My Summer's Grand Finale: Siena's Palio Horse Race

08/22/2016 07:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hold on to your gnocchi -- it'sᅡᅠSiena's Palio. The finale of my summer trip is in Siena, where my crew and I spent several days filming the Palio horse race for our upcoming European Festivals TV special.

In this photo, cameraman Karel Bauer and I are with our Sienese guide, Roberto Bechi, who -- as you can see -- is excited about the race...as he has been, twice a year, for all his life. Roberto, whose enthusiasm is contagious, got us the best seats and made sure we understood the elaborate and confusing rituals as they unfolded.

Across Europe, festival traditions go back centuries, and are filled with time-honored pageantry and ritual. Entire communities hurl themselves with abandon into the craziness. There's no better example than here at Siena's Palio.

In this gorgeously preserved Tuscan hill town, the Middle Ages seem to survive in the architecture and in the civic spirit. The city is known both for its pride and for its independent attitude. And twice a year, that spirit shows itself in a crazy horse race, as it has for five centuries.

While the actual race lasts 90 seconds, the festivities consume the city for days. For the next week or so, I'll be bringing you a behind-the-scenes look at Siena's Palio.


This is Day 90 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more on my travel blog.

(This post originally appeared at blog.ricksteves.com/blog/palio-roberto-bechi.)