SIENA

SIENA

Many travelers rush from Rome to Florence, ignoring gorgeous, medieval Siena (pop. 60,000). The Sienese have a rich history in arts, politics, and trade. One of their proudest celebrations is II Palio, (727) a wild horse race among the city’s 17 competing contrade (districts).

A VERY NICE CHIANTI

Tuscan rains have swamped the highway, forcing Chianti residents to take clever side-street routes to home and market; even so, on these tiny back roads we don’t pass a single car. We make our way to a small hilltop home where a family prepares our lunch, then swing by a private vineyard, unannounced. The manager emerges, and he and our guide exchange cordial waves. Meet Silvio, native and connoisseur of the Chianti region, and host of a unique tour through this land of wine and olives. A long-time friend to many Chianti residents, Silvio has a special rapport with families and vineyard owners. At one home, he borrows a set of keys to the tiny, fresco-filled chiesa in the family’s private yard. Along the way, he instructs his guests in wine-tasting technique and recounts significant dates and facts with ease. Silvio’s day-long tours are each custom designed: he will arrange cooking lessons with a Chianti family or simply host lengthy treks through fields of sunflowers. This increasingly popular part of Tuscany is filled with-tour opportunities, but Silvio’s is distinctly enthusiastic, leisurely, and personal. For those who seek a genuine understanding of Chianti and all its richness, this is a special, and comparatively affordable experience. ‚420 for 2 people. For info, contact itaiyinfol@yahoo.com.

PH TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION. Trains leave P. Rosselli hourly for Florence (l’zhr. 12 per day, ‚5.30) and Rome (3hr. 16 per day, ‚17) via Chiusi. TRA-INSITA buses (s’0577 20 42 45) depart from P. Gramsci and the train station for Florence (every hr. ‚6.50) and San Gimignano (8 per day, ‚5). From the train station, cross the street and take TRA-INSITA buses #3, 4, 7-10, 14,17, or 77 into the center of town at Piazza del Sale or Piazza Gramsci (‚0.90). The central APT tourist office is at II Campo 56. (0577 28 05 51; fax 27 06 76. Open daily mid-Mar. to mid-Nov. 8:30am-7:30pm; mid-Nov. to mid-Mar. 8:30am-lpm and 3-7pm.) Prenotazioni Alberghiere, in P.S. Domenico, finds rooms for a ‚2 fee. ( 0577 28 80 84. M-Sa 9am-7pm.) Check email at Internet Train, V. di Citta 121. (‚5.20 per hr. Open M-Sa 10am-8pm, Su noon-8pm.) Postal Code: 53100.

ITR ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD. Finding a room in Siena can be difficult from Easter to October. Book months ahead if coming during II Palio. The tastefully furnished Albergo Tre Donzelle is at V. Donzelle 5. (0577 28 03 58; fax 0577 22 39 38. Curfew lam. Singles ‚33; doubles ‚45-60. AmExMCV.) Take bus #15 from P. Gramsci to reach the Ostello della Gioventu Guidoriccio (HI) O, V. Fiorentina89, in Localita Lo Stellino. (a 0577 522 12. Curfew midnight Reserve ahead. Dorms ‚13. MCV.) Hotel Alma Domus O, V. Camporegio 37, behind S. Domenico, has spotless rooms with views of the duomo. (0577 441 77; fax 0577 476 01. Curfew 11:30pm. Singles ‚42; doubles ‚55; triples ‚70; quads ‚85.) To camp at Col-leverde O, Strada di Scacciapensieri 47, take bus #3 or 8 from P. del Sale. ( 0577 28 00 44. Open mid-Mar. to mid-Nov. ‚8 per person, ‚8 per tent.)

Siena specializes in rich pastries, of which the most famous is panforte, a confection of honey, almonds, and citron; indulge in this treat at BarPasticceria Nan-nini, V. Banchi di Sopra 22-24, the oldest pasticceria in Siena. Next to Santuario di S. Caterina is the divine Osteria La Chiacchera , Costa di S. Antonio 4, which serves hearty pasta dishes. ( 0577 28 06 31. Secondi ‚4.80-7. Open M, W-Su 12-3:30pm and 7pm-mid-night.) Consortio Agrario supermarket, V. Pianigiani 5, is off P. Salimberi. (Open M-F 8am-7:30pm.)

Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, baptistery, and Piccolomini library; the second is valid for seven days (‚16) and covers four more sights, including the Museo Civico. Both may be purchased at any of the included sights. Siena radiates from H’Piazza del Campo (II Campo), a shell-shaped brick square designed for civic events. At the top of II Campo is the Fonte Gaia, still fed by the same aqueduct used in the 1300s. At the bottom, the Torre del Mangia clocktower looms over the graceful Gothic Palazzo Pubblico. Inside the palazzo, the Museo Civico contains excellent Gothic and early Renaissance paintings; also check out the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sala della Pace. (Palazzo, museum, and tower open Mar.-Oct. daily 10am-7pm; Nov.-Feb. reduced hours. Tower ‚5.50; museum ‚6.50, students ‚4; combined ticket with tower ‚9.50.) From the palazzo, take the right-side stairs and cross V. di Citta for Siena’s Gothic Siduomo. The apse would have been left hanging in mid-air save for the construction of the lavishly decorated baptistery below. (Open mid-Mar. to Oct. M-Sa 7:30am-7:30pm, Su 2-7:30pm; Nov. to mid-Mar. 7:30am-5:30pm and 2:30-5pm, Su 2-5:30pm. Free except when floor is uncovered in Sept. ‚4-5.50.) The Libreria Piccolomini, off the left aisle, holds frescoes and 15th-century scores. (Same hours as duomo. ‚ 1.50.) The Museo dell’Opera della Metropolitana, to the right of the duomo, houses overflow art. (Open mid-Mar. to Sept. daily 9am-7:30pm; Nov. to mid-Mar. reduced hours. ‚5.50.)

Siena’s @11 Palio (July 2 and Aug. 16) is a traditional bareback horse race around the packed P. del Campo. Arrive three days early to watch the five trial runs and to pick a contrada to root for. At II Palio, the jockeys take about 90 seconds to tear around II Campo three times. To stay in Siena during the Palio, book rooms at least four months in advance, especially budget accommodations call the APT (see above) in March or April for a list of rented rooms.

DAYTRIP FROM SIENA: SAN GIMIGNANO. The hilltop village of San Gimignano looks like an illustration from a medieval manuscript. The city’s famous 14 towers, which are all that survive of its original 72, earned San Gimignano its nickname as the Citta deUe BeUe Torri (City of Beautiful Towers). The Museo Civico, on the second floor of Palazzo del Popolo, has an amazing collection of Sienese and Florentine artwork. Within the museum is the entrance to the Torre Grossa, the tallest remaining tower; climb its 218 steps for a panoramic view of Tuscany. (Open Mar.-Oct. daily 9:30am-7pm; Nov.-Feb. 10am-7pm. ‚5, students ‚4.) Not for the faint of heart, DIMuseo Della Tortura, V. del Castello 1, off P. Cistema, offers a morbidly fascinating history of torture from Medieval Europe to the present. (Open Apr.-Oct. daily 10am-8pm; Nov.-Mar. 10am-6pm. Entrance ‚8, students ‚5.50.)

TRAIN buses leave P. Montemaggio for Siena (lhr. every hr. ‚5.20) and Florence (lVfehr. every hr. ‚6) via Poggibonsi. From the bus station, pass through the porta, climb the hill, following V.S. Giovanni to the city center Piazza della Cisterna, which runs into P. del Duomo and the tourist office, P. del Duomo 1. ( 0577 94 00 08; fax 0577 94 09 03. Open Mar.-Oct. daily 9am-lpm and 3-7pm; Nov.-Feb. 9am-lpm and 2-6pm.) Accommodations are pricey in San Gimignano affitte camere (private rooms) are a good alternative, with doubles from ‚50. The tourist office and the Associazione Strutture Extralberghiere, P. della Cistema 6, both find private rooms. (0577 94 08 09. Open Mar.-Nov. daily 9:30am-7:30pm.) From the bus stop, enter through Porta S. Giovanni for the quaint Camere Cennini Gianni O, V.S. Giovanni 21. The reception is at the passticceria at V.S. Giovanni 88. (0577 94 19 62; www.sangiapartments.com. Reserve ahead. Singles ‚45; doubles ‚55; triples ‚65; quads ‚75.) Postal Code: 53037.

PISA

Tourism hasn’t always been Pisa’s (pop. 96,000) prime industry: during the Middle Ages, the city was a mayor port with its own Mediterranean empire. But when the Amo River silted up and the tower started leaning, the city’s power and wealth declined accordingly. Today the city seems resigned to welcoming tourists and myriad t-shirt and ice cream vendors to the Piazza del Duomo, also known as the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), a grassy expanse enclosing the tower, duomo, baptistry, Camposanto, Museo delle Sinopie, and Museo del Duomo. An all-inclusive ticket to the Campo’s sights-excluding the tower-costs ‚10.50. Begun in 1173, the famous Leaning Tower began to tilt when the soil beneath suddenly shifted. In June of 2001, a multi-year stabilization effort was completed; the tower is presently considered stable. Tours of 30 visitors are permitted to ascend the 300 steps once every 30 minutes. (Make reservations at adjacent tourist office. Tours depart July-Aug. daily 8:30am-10:30pm, 8:30am-7:30pm Sept.-June. ‚15.) Also on the Campo, the dazzling duomo, a treasury of art, is considered one of the finest Romanesque cathedrals in the world. (Open daily 10am-7:30pm. ‚2.) Next door is the baptistiy, whose precise acoustics allow an unamplified choir to be heard 2km away. (Open late Apr. to late Sept. daily 8am-8pm; Oct.-Mar. 9am-6pm. ‚6.) The adjoining Camposanto, a cloistered cemetery, has Roman sarcophagi and a series of haunting frescoes by an unidentified 14th-century artist known only as the Master of the Triumph of Death. (Open late Apr. to late Sept. daily 8am-7:30pm; Mar. and Oct. 9am-5:40pm; Nov.-Feb. 9am-4:40pm. ‚6.) The Museo delle Sinopie, across the piazza from the Camposanto, displays preliminary fresco sketches discovered during post-WWII restoration. Behind the tower is the Museo dell’Opera dei Duomo. (Both open late Apr.-Sept. daily 8am-7:20pm; Oct.-Apr. reduced hours. ‚6.)

Trains (147 808 88) leave Piazza della Stazione, in the southern part of town, for: Florence (lhr. every hr. ‚4.90); Genoa (2’Ahi. ‚7.90); and Rome (3hr. 12 per day, ‚24). The tourist office is to the left after you exit the train station. ( 050 422 91; www.turismo.toscana.it. Open Apr.-Oct. M-Sa 9am-7pm, Su 9:30am-3:30pm; Nov.-Mar. reduced hours.) To reach the Campo from the train station, take bus #3 (‚0.75). The Albergo Helvetia , V. Don G. Boschi 31, off P. Archivescovado, has large, clean rooms 2min. from the duomo. (050 55 30 84. Singles ‚35; doubles ‚45.) Centro Turistico Madonna dell’Acqua , V. Pietrasantina 15, is behind an old Catholic sanctuary 2km from the Tower. Take bus #3 from station (4 per hr. last bus 9:45pm); ask driver to stop at ostello. (050 89 06 22. Sheets ‚1. Dorms ‚15; doubles ‚42; triples ‚54; quads ‚64. MCV.) Cheap dining options line Corso Italia, south of the river, and Via Santa Maria, as long as you’re not too close to the duomo, where prices skyrocket Try the heavenly risotto at the lively 1811 Paiolo , V. Curtatone e Montanara 9. (Menu with primi and secondi ‚4-6. Open M-F 12:30-3pm and 7:30pm-lam, Sa-Su 7:30pm-2am.) Get groceries at Superal, V. Pas-coli 6, just off C. Italia. (Open M-Sa 8am-8pm.) Postal Code: 56100.

UMBRIA

Umbria is known as the Green Heart of Italy, a land rich in natural beauty, from wild woods and fertile plains to craggy gorges and tiny villages. Christianity transformed Umbria’s architecture and regional identity, turning it into a breeding ground for saints and religious movements; it was here that St. Francis of Assisi shamed the extravagant church with his humility.

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