Places We Love: Borgo Scopeto Relais and Il Palio di Siena
September 18, 2015
In the beginning of July, we had the pleasure of visiting Borgo Scopeto Relais, a refurbished Tuscan villa just outside of Siena. The property encapsulates Tuscany, with its the distinctive, carefully preserved buildings amidst and olive groves and vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with a spectacular view of Umbria, just a 15-minute drive from Siena, Borgo Scopeto’s location is exquisite. Set amidst the Tuscan countryside up a long driveway lined with Cyprus trees, the Borgo is the perfect place for travelers who wish to relax, away from the noise and bustle of city life, with access to the attractions of Siena just a short drive away.
From the moment we arrived at the expansive courtyard amidst the beautiful historic buildings, we felt right at home. Throughout our stay, we were warmly welcomed by each member of the hotel staff, and were particularly impressed with the Maitre d' Adriano, whose attention to detail, expansive knowledge of food and wine, along with endless kindness and hospitality went above and beyond which truly made our stay ever so spectacular. From dining al fresco overlooking the lights of Siena to reveling in the beauty of the property, to the phenomenal food served by Chef Angelo at Ristorante La Tinaia, our stay was one delightful moment after the next.
Thanks to the maître d’s encouragement, our stay at the Borgo included spectating one of Italy’s most notorious and exciting cultural events, Il Palio di Siena. A centuries old tradition, the Palio is held twice a year, once on July 2nd and once on August 16th. Consisting of a bareback race around Siena’s Piazza del Campo in which each of the ten riders represents one of Siena’s 17 contrade, or districts, the race is infamous for jockeys pulling each other off their horses; in fact, a horse can still win the race even if it crosses the finish line without its rider. While the race itself lasts under two minutes long, there are days of preparation and celebration leading up to the event that feed the energetic frenzy of excitement and anticipation that surrounds the Palio. There is la tratta, or the selection of the horses and then trial races with six horses at a time. Each contrada holds an open-air dinner the night before the race, where long tables line the districts main streets. The day of the race a spectacular pageant is held, orchestrated by flag bearers in medieval clothing and cabienieri who ride through the streets and perform a jaw-dropping mounted charge.
Experiencing the Palio was something we’ll never forget. Standing in the middle of Siena in the Piazza del Campdo, amidst thousands of people waiting for the pre-race pageant, we suddenly heard singing. As crowded as it was, everyone got out of the way as the pageant marched towards us, each participant singing their hearts out about their horses and their contrada. We stood there with our mouths open, we couldn’t believe the passion coming from the crowd around us. The excitement and passion continued throughout the race itself, and we left the Palio with a sense of wonder, knowing that we had just experienced something very special.
We hadn’t planned to see the Palio, yet that experience was one of the defining moments of our trip. The opportunity to spectate this incredibly festive, centuries-old event while staying at Borgo was truly incredible, an experience we recommend to any traveler looking for an amazing and authentic cultural experience.