It may not be as old as Siena’s, which apparently goes back until the Middle Ages, but 140 editions is quite a good feat in my personal opinion. The beautiful medieval hilltop town of Casole d’Elsa with its gorgeous Romanesque churches, in fact, has just celebrated its renowned Palio. Unlike nearby Siena, Casole d’Elsa’s horse race has the peculiarity of being ridden bareback on a dirt track, mainly uphill, and ends in a different spot from the start, here called ‘alla romana’ (in the Roman way) or ‘palio lungo’ (the long Palio).
Held this weekend, July 12-13th, six contradas participate: the white and green Cavallano, the orange Campagna, the black and red Rivellino, the black and white Il Merlo, the white and golden Monteguidi and finally the red and yellow Pievalle. The race is always held on the second Sunday of July in honour of Saint Isidoro, Isidore the Labourer, and its origins are lost in time. Since the saint is considered the patron saint of farmers, this is believed to be an ancient rural tradition.
The week prior to the Palio sees all the contradas celebrating, with many events around town. On the Saturday the horses are coupled to the contradas and in the evening each quarter has their own eve’s dinner. On Sunday the contradas parade through town with their drummers and flag wavers in quarter colours, at 6 pm the horses are blessed and then all down to the race track. The celebrations end with much merrymaking and a firework show. The 140th edition was won by the Cavallano contrada riding a horse named Narciso, ‘Narcissist’!
If you’re planning to join next year’s Palio let us recommend these lovely holiday apartments in Casole d’Elsa, in renovated ancient stone farmhouses with gorgeous wooden beam ceilings, terracotta tile flooring and stone fireplaces. The estate has a large swimming pool and provides each flat with its own outdoor area furnished for alfresco dining. Here visitors can relax surrounded by luxuriant Tuscan countryside, go visit the nearby art centres of Colle Val d’Elsa, Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra, Certaldo and Florence and visit some of the most famous wine cellars of the area.