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Il Palio and Siena’s Contrade

Eagle. She-Wolf. Panther. They’re not just team mascots, they’re the names of some of Siena’s 17 historic wards, called contrade. The contrade date to the Middle Ages, when the city was districted to provide troops for its defense. Now, each contrade provides riders to compete in the famous Palio horse races. With lore reflecting the original trades of the neighborhood, each contrade has its own banner, coat of arms, motto, museum, and ceremonial font where you must be baptized to be considered a true contradiolo. There are historic alliances and rivalries, and epic street celebrations that give new meaning to the phrase “block party.”

Every summer, Il Palio draws thousands of spectators to the small town of Siena to cheer on their favored contrade in two of Italy’s most time-honored races. The races occur on July 2, and August 16. However, the ceremony and the spectacle that accompanies Il Palio makes the entire summer a wonderful time to take in the old-world splendor of one of Italy’s most impressive medieval cities. Join in on the party when you visit Siena during VBT’s Tuscan Hill Towns by Bike vacation.

5 Reasons to Visit Palermo

What to do in Palermo, Palermo, Palermo Italy

When you travel to Sicily, begin to explore the ancient island with a visit in one of its oldest cities, Palermo. Boasting some of Sicily’s most notable historical, architectural and gastronomical highlights, the bustling center is the perfect introduction to your Sicilian adventure.


1.  The History

Founded by the Phoenicians, named by the Greeks, coveted by the Romans, developed by the Byzantines and then conquered by the Normans, Palermo has been home to a myriad of ancient civilizations. Fortunately, despite the fact that Palermo was established well over 2,000 years ago, traces of its assorted historical legacy can be found throughout the Sicilian Hub.

What to do in Palermo, Palermo, Palermo Italy, cathedral palermo

2.  The Architecture

Perhaps the best example of Palermo’s varied heritage is the city’s architecture. The Cathedral of Palermo, located in the city center, exhibits Arab, Byzantine and Anglo-Norman approaches to building. Each civilization adapted existing portions of the church and then molded it into their own representative style of building. In La Loggia quarter of Palermo, the Church of San Domenico is a brilliant baroque structure. Its ornate façade, accented by tall palms, gives way to an impressive interior, featuring large archways and stone pillars. Quatro Canti is the true heart of Palermo and features four nearly identical buildings at each of its four corners. Though essentially an intersection, this famous site is right near the top of the list of things to visit in the Sicilian capital.

3.  The Art

The city’s countless architectural highlights certainly blur the line between functionality and art. Be sure to take the time to wander in and out of the medieval passageways and hidden alleyways of Palermo and as you stroll about the city, enjoy its artistic treasures. No trip to Palermo is complete without a stop at Fontana Pretoria. Located in Piazza della Pretoria, the fountains were originally constructed by Francesco Camilliani in the mid-16th century and were to be on display in Florence. However, the structures were eventually disassembled and brought to Palermo about thirty years after their construction. Now, Fontana Pretoria remains as one of Palermo’s limited examples of Renaissance art.

What to do in Palermo, Palermo, Palermo Italy, Fontana Pretoria, Renaissance art

4.  The Food

There’s no way around it. If you spend your day ambling through the city, the time will come when your body will demand sustenance. Fortunately Palermo has the perfect remedy – plenty of delicious Sicilian cuisine! Making ample use of the surrounding sea, much of Sicilian culinary tradition combines aspects of mainland Italian cuisine with lots of fresh seafood. Stop into a city trattoria to sample a fish stew, tagliatelle with lobster or stick to a more familiar dish and enjoy Pasta alla Norma: a pasta dish with fried eggplant. Afterward, you should have no trouble finding a small café or bakery to top off your meal with an espresso and one of Sicily’s notable confections.

5.  The Weather

Finally, one of the greatest parts of visiting Palermo is its relatively static, warm temperatures. With little fluctuation, Sicily’s northern regions are mild in the winter and warm up just a bit in the summer. So you’re free to explore in comfort throughout the day, and to continue exploring as the day winds down. Palermo is noted for its warm evenings, allowing extra time for a nice long passeggiata, or evening stroll before turning in.

Join VBT on our Sicily: Biking the Southern Coastal Villages​ and begin your vacation with a Pre-Trip Extension in Palermo to take in the wonders of this ancient Mediterranean city.

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