An e-bike in front of the gate of a Tuscan villa
Villa Catignano: one of the many beautiful places an e-bike can get you to from Siena

A few years ago, I interviewed an American writer, who during her month-long stay in Siena whizzed through the city on a bicycle. This was an unusual sight - vespas are the two-wheelers of choice in Siena's hilly town center, not bikes like in mostly flat Florence. 

But the invention of e-bikes is about to change this. The city of Siena has installed an electric bike sharing program which is functioning well. However, it's mostly aimed at locals and residents, as its set-up is a little complicated for visitors who only stay a couple of days in town. Hence, for tourists, the best bike rental options in Siena are with the privately owned shops which supply bycicles of every size and type for a day or two or an entire week. 

Riding through the hills of the chianti
Giulia from cycling through the hills of Siena

Siena Bike Shop rents out racing bycicles, hybrid and e-bikes and is a great option if you plan to explore the beautiful countryside that surrounds the city. We recently did a day tour with friends following the route proposed by shop owner Massimiliano (he can supply a GPS if necessary). The tour took us from Siena through countryside roads lined by olive groves, vineyards and - of course - cypress trees. A stopover at the Chianti Sculpture Park is a great option for a picnic in the shade, or head to one of the many good restaurants in Vagliagli or Pianella. 

It was our first experience on an e-bike, but we'll be definitely back for more (and I'll remember to bring some proper cycling pants next time!). 


Where: in via Aretina, 35, just outside the town walls near porta Pispini). Best make a reservation in advance if you visit Siena in high-season (from Easter to October). 

Prices: E-bike and race bike rental 40€ per day. Hybrid and mountain bike rental 25€ per day. Lower rates apply for consecutive days - see price list here. 

Good to Know: Siena Bike Shop can drop off and pick up the bikes at your hotel or B&B in town for an extra 20€. 

Itineraries: Massimiliano is crazy about cycling and has great advice for road, mountain bike and e-bike tours around Siena and Tuscany for both pros or total amateurs (like me).


Two elderly many reading the newspaper whilst waiting for the Palio horse race in Siena

Desperate for Palio tickets? 

They are hard to find unless you reserve them months or even years ahead. The easiest option is to join the rest of the crowd, who's watching the Palio for free from the middle of piazza del Campo, which is just the way most Sienese see the race. 

However, this year the municipality of Siena has 23 last minute tickets available for the Palio dell'Assunta 2015Prepare to stand in the queue for them, but with 150€ per ticket it's well worth the effort (seated tickets normally start from 250€ and go all the way up to 500€ per person). 


The tickets are for the seats on the palchetti, the seated wooden stages built up especially for the race all the way round piazza del Campo. The seats are located between via di Dupré and Casato di Sotto, which is a great area to observe the wheeling and dealing between the jockeys before the race. 

The Palio tickets are sold from 10 am on Saturday August 15 in Via Casato di Sotto (number 23) at Economato Office, access via the tipografia - a printing business - to the right. Make sure you are there way before 10 am or expect to join a long queue. Also, note that not more than two tickets can be bought per person. 

Good luck!

Find more information in Italian on the comune di Siena's Palio website and for a quick introduction to the world's oldest horse race read What is the Palio?


Torre's jockey Brio winning the July Palio 2015 on Morosita Prima
Jockey Brio during the fourth trial race on horse Morosita Prima running for Contrada della Torre (here passing in front of the blue and white wearing members of enemy contrada dell'Onda)

A false start happened after nearly an hour of waiting for horses and jockeys to properly align in piazza del Campo. Then more waiting and even worrying that with night falling the Palio may have to be postponed to the next day.* But it was worth the long wait to see contrada della Torre win.  

The only neighborhood in Siena with two enemy contrade had both of them - Onda and Oca - present in the race. In fact Onda was following sharp, but Torre's horse Morosita Prima and its experienced jockey Brio turned the Torre neighborhood into the celebrated winners of the Palio della Madonna di Provenzano 2015. Brio (born in Sovicille near Siena as Andrea Mari) has participated in 21 Palios and has won its fifth one tonight. 

Contrada della Torre hadn't won since the Palio of the 16th of August 2005. Ten years may seem like a long time, but is nothing compared to the 44 years that the Torre contrada members had to wait for a win after the one of the 16th of August 1961. 

*The last time a Palio had to be postponed to the following day because of insufficient day light on piazza del Campo was in July 1991. Contrada della Tartuca won the Palio della Madonna di Provenzano hence not as usual on July 2 but on July 3, 1991.


Siena's onda (wave) contrada getting ready for the July Palio
Palio dinner preparations in the Onda neighborhood

As with every Palio, only 10 out of Siena's 17 contrade can participate in the horse race. 

The ten contrade which will race piazza del Campo on July 2, 2015 in the world's oldest continually run sporting event are: 

  • Torre (tower)
  • Nicchio (shell)
  • Civetta (owl)
  • Valdimontone (ram)
  • Leocorno (unicorn)
  • Oca (goose)
  • Pantera (pantheress)
  • Selva (forest)
  • Onda (wave)
  • Tartuca (tortoise)


The weather forecast shows 30 degrees for the whole week in Siena. If you're not great with the heat and sticky crowds skip the long afternoon of waiting in piazza del Campo on July 2, and make do with a trial race instead. The first of them takes place on the evening of June 29 at 7.45 pm. Followed by morning trials at 9 pm and evening trials (again at 7.45 pm) on all the days leading up to the final race on July 2. The morning trials are less busy than the evening ones, but the light is beautiful and the town is at its best since not touristy yet at that time of the day.

The Palio neighbourhood dinners (Cena della Prova Generale) take place on the evening of July 1 in all 17 neighborhoods. However, the atmosphere will be more festive and competitive in the contrade which are actually taking part in the race on the following day. 
For last minute neighborhood dinners ask at your hotel or explore your favorite contrade and ask around for available spaces.  

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