Siena 2018: Spiral Stairs, Magnificent Views, Thunderstorms & Getting Ready for Il Palio


I had breakfast early in the B&B, took things slowly and wrote a blog post, and by the time I went out it was definitely time for mid-morning coffee. I headed for Caffe Nannini which my son had recommended and is one of the best-known cafes in the city.

I queued at the till, Italian style, to pay and get a ticket for a cappuccino and croissant to have at the bar (sitting down in cafes is always more expensive, but it’s also fun to stand at the bar with locals).

It was a good coffee and excellent croissant (€2.50 for the two).

My plan was to then go back to the cathedral that I’d seen from the outside yesterday, and buy an Acropoli Pass (€20) which would buy me entry to the main sights for 3 days. It turned out this included a tour of the Porta del Cielo – literally, the door to the sky. I took a 12 noon slot and decided to fill the intervening hour or so by using the pass to go to the Facciatone, at the back of the cathedral, which promised a wonderful view over Siena.

The Facciatone is the only remaining part of a proposed extension to the cathedral which was begun in the 14th century but never finished because of a plague that devastated the city in 1348.

Well a great view over a city invariably involves climbing. Lifts exist in some places but are rare – or certainly in medieval cities. The way up was a climb up two steep and very narrow spiral staircases. I was definitely climbing off that croissant! Once at the top, the views were stunning, especially down in to the Campo. It was sunny with just a few clouds and I could see far into the distance.

It was wonderful and worth the climb. What I hadn’t taken into account was that there were more spiral staircases to come!

I arrived at the entrance to the cathedral in time for the tour.

I’m not sure how many of us there were in the group – perhaps 20. I would see once the tour began that a large group wouldn’t work. Our guide arrived and soon I was climbing up another narrow spiral staircase. The first took us into the roof of the cathedral and we stood under the eaves taking in the view ‘into the sky’ and down into the cathedral.



Then another flight of stairs and we came out onto part of the roof. We made our way around the building along narrow walkways. They were very safety conscious though and netting and rails meant that it would be near impossible to fall down.

Again, my exercise and climb was rewarded with stunning views across the city. But it was also clouding over, white clouds turned to grey and soon a clash of thunder resounded around us.


In some ways it felt like good luck to be doing the tour while the rain fell, as we were under cover, though of course the views would have been even more splendid  in the sun. It was well worth doing though – anyone going to Siena should definitely climb all those spiral stairs if they can.

The rain continued and fortunately (being English!) I had an umbrella in my bag, but it was colder and I decided to head back to the B&B to get a warm top. By now it was lunchtime and not wanting to venture far in the rain, I went to an osteria – Osteria da Trombicche – just a few metres away that always looked busy when I passed.

I didn’t want  a big lunch as I like to eat my main meal in the evening but the weather change meant I fancied something hot, not just a sandwich. I chose their tortelli with bacala and chickpeas. This was a primo dish so not large.

It was delicious, really good and just right. It was a nice place but a bit disorganised and slow.

I went back to the B&B again. This is the advantage of staying right in the centre. When the rain stopped I went out for a walk and headed back to the Campo. Here I found preparations for next week’s Il Palio – the famous horse race – had progressed and the road round the Campo was now covered in sand.

Planks had been laid across in a few places.

And the fronts of cafes and restaurants round the edge were being boarded up to protect them. In some ways it seemed fun but I also thought that maybe if I came again I’d either make sure I was here to actually see the famous Palio or avoid it all together!

Aperitivo is a must when in Italy. By 6.00 the rain has cleared and the sky was clear blue and the sun shining again.

I went back to the same bar on the Campo as yesterday for a prosecco. Then I made a change of plan about where to eat supper and went to Enoteca I Terzi, which I’d read good things about and was also recommended by the B&B as serving ‘very good food’. I had a good enough meal but it was a little too formal for me.

It’s been another lovely day in Siena and those views were a real highlight. The afternoon weather was a disappointment but I’m pleased to see the forecast for tomorrow is good.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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