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Factors to consider when going to the Palio Siena

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By Abigail | Palio | Posted 21 Sep 2011

When thinking about going to the bareback Palio race in Siena there are some factors that you should take into account when making your choice.

Hotel Choice

Many would recommend a hotel in central Siena so that you are close to the action and the celebration where you can pop out and see everything but you don’t have far to go to gain a rest. Others would argue that it is better to be out of Siena as the celebrations and drumming can last into the very early hours. Combined with that you need to consider the question of cars – parking in Siena is tricky so if you are driving in from an outside hotel you will probably need to park near the train station and then walk the 20 mins (including a public escalator) to the centre.

It is likely that you will be driving in Siena yourself as the nearest airports are Florence (@ 1/14hr drive) and Pisa (2 ½ hr drive). Therefore if you are booking a hotel in central Siena you need to choose a hotel which has its own car parking

Access to Activities around the Palio

Much of the fun of attending the Palio is to become involved in the events leading up to the Palio. This is where unique access can only be gained via people with the “right” contacts. Attending one of the good luck open air Contrada Dinners on the streets hosted by the different Contrada to celebrate and anticipate the Palio race scheduled for the following day is a lively event and a great way to get a "feel" for the passion the Siena people have for the Palio. If you can gain entry to one of the Contrada Museums you will indeed be lucky as these are unique rooms which will give you a great insight into the Palio

The View of the Palio itself

The race is run around the central square (Campo) and can be seen from all of the privately owned balconies and windows overlooking the square. Many of the locals hire out their balconies and windows for Palio viewing and put in benches for you to sit or stand on so all can see. Each view is unique and different as they are in 14th C buildings and you should also consider whether walking upstairs is an issue as lifts are in short supply! The Palio can also be watched from the centre of the Campo though thousands in the crowds necessitate an early arrival to gain a good spot, standing throughout both the wait and the Palio and the reality of being crushed with a lot of people!  There are also Grandstands all around the track in which people can watch the event.

Things to take into consideration are

·        Visibility of the Mossa which  is the argy bargy beforehand where the jockeys are vying for the best starting position. When the 10th Horse enters the start line the race starts. The Mossa can take an hour or 5 minutes – no one ever knows ! Previous deals have been made between various contrada that affect when the 10th Horse moves – The Jockey may be waiting for a particular other horse to be well- or badly-placed before he comes into the line.  Many of the balconies around the square do not give you a view of the Mossa, and therefore the ones that do are in great demand and cost more. However it can be difficult to understand the Mossa without a really thorough local indepth knowledge of the political manoeuvrings between the various Contrada that has happened in the preceding weeks.

·        Amount of Shade is an important factor for many – The San Martino Bend end of the Campo has all the potential drama of jockeys falling off at the sharp bend but does not get shade on the balconies for most of the event and can get hot.

·        Closeness to the Action. The GrandStand seats offer the closest positions to the track with all the excitement that that provides. They are mostly taken by the local Contradaioli, and so the atmosphere is particularly electric! However these have no access to a Loo.

·        Personal Space and Privacy – For some people exclusive private access is critical as they wish to enjoy this spectacle in their own “space”. Balconies can be hired exclusively but as they tend to take groups from between 20-60 people it can be expensive. A better solution is to try to find private windows for your exclusive use in an apartment. These are limited in number and so tend to go quickly

·        Access to a Loo – Whilst the Palio itself is short lived at 2 minutes- the Historical Parade and the Mossa can last up to 3 ½ hrs between them

Once you have decided what is important to you the next stage is to find someone who can offer you the solutions. An Early discussion is critical as the best options tend to go faster. July tends to sell faster than August so you have a bit more time to find the right position if you are looking to go in August, but of course August has a tendency to be hotter!

At Weekend a la Carte we are delighted to have just gained access for one of our clients to what is considered one of the best positions in the whole of the Campo. Right above the Mossa the window has a perfect view of the whole track. The Palio (the banner that is won) is hung just metres beneath the window- if you stretch out your arm you can almost touch it. It’s incredible to watch the Contardaioli who literally climb up to you to claim their prize.

If you are looking to go to the Palio the important thing is to start investigating early as the options and choices are so much wider.

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