Off the beaten path: San Gimignano, the Italian medieval tower city.
Hold the snarky remarks, yes San Gimignano is no hidden treasure of Italy, but I do find that this wonderful medieval tower city finds itself left off of many tourist itineraries while visiting Italy. Why? Maybe because it does not fit on their said itinerary compared to the hundreds of other things to do and see in this amazing country. That's my only conclusion, aside from travelers not knowing about this city's existence.
This wonderful city finds itself in the Tuscany region of Italy, which is known for its art, architecture, rolling hills and fields, olive oil, wine, and more. While there is much to see in Tuscany, I would recommend finding some time to stop by and see the beautiful and historic city of San Gimignano.
If walls and cobble stone walkways could talk, this city would have lots of history to share. It is believed that it first became officially established as San Gimignano back in the 900's, though there was settlement in this region before that. The exact timeframe of being established therefore is not quite known technically.
Despite this unattainable information, San Gimignano has had a lot of history, and it once contained a fortress between the three walls that compile the inner most part of this hill top city. Today, only 13 of the towers remain in this town, which was the way families in San Gimignano would display their wealth and fortune through the construction of these massive towers. It is hard to believe that 72 towers once graced the cityscape at one point.
For more information and history of San Gimignano, a more detailed recollection can be found by clicking this link to the official website of the Italian city.
If you ever do find yourself in Italy, and find yourself looking for itinerary options for your adventure, I would recommend adding a day here to your list for numerous reasons. The town itself is such a well preserved example of the lifestyle, culture, and architecture of the Italian people. It feels like you are traveling back in time when you walk the narrow cobble stone paths inside and around the perimeter of this city. Of course will need to ignore all of the people on cell phones, and other signs of modern technology. It is still quite humbling.
Another cool feature, is the lack of cars that are allowed inside of this city (few are allowed by permit). This adds to just another unique characteristic that San Gimignano can provide, especially if you are coming from an area where cars are allowed to pretty much go everywhere. Another great example of an interesting city with this type of local law banning vehicles is the city of Zermatt, Switzerland, for which I recently wrote a blog article about as well. Click here to head to that article and read about that wonderful Swiss village.
This is definitely a great spot for history buffs as there are a few museums in the city, along with a creepy torture museum which contains lots of medieval torture devices of the past.
If the culture, art, history, great scenery, and fascinating architecture does not interest you, there are plenty of great shops and restaurants in San Gimignano and the surrounding area!
What to do while in San Gimignano
My favorite thing that I did while in San Gimignano was just wandering the city and exploring all of the walkways and paths throughout this ancient city. It's an easy city to get lost in, that's for sure! You can spend several hours wandering around this city, and still not see it all. Whilst on my walkaround, I ventured into some of the various shops, looked at art, purchased some small souvenirs, got lost, and just sat and enjoyed watching people going about their everyday life. While it is not simpler times anymore, being in this city made me feel like times were simple, if that makes sense.
I had met a Canadian couple I had noticed at the Airbnb I was staying at (I will provide more information to this wonderful stay later on in this article), and had sat down with them to enjoy some of the 'world famous' gelato from Gelateria di Piazza, which is located in the city centre or Piazza della Cisterna. It was a great experience as we reminisced on our Italian travels over fine Italian gelato, despite the fact that they were complete strangers.
If you enjoy gelato, or eating, then I would suggest making some time to stop at Gelateria di Piazza which has a ton of unusual flavors, and usual flavors. I found myself craving gelato as I wrote this article, and hope sometime to return to Italy to have some more. Also, just a heads up, the line for Gelateria di Piazza can get quite long, keep a close eye on it throughout the day and strike up the opportunity when the line dwindles down to avoid waiting forever. Here is a link to the website for this famous gelato stop.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in San Gimignano, explore the towers, or the only tower which the public has access to anyways. This would be the tallest tower in the town which is Torre Grossa. The tower is roughly 177 feet tall, and you do have to pay to climb the metal stairway to the top. It is a relatively cheap admission cost, and you also get the added benefit of an museum at the bottom of the tower that you can visit as well with admission to the tower.
If climbing a lot of flights of stairs, and a narrow entrance/exit to the top of the tower concerns you, this may not be the adventure for you.
The view from the top is absolutely stunning as you look at the Tuscany countryside outside of San Gimignano. It is scattered with beautiful Italian homes, farms, and vineyards. Looking down on the city is a treat itself to see how intricately the city must have been designed.
Explore the cities shops and restaurants.
There is plenty to do while in San Gimignano, and exploring the shops and restaurants might be one of the top things to do. While it may be a tourist trap, these little stores built into this city of stone are quite charming. I found some pretty interesting stores including butcher shops, wine sellers, art stores, and more.
If you were going to purchase anything I would focus on some of the highlights from this area which include, wine (espescially Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which is a famed white wine from San Gimignano, from the Vernaccia grape). The other option would be the famed wild boar meat products.
Where to stay?
While there a quite a few places to stay while in San Gimignano, I will highlight the Airbnb (technically probably a hotel/ Bed and Breakfast just listed on Airbnb) that I stayed at and absolutely loved. This farm stay or bed and breakfast is Fattoria San Donato. Which essentially consisted of staying at a farm and vineyard. There were a lot of cool features about this location, including the wonderful breakfast served every morning, the option of dinner in the evenings, the pools, the quiet and quaint location outside of San Gimignano, or even the imported Icelandic horses that they offer guests rides to. They also have a small store front for wine and olive produced by the farm.
I stayed here for two nights, and remember my stay here quite fondly. If I were to find myself in the San Gimignano region ever again, I would not hesitate to stay here again. It was a perfect place to start wrapping up my lengthy adventure throughout some of the Balkan countries.
What to do if you reach San Gimignano by car?
There are multiple places for you to park your car around the perimeter of the city, though they are lots that need to be paid for. If you stay outside of the city, most locations probably provide parking, and have some sort of shuttle service into the city. I know that Fattoria San Donato had a shuttle that ran periodically throughout the day. The last I checked, there were three large parking locations outside of the city, though the third is a bit of a walk from the city center. If you choose other means of arriving at San Gimignano, this will not be an issue for you!
Everyone is going to have their own must sees that they need to visit while in Italy, but I would definitely make the pitch to make San Gimignano one of those destinations. You would need not more than a day to see what San Gimignano has to offer, and an extra day could be beneficial to not feel rushed.
It is in a sense, off the beaten path, but this ancient city still sees millions of visitors each year, and I imagine iy will continue to for the forseeable future. It definitely does not see some of the similar foot traffic as some of the larger more famous Italian cities experience, that is for sure!
A trip to this ancient medieval tower city would not be regretted.
Enjoy more photos of my time spent in San Gimignano below. As always, I can be reached if you have more questions on traveling to San Gimignano, or what to do.