Few spectacles can match Siena’s world-famous Palio for pageantry, drama and history, not to mention thrills-and-spills excitement. Held every year on July 2 and again in August, the origins of the bareback horse race around the city’s Piazza del Campo (first picture) date back to medieval times. Yet most spectators who come to watch barely catch a glimpse of the 10 colourful riders as they tear around the square at breakneck speed, gloriously risking life and limb.
So what could be better than watching the Palio from a private, luxury fourth-floor apartment directly overlooking the Piazza, while sipping a glass of vintage Cristal? The answer, according to wine merchant Michael Palij MW, is that “nothing else even comes close”.
For the fifth year running, Palij has put together a unique Palio tour for just 10 paying guests. And thanks to his food and wine connections in Tuscany, he has fine-tuned the four-day cultural and gastronomic experience to a breathtaking level of luxury and access.
For 2012, guests will stay at the privately owned Castello di Bossi. Just a stone’s throw from Siena in nearby Chianti Classico, parts of the castle date back nearly 1,000 years. Today, it is the stunning home of the Bacci family, who have painstakingly renovated the castello and its vineyards (second picture) – Castello di Bossi is one of Tuscan wine’s rising stars. Guests will enjoy a series of gala dinners at the table of owner and host Marco Bacci. They will also eat and drink the finest produce of the estate, including wild boar and venison, cold-pressed olive oil and its finest wines.
Together with Bacci, Palij will also lead vineyard trips (Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino) and in-depth tastings exploring the world’s greatest wines, including First Growth claret, Grand Cru burgundy, Super Tuscans and, of course, wines from Castello di Bossi’s extensive private reserves.
And for good measure, a third guide comes in the form of Cambridge University lecturer Mark Powell FRGS, who will be your expert on all things cultural and historical, leading guided walks and recounting the compelling history of the Palio, prior to the race.
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.