Including beautiful full-color reproductions of the artworks, A Month in Siena is about what occurred between Matar, those paintings, and the city. That month would be an extraordinary period in the writer’s life: an exploration of how art can console and disturb in equal measure, as well as an intimate encounter with a city and its inhabitants. This is a gorgeous meditation on how centuries-old art can illuminate our own inner landscape—current relationships, long-lasting love, grief, intimacy, and solitude—and shed further light on the present world around us.
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Return comes a profoundly moving contemplation of the relationship between art and life.
Listen to an excerpt below:
After finishing his powerful memoir The Return, Hisham Matar, seeking solace and pleasure, traveled to Siena, Italy. Always finding comfort and clarity in great art, Matar immersed himself in eight significant works from the Sienese School of painting, which flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Artists he had admired throughout his life, including Duccio and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, evoke earlier engagements he’d had with works by Caravaggio and Poussin, and the personal experiences that surrounded those moments.
Once owned by the Medici family, this 2,700-acre, 800-year-old medieval village in Montaione fell away from the public eye—that is, until lifestyle hotel brand TUI Blue saw its potential. With the help of the surrounding village’s government, the town has been resurrected into a sprawling five-star resort. Il Castelfalfi, the region’s first new-build hotel in years, offers suites with both sunrise and sunset patio views. Across the street, a disused tobacco factory is now an adjacent boutique hotel, ruinous farmhouses have become holiday homes, and acres of surrounding lands now make up Tuscany’s largest golf course.
The property feels miles away from anywhere thanks to the rolling hills that surround it on all sides, but the village offers a few quaint distractions including a small alimentari (grocery store) as well as a pizzeria, Il Rosmarino. At the entrance of the village is the tower of the ancient castle, La Rocca, now home to La Rocca di Castelfalfi, whose patio is a beautiful place to watch the sunset over Tuscan specialties like Ribollita and ravioli.
Legend has it that Le Tre Rane was the name of an inn that a young Leonardo da Vinci opened on Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, with a vision of a pioneering cooking style that would embody fine dining and healthy eating, while heightening the taste of being together.
Stefano Frassineti has taken the helm in the kitchen at Le Tre Rane. Born in Chianti and a career cook for almost 30 years, Stefano believes in dishes based on tradition that evolve into an unmistakable identity. He takes an orchestra of seasonal ingredients from personally sourced Tuscan suppliers and conducts them with endless curiosity and creativity. Eight seasonal menus will rotate year round—the current one is centred around freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil—in addition to an à la carte menu featuring Tuscan meat (and the occasional fish) courses. Start with a delicate ricotta and chard pie, continue with hunter’s chicken tortelli and opt for a beef tagliata or bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Designed by MC A and engineered and built by WASP, TECLA will be the first house to be entirely 3D printed using locally sourced clay – a biodegradable and recyclable ‘km 0 natural’ material which will effectively make the building zero-waste. It will be built to adapt to multiple environments, and it will be suitable for self-production through the use of WASP’s innovative Maker Economy Starter Kit. This approach will limit industrial waste and offer a unique sustainable model that will boost the national and local economy, improving the wellbeing of communities. Furthermore, the scheme will significantly accelerate the construction process as the 3D printer will produce the entire structure at once.
Borne from a vision to provide a home for everyone at a time of exponential population increase and an associated lack of affordable housing, TECLA is a new circular housing model, created using entirely reusable, recyclable materials taken from the local terrain. Built using Crane WASP – the latest innovation in on-site 3D construction, TECLA represents a step-change in the move towards eco-housing.
The awesome sight of the expansive Reno river greets you as you enter Casalecchio di Reno. A fairly non-descript satellite town, Casalecchio’s best asset is Parco Della Chiusa (also known as Parco Talon), a vast forest and nature reserve full of crumbling old mansions, hiking trails and great views of the river and undulating hills. The park is a popular spot for picnics and makes a worthwhile destination on its own.
In this half-day cycle starting from central Bologna and ending at the small town of Sasso Marconi, you can take in hilly scenery of Bologna’s back country, see where history was made at the villa of radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi and sample some local delicacies in one of the province’s best osterias. The route is entirely flat, mostly along cycle paths and can be done by even the most beginner cyclist. With no tourists around, it offers a chance to see Italian life in all of its ordinariness, away from the sometimes twee environs of the centro storico.
In total, the ride from Bologna to Sasso Marconi should take you one hour at a leisurely pace, not counting stops along the way. Rent a bicycle from Dynamo, a bike co-op on Via dell’Indipendenza near the bus station – a half day rental will cost you 13 euros.