One of the things we really wanted to do during our trip to Italy was to visit at least one hilltop town. Set in the heart of Tuscany, San Gimignano (pronounced San Jim-in-yano) is located about an hour south-west of Florence. This pretty village did not disappoint. Although it’s known to be somewhat “touristy”, we found our visit to the ancient hilltop town to be an absolute delight. Note: We visited in April, which is NOT peak season. Apparently it can be very crowded in summer.
The village dates back to the 6th and 7th century B.C., when according to legend, two brothers escaped from some trouble in Rome and built themselves two castles which would develop into the future village of San Gimignano.
The village became a stopover for pilgrims en route between France and Rome. The families who controlled San Gimignano built around 72 tower houses, which were a symbol of their wealth and power, with some up to 50 metres high! Sadly, only 14 of these towers survive today. Thanks to the production of saffron, wine and wool, the town became quite prosperous, and by the first half of the 14th century, there were around 13,000 citizens. Then the plague of 1348 hit, wiping out two-thirds of the population, and sending the town into a long period of decline.
Last century, the village became a drawcard for tourists and has since become a popular destination for a day trip, thanks to its close proximity to Florence.
We loved its character and charm, with cobblestone and paved streets, stone walls and narrow laneways meandering up the hill. Armed with a map, we wandered down some back streets to get a bit more of a feel for the place, rather than just hanging out in the main square. Around every corner we found quaint little alleys and tiny shops set amongst brick archways, shuttered windows and huge timber doors. We also saw a few locals coming and going from their homes, which was lovely.
The views from the southern ridge of the town were simply spectacular – gently rolling hills lined with pencil pines, and brilliant red poppies contrasting against ancient terracotta-tiled villas. It really is just like a painting and photos just cannot do it justice.
After wandering the village for a couple of hours, we found a little bar serving Tuscan cheese and meats, paired with a glass of the local white wine, which was delicious, naturally. We sat outside beneath a white umbrella, where we enjoyed the pretty view across the nearby valley. We could also see the rooftops of nearby homes, complete with a multitude of TV antennas, which looked rather odd on such old roofs.
After lunch, we wandered some more, purchasing a few items that took our fancy, including a couple of wooden spoons made from the wood of an olive tree, which has come in very handy in my kitchen at home. It’s great if you can find a useful souvenir. Every time I use it I think of San Gimignano.
There was a shop selling Wild Boar products, which we took a photo of, but didn’t venture inside. We did regret that, but you can’t do it all, can you?
Before leaving, we did go back to the main square, where we visited Gelataria Dondoli – an award-winning gelateria. We couldn’t leave San Gimignano without trying their delectable ice treats to see how they compared to dozens of others we’d already tried! We had to join the queue into the shop, which took about 15 minutes. I’m pleased to report that the gelati was rather good, but not quite as good as La Romana in Rome – it’s still our no. 1 gelateria in Italy!
We were so taken with the beautiful scenery that, on our way into and out of the village, we were tempted to stop to bus we were travelling on and get off to buy ourselves a villa, just like Diane Lane’s character in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun… but we didn’t bring the cheque book!
Although we absolutely loved nearly every part of Italy, Tuscany is one area which we plan to return to and explore in much greater detail.
Have you been to San Gimignano? Did you enjoy it? If not, would you like to visit?
The Besties Do Italy series details how Seize The Day Project’s Lyndall and her long time best friend ventured to Italy to celebrate a significant birthday – sans husbands and children. Shhh, don’t tell anyone they’ve gone!
Read more posts in this fascinating series here:
Positano, you stole a little piece of my heart – Exploring Lake Como: The Greenway Walk – Eternal Rome: I only just met you, but I think I love you – Some Enchanted Evening in Venice – The journey to Cinque Terre: When things didn’t go according to plan – A trip to Villa San Michele, Anacapri – Cooking up an Italian Storm in Roma
Want to read more about this beautiful region? Check out Laura’s post over at Life of a Lady
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