and has a breathtakingly colorful banner. During the
summer, these banners fly from every window in the city, and one is
draped around the neck of every contrada member.
Ten horses run in July, with the remaining seven (plus three
others drawn by chance) running in August. The jockeys come from
Sardinia and are watched closely the night before the race, they
are sequestered in the contrada they are racing for so they can’t
make deals, like splitting the approximately $200,000 purse.
In the days leading up to the races, it seems that everyone in
the city is in the streets. The exhilaration is palpable, and it’ll
be fun for your clients to align themselves with a contrada and get
in on the excitement.
Agencies such as In Italy Online, an ASTA member, can arrange
for your clients to attend a contrada banquet on the night before
the race, where they will dine with the locals at long tables set
up in the streets. In Italy Online (www.initaly.com) can also
arrange for your clients to watch the race from a window in a
private apartment overlooking the Campo (about $400-$475 per
Other alternatives would be to crowd into the center of the
Campo with thousands of other Sienese or watch the race and the
pre-race pageantry on television in an air-conditioned cafe.
The race itself is heart stopping, but it’s over in 90 seconds,
an anti-climax to weeks of excitement, parades, costumes, colors
and fabulous Tuscan cuisine. The winning horse is taken directly to
the duomo, with what seems like the entire town following. Suddenly
no matter what contrada one belongs to, everyone angles to touch
the flanks of the winning beast a guarantee of buona fortuna until
the next Palio.
|WHERE TO STAY|
Hotel Castello di Casole
If your clients are planning their Tuscan holiday for summer 2008,
tell them they may just have a new option that’s worth the wait. At
that time, The Timbers Company, owners of Esperanza in Cabo San
Lucas and The Timbers Club in Snowmass, Colo., will open a private
luxury retreat on their 4,200-acre estate 20 miles west of Siena.
The heart of Castello di Casole will be the five-star Hotel
Castello di Casole created from the estate’s Tuscan castle. Sitting
atop the highest hill on the property, with panoramic views of the
area’s iconic landscape, the 38-room boutique hotel will feature a
world-class spa, fine dining and an infinity pool. www.castellodicasole.com