Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: August 2022
San Gimignano is a charming town located on a hilltop in the Tuscany countryside. It is known as the Town of Fine Towers. During medieval times, seventy two tower-houses were built by rich families to showcase their wealth. Today, only fourteen remain. Encircled by an ancient wall, San Gimignano also contains other medieval architecture and provides sweeping views of the surrounding area.
One of the main reasons for our trip to Italy was to go to my friend’s wedding. We had rented a car for a few days to get to the venue, which was located near the border between Tuscany and Umbria. Since the welcome dinner wasn’t until 7p.m, we figured we’d make the most of having a car and explore some of the smaller towns in the area.
After eating an early breakfast, we packed our stuff, checked out of our accommodations and picked up our car rental. From Florence it’s about an hour drive to get to San Gimignano. While driving in Italy went much smoother than expected, finding parking on the other hand was a nightmare. While there are a few parking lots located just outside of the town walls, there were signs to indicate that they were all full. After waiting several minutes at the last parking lot to come up with an alternative plan, we caught a lucky break and found someone who was just leaving. Perfect.
We strolled through the narrow streets towards the Piazza del Duomo, a square located in the heart of San Gimignano which provided a nice view of the surrounding towers. We figured we might as well get our workout out of the way by climbing Torre Grossa (the “big tower”), which is the tallest of the towers and is located in the Palazzo Comunale.
Torre Grossa was once used as a watchtower and bell tower. Today, it is the only tower in San Gimignano that is open to the public. It stands at 54 metres (or 177 feet) and there are 218 stops to reach the top. The staircase itself was pretty straightforward and the steps were wide, except for the last stretch which involves climbing up a steep ladder to reach the roof. It was well worth the effort for a panoramic view of the town and surrounding countryside.
On the way back down, we visited the Museo Civico, which is also part of the Palazzo Comunale. The museum consists of a collection of frescoes along the walls and other artwork.
Afterwards we visited the Duomo of San Gimignano. While the outside facade of the church looks rather unassuming, inside it contains a beautiful collection of frescoes painted all over the ceiling and walls.
To refuel, we stopped for some pizza and found a shaded spot to eat our lunch. We then visited the San Gimignano 1300, a “museum” (if it can be called that, but hey, it was free) that showcases a miniature model of what San Gimignano looked like back in 1300, back when there were many more house-towers.
We started to make our way back to the car and stopped at Sant’Agostino, a church which is reputed to contain more beautiful frescoes. We wouldn’t know as it was closed when we visited. We’ll just have to use our imagination. We didn’t mind so much as we got to explore more of the town.
From there we continued our drive through the quiet countryside towards the border of Umbria.