Few places come more celebrated than Siena. From Dante to D.H. Lawrence, writers have attempted to capture its beauty in prose, and open a coffee-table book on medieval architecture and its streets will spill from the pages. Believe the hype – this is a gothic supermodel of a place, many streets gloriously unaltered for centuries. A few hours strolling here plunges you into the past, and gives you a more vivid and complete view of millennia-old lifestyles than any history book ever could. It’s a hypnotising place to explore, a cityscape that is at once museum-like in its condition yet vibrant and alive, but be sure to step off the streets and get behind closed doors once or twice. One not to miss: the cathedral. Hardly off the beaten path, but the religious heart of the town is one dreamy duomo and should be a must for any visitor, particularly spending some time taking in the striking sgraffito marble pavement.
Travellers discovered Siena centuries ago, and yet the hordes fail to detract from this most magical of cities. Indeed, the old medieval quarter is so packed with sights that it would be incongruous for the surrounding streets to be quiet – this is a sociable city, made to be explored on foot and enjoyed with others. Fittingly, many roads seem to (at times confusingly) lead back to Il Campo, Siena’s main square, the hub of its social life for centuries, and also site of a beautiful bell tower. After lounging in the square, climb the tower to get the best view of Siena, and imagine this as your spot for taking in Il Palio, the renowned horse race that takes place in Il Campo during summer.