Palio di Siena: How to Enjoy the Show and Discover the Town
This is a reference to Siena, the town of Palio, one of the most sought-after destinations by travelers, declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Site.
To enjoy your stay here you can follow these tips to book in advance an original travel experience in Siena.
What to know about Palio
This medieval horse race is held each year on 2nd July and 16th August, but for Senese people this event lasts all year long: Palio is more than a competition among contrade, is a sort of rite of passage that involves everyone, from children to adults.
Piazza del Campo is the venue that hosts the Palio: thanks to its shape of a shell it’s easy to see the race from each side, despite the crowd that fills up the square during the event. If you want enjoy the authentic mood of Palio, plan your holiday during these periods: 29th June – 2nd July for the Palio di Provenzano (named after the Madonna of Provenzano), or 13th – 16th August for the Palio dell’Assunta (named after the Assumption of Mary), it could be an unusual summer for you.
Why this race is so important for Senese people?
Every Senese belongs to one of the 17 contrade, the districts set up in the Middle Ages; is interesting to know that every contrada has its own motto, museum, fountain, allied and adversary contrada, a strong rivalry that reaches the top during the days of Palio.
The sense of civic pride of every Senese is incomparable, in fact every event – food festival, marriages, baptisms, is celebrated exclusively within one’s own contrada. To follow the Palio and the pageant that precedes the race you should stay within the historical center.
Tips on accommodations in Siena
Tourists who prefer a big hotel with a wide range of rooms, a restaurant and a terrace to admire the charming surroundings, can choose one of the packages of Hotel Athena, situated at via Mascagni, just a few steps from Piazza del Campo, a cozy accommodation suggested for a break before the hustle of Palio.
Watch the show from the middle of Piazza is free, but the tourists who wish to see the Palio from the bleacher seats, the balconies or the windows over-looking the Piazza have to buy a ticket which isn’t easy to find.
Our advice is to ask information in advance to the hotel or to the individual owners because each year a lot of people want the best seats! Families and large groups of friends often prefer to book an apartment in the heart of Siena, to organize their holidays in complete freedom; this is the offer of Palazzo Cinotti, an historical residence at Via di Città, the main street of the town.
The apartments are well-equipped with kitchen, dish washer, fridge, washing machine and private bathroom; Palazzo Cinotti is a mix between modern comfort and Senese tradition, because the ancient basement of the building hosts a wine cellar with rare vintages of Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans and Chianti wines, at guest’s disposal.
A dinner at contrade
During the days before the Palio it’s possible to have a dinner together with contrade inhabitants: each one plan events and dinners open to the public (usually by a small fee), we suggest, as an example, the last winners of the race, the Noble Contrada of Goose (Oca) and the Contrada of Wave (Onda).
The Contrada of Goose is located at Vicolo del Tiratoio 9, take advantage of your stay in Siena and book a guided tour to the museum of Goose, the expert Contrada members will tell you the secrets and legends about this unique horse race. The Contrada Capitana dell’Onda is located at Via Giovanni Duprè 111 and hosts artworks dated back to XVI century; it’s possible to book guided tours also in English, French and Spanish (at least one week in advance).
The name of the winner jockey is Giovanni Atzeni, nicknamed “Tittia” and the victory of Palio dell’Assunta was celebrated with a great party. Another oddity usually happens during the celebrations: the winners wear pacifiers and carry feeding bottles because the winning contrada members feel themselves as newborns.
Now you’re ready to better appreciate Palio and explore Siena with a different perspective.