Siena, Italy travel guide and things to do: The three-minute guide

WHY?

Florence may be the Tuscan city that visitors flock to, but Siena is the one that charms their socks off. It's a visual feast, as the narrow streets wind along a ridgetop, flanked by high walls and filled with shops and delis that have an uncanny knack of making the stomach rumble. Siena's secret is that people still live in the centre. It may look dreamy, but nothing changes if you pinch yourself.

VISIT

Italy has no shortage of marvellous cathedrals but Siena's multi-level treat is absolutely worth the visit. Inside it's an eye-popping, lightly Gothic world of black and white zebra-striped marble. 

The Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala opposite is worth a look for an art blast, too. The Pilgrims' Hall, with vivid fresco cycles about the hospital that once occupied the building, is superb. See operaduomo.siena.it and santamariadellascala.com.

EAT

The Ristorante San Desiderio hits that sweet spot of being close to the main attractions, but being well hidden down a side street so it can't lazily rely on passing tourist trade. Inside a cavernous brick dining room with pictures of horses all over the walls, it does steaks very well. The €15 sliced beef steak with rosemary sauce and roasted potatoes is hugely satisfying. See ristorantesandesiderio.com.

LOOK

The Piazza del Campo, which slopes rather like a seashell and is surrounded by a mishmash of grand buildings, is the heart of the city. But everything is designed to focus on the towering, red brick Palazzo Pubblico, which is home to the Museo Civico. There's an impressive art collection inside, and one that should provide merciful relief to those heartily bored of seeing faithful Madonna and child depictions. Most of it was commissioned by the city authorities, rather than the church, so there's a greater variety of subject than Italy usually manages. See comune.siena.it.  

MUST 

Siena's strength is its food scene, and the Tuscan Wine School provides a mighty fine introduction to it on its lunchtime Savor Siena tour. This nips into the sort of bakeries, gelato-makers and cheese emporiums that most wouldn't spot on first glance, then finishes off with Tuscan wine-tasting back at base. Tickets cost €18. See tuscanwineschool.com

SLEEP

The Pensione Palazzo Ravizza has a small bookshop downstairs and an atmospheric lounge with piano and vintage record player upstairs. But the peaceful, primped terrace garden with prime views over the hills makes it truly special. Doubles cost from €85. See palazzoravizza.it

TIP

On July 2 and August 16 each year, Siena hosts the Palio. This is the world's most insane horse race, with bareback riders galloping around Piazza del Campo as thousands cram into the middle to watch. There's pageantry and ritual around the city for days either side. 

More information: See traveller.com.au/siena; terresiena.it

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