“San Gimignano dalle belle torri e dalle belle campane, gli uomini brutti e le donne befane” – local proverb
With its enchanting hilltop setting and encircling walls in the heart of the well-known Chianti Wine area in the Tuscany region of Italy, San Gimignano is considered one of the most magical places on Earth. This special town makes you feel as if you have been transported back to the Middle Ages! San Gimignano has a surprising and fascinating history…
Surrounded by its original Etruscan stone walls, the town is located between Siena and Florence. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, San Gimignano was a “rest stop” point for traders and pilgrims who wished to take a break and have a warm drink while on their way to Rome and the Vatican, as it sits along Via Francigena.
Today, San Gimignano is listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site including all of the structures typical of medieval urban life located within its historic town centre such as squares and streets, houses and palaces, wells and fountains.
San Gimignano has 13 unique and perfectly preserved tower houses which create a stunning hilltop skyline. For this reason, San Gimignano is nicknamed “The Town of fine Towers”! History tells us, there used to be 72 tower houses built by rival families, as a symbol of their wealth and power. The rivalry, which fuelled a competition which produced houses of increasing height, some as tall as 50 metres, was finally restrained when one Podestà, the town chief, forbade building towers taller than the one adjacent to the Palazzo Comunale, the Town Hall.
If you wish to discover what the daily life was like in a tower house of the 14th century, you can visit the tallest tower, the Torre Grossa, and climb to the top. You will also enjoy the fantastic views of San Gimignano and its picturesque countryside!
To discover the ancient history of San Gimignano, visit the town’s museums including the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Sacred Art and the Museum of Medieval Crime and Torture. The last one is situated in the dungeon of the Torre della Diavola, the Devil’s Tower, and offers an impressive collection of torture instruments, some of which are still used today in various parts of the world. It will be a terrifying and interesting experience in the creepy world of medieval horrors! All wine lovers and those who want to take great pictures of the enchanting views of San Gimignano’s towers and the countryside can go to Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli, which houses the Vernaccia Wine Museum. This museum offers a visual and olfactory journey through the wines of San Gimignano, as well as wine tasting guided by local sommeliers.
Food, Wine and Tradition
San Gimignano has a great food and wine tradition. The town is one of the National Association of Wine Cities and of the National Association of Olive Oil Cities.
The main product from San Gimignano is Vernaccia DOCG, a dry white wine, which has a long history and, since the Renaissance period, has been considered one of Italy’s oldest and most noble wines. Take a trip down the wine road of “Vernaccia di San Gimignano” and discover this amazing product! Other typical products are San Gimignano Rosso DOC, San Gimignano Rosato DOC, San Gimignano Vinsanto DOC, the Saffron DOP, obtained using natural methods and following a drying process based on the ancient tradition of fire; the Extra-virgin Olive Oil from San Gimignano, which is today one of the essential elements of traditional Italian cuisine and the majority of Tuscan dishes. Other specialties include Pecorino cheese and the local fine-quality honey, as well as a wide range of appetising cured meats like Tuscan Prosciutto DOP, Spalla (shoulder ham), Tuscan Salami, Finocchiona (a traditional salami enriched with seeds of fennel) and Cinta Senese pork.
Weaving in and out of the alleys and under the arches of the squares, you will find delicious-looking restaurants serving the traditional dishes and other places where you can savour a refreshing, genuine, hand-crafted gelato ice-cream. You will be able to spot intriguing traditional shops and boutiques, built right into the old stone walls, which offer wares characteristic of the area such as brightly coloured ceramics, all of them hand painted, and hand-woven tablecloths and other fabrics.
Just a few kilometres west of San Gimignano…
For yet another wonderful experience you can hike your way into the beauty of the Tuscan hills through Castelvecchio Nature Reserve. The walking trails combine natural and historical highlights, such as the fascinating ruins of the Castelvecchio Castle which was an important fort during the medieval period. Trekking along the forest footpath, you will enjoy a spectacular array of Mediterranean scrub and other rare exemplars of plants. Also, walk at a slow and calm pace and you may be able to spot some of the typical fauna of the region, without scaring them off; if you are really lucky, you may also see the exceptionally rare Peregrine Falcon whose winter home is provided by the ruins of the castle!
Have you ever experienced a mediaeval town like San Gimignano? Share your travel memories and tips with other travellers in the comments below and get into the Excellent Gusto Circle!