My Summer’s Grand Finale: Siena’s Palio Horse Race

Hold on to your gnocchi — it’s 
Siena’s Palio. The finale of my summer trip is in Siena, where my crew and I spent several days filming the Palio horse race for our upcoming European Festivals TV special.

In this photo, cameraman Karel Bauer and I are with our Sienese guide, Roberto Bechi, who — as you can see — is excited about the race…as he has been, twice a year, for all his life. Roberto, whose enthusiasm is contagious, got us the best seats and made sure we understood the elaborate and confusing rituals as they unfolded.

Across Europe, festival traditions go back centuries, and are filled with time-honored pageantry and ritual. Entire communities hurl themselves with abandon into the craziness. There’s no better example than here at Siena’s Palio.

In this gorgeously preserved Tuscan hill town, the Middle Ages seem to survive in the architecture and in the civic spirit. The city is known both for its pride and for its independent attitude. And twice a year, that spirit shows itself in a crazy horse race, as it has for five centuries.

While the actual race lasts 90 seconds, the festivities consume the city for days. For the next week or so, I’ll be bringing you a behind-the-scenes look at Siena’s Palio.

This is Day 90 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.


6 Replies to “My Summer’s Grand Finale: Siena’s Palio Horse Race”

  1. I’m sorry to see your summer “vacation” come to an end. Thank you for sharing with us. I so wish you would branch out to other continents besides Europe.i am researching a trip to Australia and wish I could find a Rick Steves type guide for the South Pacific. One that gives directions, suggestions and useful information, more than just hotels and restaurants, with only major tourist attractions reviewed.

  2. Almost didn’t recognize Karel! Agree with previous post about wishing you (Rick) would go beyond Europe in your work. My next trip probably won’t be to Europe and the Lonely Planet books are good, but not as good as Rick’s!!

  3. Random question for Rick that seems appropriate given his recent travels to England: I came across a very old episode of his Travels in Europe show where he said that he’s spent more time in London than any other European city. I wondered if that’s still true. I’m guessing that a city in Italy (Rome, perhaps?) may hold the title now.

  4. One highlight of our Rick Steves Florence City tour was our guide Karin Kibby’s description of the Palio during our bus ride to the hill towns outside of Florence. We were all spellbound.

  5. Rick,
    I join with others who are sorry your summer travels are ending. I really enjoy these daily reports and your insights. I’m looking forward to the new shows.
    FYI one our favorite meals in Italy was at the clubhouse of the winner of last year’s Palio. We had this very special dinner while we were on your 17 day trip of Italy. Thx.
    Jo Merrill

  6. I’m a traveler who is grateful that Rick has focused on Europe and even ‘wider Europe’ (Middle Europe, Turkey, Israel) for his life’s work. My wife and I love Europe and want to ‘look deeper’ in a way that Rick and his tours have provided (we have done six or seven of them.) Even a guy with’Energizer Bunny’ drive could not do justice or offer authenticity over time to a wider scope of travel opportunities.

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