Siena travel tips

 

It’s odd that I’d always known about this word, ‘Siena’, and it’s been one of my favourites ever since I was a child (along with, oddly enough, Calais which is a place in France).

Little did I know this is a mysterious medieval city in Italy; an absolutely aspirational destination – if I won the lotto I’d totally move here. We just had the chance to visit! Here’s our top Siena travel tips.

Get lost

Siena is one of those cities that you can easily wander around in, so give yourself time to get lost.

There’s plenty of little alleyways you’ll come across, walk up and down hills; around corners and discover magical old churches and homes.

Of course, the city boasts several highlights such as its cathedral and towers that rival those of its once-enemy, Florence.

There are walking tours available if you have time; museums, galleries and so much more – next time I’ll definitely stay for a night or two and I’d recommend other travellers do the same.

Siena would also be a good base to explore the region due to its train and coach transport links, and it’s just a really nice city!

Siena is pretty and oh-so-Instagrammable so take your time. Wear comfortable shoes and take water though, as it gets hot here in summer.

Find your way back

It’s fine to get lost but at some point you’ll want to find your way out of the old town again.

For this reason we strongly suggest that you arrange reliable roaming data for your trip here (and across all of Tuscany) because you can access Google Maps for directions.

Even then we found that we often landed up against a wall – unable to walk through, we combined tech with tips from locals to make our way.

Food with a view

Siena’s old town centres on the extraordinary Piazza del Campo where people-watching is the thing to do.

There are over-priced restaurants selling mostly pizza and pasta that surround this area and you’re really only paying for the view.

Cooper discovered a one-off though, a pub called San Paolo which sells yummy toasted paninis, beer and boasts a small balcony overlooking the spectacle. If you’re swift, you too can indulge for less! This pub opened just after midday when we were there.

For other options off the expensive tourist trail, keep an eye out for little bars and restaurants in the back streets, or even away from the old town and on the way towards where street traffic is allowed.

How to get there

We’ve already mentioned in our clips and blogs that you are better off with a car in Tuscany.

Siena, like in Florence, strictly limits traffic in the old town so you need to park outside.

Some car parks charge around €35 per day!

The car park at the Siena train station is a bargain – we were only charged €2.50 for around eight hours.

To get to the old town from here though is about 25 minutes’ walk – usually not a problem for us but it’s up a very, very steep hill that’s also busy with traffic.

Jump on bus no. 3 or 10. The bus station is underneath the shopping centre (which conveniently, also has a big supermarket).

You need to buy a ticket from the transit machine that will cost about €1.20 (one way). It’s a bit tricky as it’s in Italian so aim for an ‘urban’ pass that comes to about this amount, or ask a local – they were so helpful, quite often walking us a distance to ensure we were on the right track!

Get off at the last stop or one closest to the old city centre – about five minutes bus ride from the train station.

Coming back, you need to find the bus station which is in a different place from where you get off the bus. Again, don’t forget to buy a ticket that will be zoned as ‘urban A’ for around €1.20 for a single.

Siena is a truly wonderful Italian find.

I somehow knew the word, but not the destination until now.

Highly recommended on your Italian travel itinerary.

Do you have questions or tips? Let us know in the comments. 

Ciao for now.

PS if you’d like more Tuscany, we captured some beautiful photos that are published here on Flickr.

Italy

April in Tuscany

I’m sitting in the corner of Radda’s old village square at a bar called Palazzo Leopoldo. 

Cooper’s suggestion that I find a shady spot was a good one. The midday sun floods across faded yellow walls and sunflower pots, proving April in Tuscany sparkles with its own touch of timeless elegance.

A pleasant soundtrack of Goo Goo Dolls and Mary J Blige has turned into a string of ballads by Ed Sheeran – a fellow fan must be running this joint!

The light in Tuscany is as they say: golden, warm and soothing. 

The sunsets are spectacular and saturate with pretty light the rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards (which at present are stripped, a new season on the way).

It’s really warm in the middle of the day and a nice change from chilly England (that said, we’ve had nice days recently but I’ve been inside at work)!

Where I sit and write now – first draft on paper – I’m positioned by an old Roman fountain. I spotted a young artist perched by a flower pot sketching the fountain just the other day and thought how charming the scene was; now I’m here and feeling all creative too.

I don’t really mind if no one reads this – the space, the channel, the craft, it’s for me.

I guess right now though I’m bordering on an Under the Tuscan Sun cliché, but that’s ok too.

Three notepad pages down already, and they’re still playing Ed Sheeran. Lucky streak for me!

Last time I wrote like this was in my treasured travel diary from my first life-changing adventure back in 2000 which was to the USA and Canada.

I remember sitting inside McDonalds as freezing snow fell upon Times Square outside. First snow I’d ever seen.

A melodic Backstreet Boys tune played on the radio there (also good by me, at the time), and it was my first experience as a traveller being alone but not feeling lonely. 

It’s a bit like that here too (although Cooper’s not far – he’s wandered off towards the scenic viewpoints on the outskirts of this pretty place to record a little something for YouTube).

Drops in temperature happen here too – overnight from around 4pm; but it’s light until 8pm.

Our villa is in Montebuoni, which is a ‘resort’ in the Tuscan hills, about 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest town of Radda in Chianti, and next door to an impressive winery, Castello di Ama.

We were staying here with To Tuscany in a cosy villa named La Stalla. Montebuoni is set amidst hilly vineyards and includes pool, tennis courts and a number of beautifully restored villas, some of the original buildings date back to the 1500s.

We discovered that during medieval times, this whole area that had been popular for wine and olive producers, was mostly abandoned due to ongoing wars between neighbouring cities Florence and Siena. It was unsafe to live here until the 1800s when things calmed again and people returned to the area, only to gradually regenerate it to its former glory.

Now the fields that stretch as far as the eye can see offer a patchwork of organised plantations that make the land look particularly charming and well kept.

I can actually see why many Italians were drawn to develop businesses in far north Queensland during post-war migration periods because the climate and land in that part of Australia feels quite similar to the Tuscan region; Tuscany’s landscape is larger though, but I felt some similarities and I remember quite well the Italian influence of my childhood in places like Cairns, Atherton and Mareeba (Australia).

Iconic Italian Cypress trees point skyward and line the property around where we are staying; grassy spaces with wildflower patches are everywhere around us and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic picnic spots.

La Stalla’s most important feature for me was the peace and quiet. 

The large, homely property sleeps four or five, and when we arrived on Monday I actually fell asleep on a bed in a little patch of sunshine that was streaming in through the window.

A bird sang sweetly outside, the wind gently swept across the trees and I couldn’t resist dozing in the warmth and stillness of it all.

No east London sirens, no deadlines, and happily no Wi-Fi.

I think we don’t realise the impact of city life until we remove ourselves from it. 

I find the city’s energy and opportunities intoxicating but here I’ve remembered the pleasure of slowing down, just being and indulging in imagination; well, that and a bit of red wine (Chianti, of course) and cheese.

And when I say ‘a bit’, I quite possibly mean a lot.

You do need a car in these parts (automatic, and with a GPS or reliable phone data package for Google Maps is highly recommended).

There are many villages that would be difficult if not impossible to reach otherwise. You can visit wineries of all shapes and sizes, most family-owned and operated.

Gorgeous Siena is about 45 minutes’ drive away, and yesterday we parked there and took a train to Florence (find the car parking facility at Siena’s train station for about €2.50 for the day, which is vastly cheaper than anywhere else, and for trains visit trainline.eu).

Florence is beautiful.

If it weren’t for all the tourists it would be perfect.

It’s a small, romantic city in which you can walk around – everywhere takes about twenty minutes.

Florence is where the Renaissance began, breaking the shackles of the Dark Ages and shedding light once again on creativity, learning, passion, pleasure and the arts.

The city was famously managed by the Medici family in the 15th Century, and their mark along with that of the artists, musicians and papal folk that influenced during this time is still bright and bold.

Find a view – whether up the steep hill to absorb all that Piazzale Michelangelo has to offer, or from a cool rooftop bar position; breathe in the past and present indulgences of Florence.

There’s tours of all sorts here, and we’d strongly advise researching ahead of time to avoid the queues which can quickly become tiresome.

As for me today, I’ve recovered from the hustle and bustle of that big Italian draw-card and am happily hanging about within Radda’s romantic walled city with pen in hand, coffee at the ready.

It really is beautiful in these parts and while I don’t understand the language I find it soothing to listen to its rhythm in the voices of those around me or on the radio.

Signing off … I’ve got a date with Cooper at a winery.

Ciao for now.

PS if you’d like more Tuscany, we captured some beautiful photos that are published here on Flickr.

Italy

Guide to beaches and scuba diving in Santorini

We’re excited to be heading to Santorini, Greece, in May – our second attempt after being delayed from going last year (although we did embark on another adventure instead); so, when Alice Ross pitched this piece on beaches and scuba diving in Santorini, of course we said yes!

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Recreational scuba diving was restricted in Greece for a long time. The government did it to prevent antiquities smugglers – diving was allowed to only some people who were given special authorisation by the authorities determined to protect the country’s marine life and remains of archaeological importance.

Fortunately, in 2004, authorities lifted the restrictions and anyone who wants to scuba dive just about anywhere in the country is allowed to do it for recreation.

Since then, Greece has quickly become one of the most visited scuba diving sites in the world. With more than 4,000 islands and 12,000 miles of coastline, the Greek seas offer an ideal place for scuba diving.

One of the best places to do scuba diving is in Santorini. The marine life that you can find the coast of Santorini is arguably well-known. The island’s waters, molded by a volcanic eruption that took place in the 16th century, are rich with mineral, supporting a solid range of coral and creatures.

These great volcanic eruptions have formed wonderful underwater backdrop giving scuba divers ceaseless options for wall dives and unending stops all over the volcanic islets and the caldera.

Aside from the beautiful underwater world Santorini offers, the water visibility all over the island is good! The water temperature is approximately 22°C, so make sure to wear some nice wetsuit. Diving in the vicinity of the caldera is also possible; however, the southern side of the island is the one that offers a variety of delightful caves which you are able to explore with the help of a master diver who is familiar with the site.

If you are interested in visiting Santorini for diving, this list of four beaches where you can scuba dive is worth checking out.

Perissa Beach is a very famous beach resort that should be top of your list.

It’s an organised, developed beach with a plenty of comfortable beach chairs, umbrellas, as well as other amenities, such as lifeguards, playground, and of course a shower. It’s worth mentioning that it was awarded Blue Flag award for being organised and clean.

When you reach the end of the beach is where you will find the diving spot. There are also two diving centres you can check out on this beach. Aside from that, however, you are able to pick from different water sports like windsurfing jet skiing, kayaking, and parasailing. Lastly, a wonderful water park with pools offers and water slides that cater to anyone of any age.

Perivolos Beach is a long, black sand beach with beautiful deep blue waters which is connected to and Agios Georgios Beach and Perissa Beach.

It’s another well-organised beach with sunbeds, lifeguards, umbrellas, taverns, restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, bars, showers, a playground, and public toilets.

There are many beach bars playing club the latest music, DJ guest during the weekend, volleyball tournaments, and exciting events on special occasion. But of course, this is also a nice place to go if you are looking for some underwater (or even over the surface) adventures!

Agios Georgios is located less than one kilometre from Perivolos Beach. It’s a big, sandy organised beach.

It’s more peaceful than its neighbouring beaches, and the water is shallower.

Some small taverns offer delicious lunch. Umbrellas and sun beds can be rented if you want to relax at the beach, and there are a lot of opportunities for water sports like scuba diving.

Divers can explore the beauty of Santorini’s marine life under the supervision of master divers who prioritise safety. The locations for dives might be very local in the bay and all over the neighbouring headland cliffs or a little further afield, depending on water visibility and conditions.

Ammoudi Bay Beach is accessible by walking or riding ride down the 214 steps from the castle of Oia.

Amoudi Bay is well-known for its traditional Greek inns with fresh seafood and the astounding romantic sunsets. Once was Santorini’s commercial port, Amoudi Bay has now become a tourist spot. There might not be sunbathing comforts at this beach unlike the other ones mentioned above, but the diving scene here is impeccable. Diving here is something you wouldn’t definitely find anywhere else in the world.

You see, Santorini isn’t only about sunsets, beautiful landscapes, and majestic geometric houses in the villages.

If you take your time to explore deeper, you will have the chance to experience an amazing adventure in Santorini. If you have not experienced diving before but you’re interested, you don’t have anything to be worried about as most dive shops in Santorini offer a non-certified scuba diving course where you’ll have to engage in a brief scuba diving introductory lesson before diving down to a depth of maximum 6 to 7 feet.

For more like this, take a look at fortravelista.com.

 

Featured image by THINK Global School