San Gimignano is a charming walled hilltop town. It is about halfway between Florence and Siena and is famous for its fascinating medieval architecture and towers that rise above of all the other buildings. These towers offer an impressive view of the city and the surrounding valley. As the town was about a day’s trek to Siena or Florence in the Middle Ages, it was a good stopover for pilgrims en route from those cities to Rome.
From Florence one can easily make a day trip to San Gimignano. The old town centre is not big. You can reach main sites within a few minutes. The highlights and some interesting facts are as follow.
Movie sets in San Gimignano
Not only Florence is one of the most seen cities in the movies, but also some small places in Tuscany appear as the scenery of many movies set. San Gimignano is among them.
One of the earlier movies, for example, “Prince of Foxes”, were partially shot in San Gimignano. A later movie was “Tea with Mussolini”, which was about a group of aristocratic cultured English ladies try to heroically defend the city’s ancient towers from the attack from German army. The Piazza Cisterna is where many of the film’s scenes were shot.
Two main squares
The triangular Piazza della Cisterna
The triangular Piazza della Cisterna is a beautiful triangular piazza ornamented with a lovely old stone well (no longer used) in the middle. Rustic-yet-proud facades crowd in a tight huddle around the well. This is where a Thursday market gathers. If you have seen the movie “Tea with Mussolini”, maybe you can recognize it.
It has a skyline of medieval towers, including the stone Torre Grossa. The Duomo di San Gimignano is a 12th-century church with frescoes cycles which include works from Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Taddeo di Bartolo, Lippo Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi. UNESCO describes these frescoes as “works of outstanding beauty”.
Museums worth to visit
There are several museums worth to visit:
- The Museum of Sacred Art
- The Museo della Tortura di San Gimignano, south of the center, is a torture museum displaying grim medieval instruments of torture.
- Museo del Vino Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a museum with exhibits on the town’s signature white wine.
- Ornithological Museum, An ornithological collection of great historical and naturalistic interest which dates back to the second half of 19C AD.
By the end of the Medieval Era, a dispute started between two economically powerful families living in San Gimignano. As a result of this rivalry, each family built better and higher towers to show its economical stability and power. The trend resulted in a total of 72 towers in all. In 1255 a law was passed that no tower could be built higher than the Torre Rognosa. The passing of the law led to an end to the long rivalry.
Located at Piazza del Duomo, next to the Palazzo del Podestà, the 54 meters high Torre Grossa is the highest tower in San Gimignano. After a steep climbing one can observe the town of San Gimignano and the magnificent view of surrounding Toscany countryside. The entrance ticket of the tower is also valid for other attractions.
San Gimignano is also a food and wine town. Vernaccia, one of Italy’s finest white wines produced exclusively in and around the hill town of San Gimignano. Another product for which San Gimignano is known is saffron. Besides, there are many shops offer typical local food, from cheese, hams, desert, spices to kitchen tools made from olive trees or clay pots.
These shops are not big so one can easily shop around and find some delicatessen. In the summer time two local ice cream shops tend to have the most business. The Gelato Dondoli has won many prize and therefore there is always a long queue in front of it. But there is another one several steps next to it offers equally good quality ans tasty ice cream.
Many local restaurants have very attractive menu. We had a quick snack in a small eatery which only offers some small dishes for wine tasting purpose. I tried Burrata, a fresh Italian buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains stracciatella and cream. The combination gives it an unusual and soft texture. I could not get enough of it. Therefore it becomes one of many memorable Italian food I have tried during my 9-Day trip to Tuscany.
A drawing found in one restaurant describe the best what an Italian likes:
Tickets & Tours
To experience Tuscany culture and lifestyle you should also join some of the best selling tours. Some tours combine with other popular destinations which offer great value at reasonable prices.
Where to stay
San Gimignano is also a good base to explore the neiboughring place, such as Siena and other hilltop villages. There are plenty of of accommodations available. Check offers at Booking.com.
How to get to San Gimignano
Buses to Sam Gimignano leave from Florence’s bus station (next to the train station) hourly, and take 1.25 to 2 hours including a change in Poggibonsi for €6. From Siena there are €5.20, 75-minute bus rides (5 a day), again with a change in Poggibonsi. Volterra has 4 buses to San Gimignano every day, that take 2 hours and change in Colle di Val d’Elsa. Sunday buses are fewer and more crowded.
Buses leaving San Gimignano depart from Porta San Giovanni, with tickets sold at the bar just inside the gate or at the Tourist Info. You should always check the buses schedule ahead.
If you drive your car there, then you have to park outside of walls. There are many parking lots and the parking fee is around 2Euro/hr.
The historical town has no train station, but you can easily reach San Gimignano by taking a train to Poggibonsi (labelled “Poggibonsi-S.G.”) and then a bus from the Poggibonsi train station to San Gimignano.