The best things in life don’t change…

18 August 2013
Ben Pentreath

I realise that it’s a year ago to the day (18th August) that I wrote a little blog about the Siena Palio that… how can I put it?… set the temperatures soaring.  Well, I know I said that the blog is on holiday (and it is… after all, I’m writing this in the little cafe in the little square in the little town, Gaiole-in-Chianti, which is basically pretty close to perfect)… but I couldn’t help but let you know that the Palio was even…hotter… this year. So I hope that it’s true to say some jokes are worth repeating.

A couple of days ago Valentina and I spent a bit of time looking at, I don’t know, 8 or 9 years’ worth of photographs of holidays in Italy. The same sunsets, the same views, the places, dinners, days. The same greengrocer and shop keepers in town. The same events and activities… like an unchanging ritual. The only thing which changes is the cast of characters… children that were babies are now nearly 10… and some friends come and go.  But the setting doesn’t shift at all.

But when I look at my photos from last year’s Palio and this one, it really is true to say that things don’t change… at all.  That’s one of the things that I love about Siena.  And when you think that the Palio has been running since 1656 (with much earlier, medieval, origins), you realise that a mere banking crisis – such as that which has ripped through Siena this spring with the near collapse of the world’s oldest lending house, the ancient bank of Monte dei Paschi de Siena, a crisis that runs deep in to the heart of Italian politics – is best shrugged off. Time to enjoy the view.

Even in the crowds heading down Via Banchi di Sopra, on our way to the Campo, we realised it was going to be a hot day.

The crowds surged down the same narrow alleyways…

and up the wide ramp that leads to the last entrance into the Campo, filled already with thousands of expectant spectators.

I love the moment when the crowd is crushed into the last narrow alleyway… such anticipation…

Before emerging in to the vast natural bowl of the Campo, filled with people.

And it is here, of course, that the fun begins. I’m glad to say in our little group that I had some willing helpers, spotting, how shall I put it, some of Siena’s finest.

I wasn’t particularly in favour of “the back”. Others were. We are a democratic blog here at Ben P towers.

I include this photograph (as the sun gently sets behind the buildings at about ten to seven, and lengthening shadows extend across the square) merely to highlight the enormity of our task. That’s a lot of people to check out.

Thankfully some guys were kind enough to be hot and close.

Others were nearby. Okay, maybe a bit too much hair, a little too much brow, but serious. And worthy of inclusion.

And luckily, for those further afield, I’ve got a rather useful zoom lens on my little camera (an old Panasonic Lumix, in case you were wondering). Let me demonstrate. The following photographs are included purely for technical reasons.

For instance, this tower, far on the other side of the square:

Or this balcony, lined with the great and good.

But more importantly:

Droopy eyelids are the order of the day.

You see what I mean? You may be forgiven for noticing that I’m not looking in the direction of 50,000 other people at this moment.

As the horses are parading up and down on the far side of the Campo, trying to get into the right order at the start line.

The tension was rising…

At the moment the running order is called you can hear a pin drop. A spine tingling moment as the huge crowd falls completely, utterly silent.

At last the horses are lined up and ready to go…

And they’re off. The whole thing is over in a matter of 90 seconds.

The winning contrada is Onda. Here’s the jockey on his victory lap.  The excitement was almost too much for some:

While others revelled in it:

Insanely chaotic scenes follow as all the contrade parade around the square.

Luckily for the readership of this blog, our main task was not entirely complete:


“I’ve been nominated the hottest spectator at the 2013 Palio by the readership of Ben Pentreath Inspiration?”

“You have”.

The evening settled in to the same restaurant where we always go, for the same superb pizza, and beers, and victory parades long into the night. The best things in life really don’t change.

32 comments on this post

Laura Harwoodsays:

Just discovered you through your GORGEOUS book ‘English Decoration’. Love it, all of it. Your style, irreverance, humor the lot. Awesome.

Beautiful pictures! I hope to visit Italy soon with my family.

Thank you for sharing this with us. We’ve all studied it but so few of us visit. I’ll have to make a point of it now!

Suzy Fanningsays:

I remember holiday romances with Italian boys when I was younger. I couldn’t speak Italian and they couldn’t speak English so there was no conversation but it didn’t matter, they were so good looking!


If this was a man taking pictures of ‘hot’ chicks in a crowd and then posting pictures of them on-line without their permission it would be considered and outrage.

Does sexism only work one-way?


Dear Rich, I don’t think you would like sorry! Good point though… 😉


Yup. La bella figura indeed!


We were there the week before the Palio as my parents have a house in San Sano (not far from Siena) and although I kept my eyes peeled to the point of tears, I did not see one specimen as delicious as these. Oh, and the way they have chosen to cool off by freeing themselves of clothes……your taste in cushions and all other fancy things is exemplary.


hot hot hot


Good God , are all the men in Italy so beautiful? No wonder you go every year….

Bravo! I love your photos of centuries old tradition, although I must admit often times they include many more photos of the horses. Frankly I like your coverage better! Thanks for sharing! Enjoy Siena, it is a lovely city.

Deby (in Canada)says:

I agree with everyone- you have excellent taste and are so kind to share! Hope your holiday continues to delight!


Thanks a lot for this blog.
The guy next to the young man with the mobile phone somehow reminded me of another picture:

My dearest Tuscany-memory is about visiting Montepulciano and Pienza with my BF.
Looking down on the small church Madonna di San Biago from Montepulciano (,_Montepulciano), climbing up the Tower of the Palazzo Comunale and having breakfast on a balcony of the Caffé Poliziano in Montepulciano was really great.
Have fun and happy holidays.


The “hottest spectator” looks a little bit like the actor Chris O’Donnell.

Oh yeah! I heartily agree with your choice Ben. (Even though he could probably be my grandson…!)

let’s hear a round of applause for the italians + great photos + happy new week.

Bev Morgansays:

Give me a hot Italian over a pasty Brit any day, love the photos and your humour.


Thank you. Always loved your blog. Today it’s left me….well…lusting for all things Italian. Mr P you have the most superb taste.


Easy on the eye, but have to say that when inter-railing through Italy with a female friend during my early 20s, we found the attentions of Italian men wearing and at times intimidating. After four lovely weeks of travelling, we’d had enough of the incessant comments, flirting and over-the-top flattery and felt like yelling ‘CUT THE CRAP!’, as even buying a loaf of bread or asking for directions became an opportunity to be told how beautiful we were.
We travelled home from Sicily via Venice, Switzerland & London, and my final change of trains was at Wakefield Westgate. As I came down the steps from the bridge over the line, carrying my luggage and wearing rather stylish cropped pants, two young men sitting on a bench looked up at me and started whispering to each other. ‘Oh blimey,’ I thought, ‘here we go again.’ ‘Hey up, love,’ one of them shouted, ‘have your trousers shrunk?’ I could have kissed them! My heart sang: I was home.
Have a lovely holiday!


You have impeccable taste… But then we knew that already. The Italian selection has brightened my morning.

some pretty amazing eye candy there Ben. thanks for keeping on top of things even on your holiday!

Loved this post. Educational in many different ways.

Droopy Eyelids Man looks a touch bored, though? And many of them seemed to have bought their white t-shirts from the same Italian store?

Photos are v impressive, as always.

PS I have an old Lumix as a back-up camera. They’re handy, aren’t they? Also very good for taking secret photos in Paris stores.

Thank you for your hard-hitting journalism from our foreign correspondent. 😉


I love how gloriously incorrigible you are!

And that you share…………..


Wow can’t wait to go to Italy

A lot of fine choices – count me in!


Must plan a trip to Italy soon! Such lovely sites to see!;)
Hope you’re having fun!


Wait: there were horses???

Ooh BP you are awful, but I like it 😉 Happy hols.


I totally share your taste in all things Italian..;p

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