Sienese dream

30 June 2014
Ben Pentreath

I arrived home last night after 2 nights in Italy with Valentina and my friend Catherine. It was one of the happiest holidays I think I’ve ever had, and it was curiously time-morphing. It feels Iike I’ve been away for a week. Which I think is the sign of the perfect trip away. The day before I’d sort of been regretting that I didn’t just stay down in Dorset for the weekend. I’m afraid that Siena and Tuscany are a little bit more special… and a lot more relaxing.


There’s nothing like a sunset from Valentina’s house. Earlier we’d popped across the valley for drinks under the fig tree at Catherine’s house. Although she was staying with Val. It’s basically the most perfect house you’ve ever seen in the world.




On Saturday morning, bright and early and hungover, we popped in to Siena. Siena on a Saturday morning was curiously touristy, which I suppose was to be expected but I hadn’t really thought about it. The Campo was filled with small groups of tours clustered around bored-sounding guides while the onlookers generally seemed rather hot and frustrated. It makes one wonder a little bit what it’s all about.


The main streets were crowded with day trippers, brought on buses from Florence. But you don’t have to look too far off the beaten track to find Siena of the small incidentals.

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(Bridie and I are very excited. After so many months waiting our new shop sign arrives today).

Catherine is traumatised by the potential pretentiousness of studying Sienese 13th century art. But we didn’t mind at all when she took us to the Franciscan church, that I’d never been to before and showed us two beautiful frescos from the 1330s by Lorenzetti. P1030786 P1030782

Proving that it’s been Hotter In Siena (to refer to my previous blog posts) for a very long time.

I’m not sure the architect got the memo not to make the door look like a face. This really does need to be the subject of a blog one day.


The scaffold, after what feels like a decade, is off the Duomo. And if you look carefully you’ll see that the sky in the whole of Siena was filled with swallows, which was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time.

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But soon it was time to escape and get back to the pool. I worked on a house which I finally found the time and space to draw, ready for a meeting this week. We ate and drank far too much and played Articulate long into the night. Fireflies glowed around the olive trees.


It’s amazing what taking 48 hours out of normal life can do. I guess it was truly relaxing because I’m going to a house, with friends, which I’ve been to for over a decade; nothing to think about, nothing to worry about, nothing changed. There’s something strangely powerful about that. I’m loving trips to new places at the moment (Stockholm, eat your heart out), but it’s more meaningful to have the places you always go to as well.

The flight home was extraordinary. We flew out of a thunderstorm in Florence and across the most amazing cloudscapes I think I’ve ever seen.

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It was strangely like looking into the corner of a Renaissance painting. I wondered what those artists would have made of what we take merely for granted: getting in a plane and being home in a couple of hours… a place where travel becomes a curious brief dream.

15 comments on this post

I so want to go for a vacation now :/ You know this is the feel you get when you visit a place with friends. Even if one visits a terrible place, the memories are always cherished when friends are around. And in your case, you went ahead with a beautiful place and had a gala time around beauty. Wow this is amazing 🙂


They are day trippers. You are tourist. I am a traveller.

My family is from Siena 🙂 I miss Tuscany everyday.


I’ve only recently found your blog and look forward to enjoying many posts to come. I had to say how much your photo of the wall reminded me of that wonderful 18thc painting by Thomas Jones, ‘A wall in Naples’.

Just looked it up to remind myself how marvellous it is (and that I really must hang the repro that I got from the Nat Gallery!).


Dear Jenny what a great painting. I agree.

Don”t those clouds look so billowy and inviting? Like you could just step out of the plane and lie on them.


I hate being a tourist but there’s no way round it. Far better to know someone from the place and they can show you the special things. I grew up in Oxford and still feel like a tourist when I regularly go back! To do with the age of the place I think. I’m interested in the way that really old cities like Siena adapt to the modern age. Thanks for the mini tour once again.

Dreamy! Yes, what would those Renaissance artists think about us in planes with the shades pulled down so that we can stay glued to our various screens while the amazing landscapes/cloudscapes tumble past below. Someone – in the NYTimes, I think – just wrote a good essay about that.

Anyway, lucky you – thanks for sharing your weekend with us.


I remember sitting on the roof deck of my brother-in-law’s house in the Hérault watching the swifts, and it was like the Battle of Britain every night. Fascinating to watch them. (I think they even fornicate in the air!)



Oh Ben, I too think it sounds like you had the perfect time,as an artist myself i couldn’t have resisted taking my pencils and sketch pad,just sublime.


Brilliant! Claire I used to sketch but now my camera has replaced it. I’m not sure if that makes me sad or happy!

Paul Dsays:

Or house martins, perhaps? They build little mud nests under the eaves, I’m sure there are plenty of nice, wide, overhanging eaves around town that would suit them perfectly.

It’s along time time since I was in Sienna; I went on a Portsmouth University/Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture field trip in the mid-nineties. We stayed for just a few short hours between the bustle of Florence and Rome and was all very dream-like. I’m not sure whether your photos of the Duomo remind me more of the paintings of Klimt or Charles Rennie Mackintosh; either way they radiate calm.


You sure those swallows were not swifts?


No they might be swifts!!!

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