Few events in Italy are as famous as Siena's Palio. Held every year on July 2 and again on August 16 it is a dangerous and hotly contested bareback race around the city's ancient Piazza del Campo. Although the origins are Medieval the modern Palio dates from 1656 - the August Palio was added 150 years later. Although the race itself lasts for little more than a minute its significance to the Senese is very real. Only ten contrade can compete (of seventeen) and the atmosphere in the town can be cut with a knife. There are ancient scores to settle and the rivalry between the contrade leads to all kinds of skulduggery which plays out during the race. It is an occasionally violent but always thrilling spectacle that attracts visitors from around the world. Most who come to see the Palio wait for hours in the centre of the square, hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of the riders as they pass through a tiny field of view. A lucky few are able to purchase seats in the grandstands or on a balcony.
Because of my connections, however, 10 very fortunate guests will be able to watch the 2013 Palio from a luxury flat on the fourth floor of a Renaissance villa overlooking the Piazza. With unobstructed views across the entire square we will be sipping vintage Champagne whilst the horses assemble. During the race we will be able to hear every cry and watch every rider as they struggle to the finish line. Afterwards, whilst the crowds disperse, we will enjoy canapés and, of course, more Champagne. After visiting Italy for twenty years I can assure you that nothing else even comes close. As the Financial Times said last year in its How To Spend It section:
These days, as readers know all too well, there are lots of tours that claim to be a
‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’. This one really does tick all the boxes.
What makes this trip unique is that we will have full and unfettered access to a side of Tuscany that is never open to the public, access that is only made possible through my work as an importer. Over the past two decades I have made contact with some of the leading figures in Tuscan oenology and, from time to time, they allow me to introduce a few people to the world in which they live and work every day. Here are a few highlights:
- We will stay in a castle. This is not a castle that has been turned into a 5* hotel in which the owner hasn’t been seen for a decade, but a castle that is still a private residence and one that is never, ever open to the public.
- We will eat good food. Not in a Michelin-starred restaurant or at a contrada dinner to which anyone can buy tickets but at the dining table of our host. The wild boar will have been shot on the estate, as will the venison. The farro will have been grown in the fields around the castle, the olive oil cold-pressed from trees that you can touch from your bedroom window.
- We will drink nice wine. Not a quick tasting of Brunello or Chianti but a series of in-depth tastings that explore the world’s greatest wines including First Growth claret, Grand Cru burgundy, the Super-Tuscans, and older vintages from the estate’s private reserves. Some will be blind, all will be legendary.
- We will have a guide. Not just one and not just any. You will be accompanied on the gastronomic portion of this tour by one of the world’s leading experts on Italian wine and for the cultural portion by both our host and by Mark Powell FRGS, an Oxford graduate and lecturer at Cambridge University.
Here is the incomparable itinerary for the Palio 2013:
Day 1: Sunday June 30th
- Pick up from Rome, Florence or Pisa (please arrive no later than 15:00 and inform me of your flight or hotel details).
- Transport to Castello di Bossi for our first gala dinner. Dinner will be preceded by a tasting and introduction to the wines from the region followed by some optional blind tasting (just for fun). Roast boar and venison will be accompanied by a selection of fine wines including many from my cellar.
Day 2: Monday July 1st
- After a leisurely breakfast at the castle I will host an introduction to wine tasting followed by a full range tasting of the Bossi portfolio including barrel samples. This is an essential part of what I do before selecting the wines that will eventually find their way onto our list.
- We’ll depart late morning to visit the unique Tuscan terroir of Montalcino. For Sangiovese fans this is a real treat and you will be guided through the wines of two leading estates and leave with a deep understanding of one of Italy’s finest red wines.
- We’ll have a late lunch at Renieri, an hour’s drive south in the heart of Brunello country where we can walk through the vineyards, visit the winery, and gain insight into what makes this one of the world’s most sought-after wines.
- Depending on time we can stop at a local producer of Panforte or we may have time to enjoy the last rays of sunshine by the pool before it will be dinner time once again. We’ll need an early night but the grappa is exceptional . . . .
Day 3: Tuesday July 2nd
- The big day! After breakfast we will drive straight to Siena. A few words about the apartment: we will have it for the whole day; it is not rented for the Palio, it is owned by Castello di Bossi. You are free to use it as you like. You can relax in the cool sitting room, enjoy our Cristal Brunch, view the preparations for the race, or stroll around Siena to experience the atmosphere of palpably mounting excitement. There’s nothing like Siena on the day of the Palio for sheer tension.
- Mark Powell will be on hand for guided walks and at 13:00 will recount the history of the Palio. This is another real privilege; Mark is a compelling storyteller who deftly weaves judicious amounts of both the seemingly banal and the obviously crucial to create a gripping historical narrative. Mark’s a bit of a character and his presence will add immeasurably to our enjoyment.
- After the 70 seconds of the Palio are over we’ll head back to Castello di Bossi for one final night of feasting.
Day 4: Wednesday July 3rd
- Departures after our farewell breakfast. Please book flights after 12:00.
|Price per person:
||Please email Michael Palij MW: firstname.lastname@example.org
Those of you who have travelled with me before will know that the price includes absolutely everything once you land in Italy. There are no extras. Ever. For anything.
The Fine Print
- The tour costs £3750 per person. This is payable in advance and is non-refundable but is transferable.
- It does not include travel to Italy but includes everything else from the moment you land including all transportation, accommodation, food and extremely fine wines.
- The tour is limited to five couples.
- Unless you’ve stood holding your father’s hand in Anfield whilst he taught you the words to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ you’ll never be able to understand what it means to support Liverpool. Unless you’ve grown up an ‘Owl’ or a ‘Tortoise’ you’ll never understand what the Palio means to your contrada. The bitter rivalries built up through the centuries cannot be explained in a day, a week, or even a lifetime. They need to be in your blood. As an outsider, the most we can hope to do is to observe the all-consuming passion that is the Palio. The rituals can be explained but their significance to the Sienese remains something deeply personal.
- Castello di Bossi is not a 5* hotel. In fact, it’s not a hotel at all but someone’s private home. Please don’t expect laundry service and a concierge.
- Very rarely the Palio is cancelled due to inclement weather (once in 300 years). In this case the itinerary for Day Three will continue as planned but without the Palio. Inclement weather will be deemed force majeure and no refund will be offered.