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by Barbara Kingstone
Some tourists sigh when they hear the word Roma, I take a deep breath and exhale with pleasure at the word Siena, now a UNESCO World Heritage city. This truly glorious city has it all and most is within walking distance with all roads leading to the exquisite Duomo with the tolling bells. So it was special to discover our hotel, Grand Hotel Continental was the best location.
There on via Banchi Di Sopra 85, on a pedestrian street surrounded by terrific shopping and the joyous non stop talking and exaggerated hand gestures, this five star hotel has a long heritage and certainly emits a feeling of being part of the street scene. Of course, the twice yearly Palio is a busy and very crowded time and the streets are even fuller and the noise level like a lively opera chorus.
It is the first and only five star hotel within he ancient walls of Siena . A relatively ‘new’ hotel, it opened on February 2002 although originally designed by the Baroque architect Giovanni Fontana. The 51 room hotel was once a palace built in the 17th century. What is so remarkable is that the clever modern architects chosen for the renovations, placed glass and stainless steel elevators amidst the antiquities, near the once courtyard that is now covered with a glass covered roof over the hotel’s fine restaurant.
But equally impressive is that while renovating, well preserved,15th century frescoes were uncovered. Also, where there were once windows, when designing the hotel and needing more space for each room, they had removed the windows only to be replaced with most effective trompe l’eouil windows matching the real ones beside them. All this seen from the glass elevators.
But with so much to see nearby, one could get a guilt complex if they dallied and didn’t take advantage of seeing the shell shaped Piazza del Campo, the Duomo and the nearby Palazzo Pubblico. These attention grabbers make Siena one of the most visited cities in Italy.
The hotel’s concierge staff were so very helpful that after the long flight and train ride from Naples, I was having a really bad hair day and in this very chic city, I felt I owed it to myself to do something about the frizz. No problem, as I was pointed to various salons to choose from. And I was delighted with the outcome. Although certainly not a splashy salon, (the other side a barber shop), it was unexpectedly expensive as was almost everything in Siena. Perhaps the best deal is the gelato stores, always filled, always the need to make a decision which of the dozen flavors you would like to taste. Those shops have the most imaginative ways of displaying gelato, certainly worthy of a snapshot.
The Grand Continental’s grandeur extends to the rooms with deluxe heavy draping and bed covering, grand curved and carved headboards and deep luxe seating. There are touches of modernity but what one wants when they choose The Grand Continental is the grandeur, service and location which is certainly there for the taking. One of the unique features is the superb, modern wine cellars where you can reserve the area for an evening of fine wine tasting.
Breakfast was a treat every day with tables laden with fruit, cereal, salamis, a variety of bread and rolls and some hot dishes, giving you the energy to discover the small lanes and alleys with their cobble stone walkways. (See Cuisine section for Chef’s recipe of his choice)
Although there is constant competition between Florence and Siena’s arts, certainly, even for the connoisseur, there is a plethora of museums, monuments and public art that won’t and don’t disappoint the most knowledgeable.
And best of all, after a day of sightseeing, heading back the The Grand Continental is always something to look forward to.
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com