San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena in Tuscany famous for its towers. It is perfect for a day trip from Florence or Siena but also worth visiting if you are on a trip in the Chianti region.
San Gimignano’s medieval architecture is unique particularly with the preservation of around 14 medieval towers which dominate its skyline.
This town used to be a relay point for pilgrims that travelled to and from Rome and the patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 tower-houses (some which were around 50 metres high) as symbols of their wealth and power. Today, 14 have survived making this hilltop town extremely unique particularly when you are approaching it from the countryside.
This town has retained the feudal atmosphere and appearance though like many towns and villages in Tuscany, it is now home to many souvenir shops selling typical Tuscan produce like wines, cheese, salami and ceramics from the region.
Nevertheless, it is the perfect spot to spend a day walking around the medieval town, visiting its art galleries, its cathedral or stopping for a coffee or aperitif, soaking the views from the terrace of the wine museum and wine bar and eating typical Tuscan food in one of the many restaurants that you can find in the town.
The architecture of San Gimignano is clearly Romanesque and Gothic with well preserved buildings such as the Palazzo Comunale, the Collegiate Church and the Church of Sant’ Agostino.
Where to eat: On our visit to San Gimignano we stopped to eat at Osteria del Carcere (Prison). This is a slow food osteria which serves a number of products from one of Italy’s most famous butchers Dario Cecchini. If you do not have time to visit this butcher and his restaurants in Panzano in Chianti, then this is a good chance to try his excellent produce. At the Osteria, you can eat typical Tuscan fare that is slow cooked. We tried the platter of cheese and cured meats from Dario Cecchini which was excellent. We ate the tuna del chianti (pork which is cooked to look similar to canned tuna) as well as turkey stuffed with orange and pistacchios and served with a citrus salad. There are no pasta dishes here but the food is extremely good and the service great.
If you want to walk around, you can stop in any of the cheese shops in the town and ask them to cut you a few slices of pecorino which you can savour while walking around. But make sure to leave some space for an ice-cream from Gelateria Dondoli. He won ice-cream world champion in 2006/2007 and 2008/2009. You will realise why when you taste it but don’t be intimidated by the queues.
Wine: The two is known for its white wine, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the ancient grape varient Vernaccia grape which is grown on the hillsides of the area. If you want to learn more about the Vernaccia di San Gimignano you can visit the Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli which you can find in the walls of an old medieval fortress. From here you will have a splendid view from the highest point of San Gimignano of the city and the surrounding countryside.
The Vernaccia is a perfect wine for an aperitivo or to combine with Tuscan food and particularly its Pecorino cheese.