Siena and Assisi, Italy

July 28-31


After Florence, we used one of our few remaining Eurail Pass tickets to hop down to the city of Siena.

Siena is a smaller city than Florence, also located in the Tuscany region of Italy. We were so excited to stay in this region for a little longer to keep trying the incredible food!

Siena sits on a hill. Upon exiting the train station, we followed others to what seemed like a mall across the street. The building did have stores and restaurants, but most importantly, it had 10+ escalators up the big mountain. We were expecting to climb a million steps and were so relieved to see the alternate route. After scaling the hill via ingenious technology, we walked through the charming town of Siena to our little Airbnb.

Porta Romana. The gate into the city.

Siena along with most of the Italian peninsula (and Europe at large!) is steeped in history of both the might of the Roman Empire, and the reach of the Roman Catholic Church that came after. For example, the gate in the picture above that cars are just casually driving through was built by the ancient Romans during the time of the empire! And everywhere you go both in Siena and elsewhere in Italy, you hear a myriad of church bells ringing out every hour. It’s such a fascinating history to step into.

The view from a city park we visited a couple of times during our time in Siena
Lizzie sitting in the Piazza del Campo, the city’s giant main square.
Piazza del Campo

The city is centered around the giant Piazza del Campo square, with outdoor restaurants on the perimeter and families enjoying the outdoors in the middle. It was so much fun just sitting in the square and people-watching! Not too far from this square is the Siena Cathedral seen below.

Siena Cathedral completed between 1215-1263.
Streets of Siena
Streets of Siena

The food in Tuscany is outstanding! We tried quite a few unique things here. One unfortunately that we didn’t snap a photo of was an appetizer that looked like a big round slightly-melted block of cheese smothered in Alfredo sauce. And that’s pretty much exactly what it was. It tasted almost sweet at first, but the more we ate it the more it grew on us until by the time it was gone we were ready to have an entire meal of just that one appetizer!

Some other favorites were an Italian cheesecake with cherries on top, and a traditional Tuscan steak.

Cheesecake with cherries
A HUGE Tuscan steak

This steak was a misteak. Did it taste amazing? Of course! But unfortunately I misread the price on the menu, and it ended up being the single most expensive dish I’ve ever bought. You can’t quite tell from the picture above, but it felt like it was just about half a cow. People at the table across from us gave us an impressed thumbs up as they dropped it on our table. The waiter graciously gave me a second glass of wine for free after I read the bill.


Next up was the small town of Assisi! Assisi is on the border of the regions of Tuscany and Umbria and has a population of just 28,000 people on a good day.

We took this small train from Siena to Assisi.

Our train from Siena to Assisi was literally just one train car. No train engine pulling from the front or pushing from behind – just one single train car with a few seats on the inside.

Assisi is a gorgeous city on the top of a hill surrounded by olive tree groves and vineyards. Florence earlier in the week was a bit too touristy for our tastes. We loved the stark difference we saw in Assisi where there were few tourists and even fewer English speakers. It was a town that was more of our speed.

The streets of Assisi
Lizzie and I enjoying the sunset!
View of the sunset from the city on top of a hill
Beautiful pastel street art in a city square
A city square in Assisi at dusk
Assisi at night

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

The crown jewel of Assisi is the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. Construction on the basilica first started in the 1200s, and was built into the hillside at the top of the slight mountain range. Over time, it became an important pilgrimage site for Catholics and today the basilica is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its fascinating history.

Basilica of St Francis at Assisi
Sunset at Basilica of St Francis at Assisi
Basilica of St Francis at Assisi

The Catholic Church canonized the figure of St Francis in 1228, and today his tomb can still be visited underneath the basilica. We went in and observed Catholic pilgrims from all over the world who entered the tomb to quietly pray, likely traveling a great distance just to be in this one room.

The church above the crypt is famous for the frescoes adorning the ceilings and walls, painted by the very best fresco artists of the time.

The scenes showed a mixture of visual representations of bible stories, tales from Catholic Church history, and local events in Assisi. The paintings were remarkably well preserved in this ancient church, and Liz and I enjoyed walking around and peering into a different era.

As mentioned in a previous post, Lizzie has been to Assisi before. We had a great time finding all of the old spots she had previously seen, and in some cases even recreating old photos.

Photo above is when Lizzie was in Assisi, Italy in 2011. Photo below is 2021 in the same spot!

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