The ancient hilltop town of San Gimignano in Tuscany is said to be dated from 63BC when two brothers from Rome built the first two castles on top of its hill. It has since had a long, chequered history, resulting in a fascinating mix of architecture and art.
Attracting wealthy families from surrounding areas, it was once home to 72 towers, constructed as a display of the wealth and power of its residents. Just 14 of these towers still survive, offering an unforgettable skyline to this medieval town. Within its fortressed walls you will find well preserved examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture as well as spectacular churches.
What to do
Recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site, this historic town is the perfect place to explore on foot, step back in time as you wonder San Gimignano's ancient streets its layers of history just waiting to be discovered.
First head to the 11th century Duomo di San Gimignano. Behind its modest Romanesque walls you will find a spectacular interior, heavily adorned with stunning frescoes depicting episodes from the old and new testaments, as well as the town's patron saints. Vivid in breathtaking colour, these frescoes remain untouched since they were first created in the 13th century. For more masterpieces, head to the Museum of sacred art. The church holds several treasures from the Collegiata and nearby churches and convents, including a beautiful wooden panel and crucifix as well as fragments from detailed frescoes of The Duomo.
Head next door to climb the Torre Grossa at the Palazzo Comunale. Dating from 1298 and at 54 meters high, it is the tallest tower in Gimignano, also the only one open to the public. Climb the 218 steps to the top for spectacular views over the town and surrounding countryside.
For modern art lovers a visit to Galleria Continua is a must. One of the best commercial galleries in Europe and home to pieces from big name artists such as Anthony Gormley, Ai Weiwei and Daniel Buren. Its setting across four ancient venues around this historic city offer a spectacular juxtaposition of old and new. For a bit of retail therapy explore the shops nestled into the stone walls of the streets and alleys of San Gimignano. You'll find Italian leather, speciality foods as well as ceramic and wine shops, perfect for picking up a local memento.
What to eat
You will find the streets of San Gimignano lined with attractive restaurants and gelatarias. For modern Italian, try the newly established Olivieri Bistrot. Located on the major pedestrian spine of the town it offers an attractive modern interior, friendly service and an exciting menu. For a cosy gourmet restaurant try Dorando, set in a 14th century mansion it offers ancient stonework and vaulted brick ceilings, its walls adorned with work of local artists. This upmarket spot specialises in recipes from the past as well as an extensive wine list.
For a popular spot, head to Ristorant La Mandragola. Nestled in the crumbling stone walls this deservedly popular spot offers delicious handmade pasta dishes in its stunning courtyard garden. Choose one of its set menus, which offer fantastic value for money. Be sure to book ahead though.
Cool off with a gelato at the world famous Gelataria di Piazza. Situated in the centre of Piazza della Cisterna and offering a variety of creative flavours, this popular gelataria can be easily identified by the long queues trailing out of its door.
At the end of the day, when the crowds have gone, enjoy an aperitivo at D!Vineria. This small wine bar offers an amazing view as well as serving delicious wine, small plates and cold meat platters.
How to get there
The easiest way to arrive in San Gimignano is by car. There are car parks situated in the south and the north of the town. If arriving from the north head to either P1 Giubileo (€6 per day) or P2 Montemaggio (€15 per day) and if coming from the south head to P3 Bagnaia Superiore (€15 per day) or P4 Bagnaia Inferiore (€15 per day)
Although there is no train station in San Gimignano, the nearest can be found at Poggibonsi, from where it is possible to get a bus into town. The 130 bus runs approx twice an hour in the mornings and can be caught right outside the train station.
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