I long delayed to tell you about my favorite place in Italy… That Tuscan town that is visible from afar with its innumerable high towers… A place that has captured the hearts of millions of tourists and sealed the memory of the Middle Ages… It is as if a walk in the past is every step behind its city gates… Time stops here to move back in the years… “The City with the Towers”, “Medieval Manhattan”, “The Tuscany Charm” and many more names are associated with San Gimignano – our new stop in the “Tuscan Landscapes” series!
Where is San Gimignano located and can we get there by public transport?
San Gimignano is located in Siena Province, Tuscany Region. It is located between Florence (60 km) and Siena (42 km). Both cities are easily reached by train and bus, but with а change in Poggibonsi. The bus is a little easier to navigate, leaving you right at the stop from where to catch the next one (the stop is also close to the train station). Along the route, runs the regular line 131 (Florence – Siena) and the transfer in Poggibonsi is to number 130 (Poggibonsi – San Gimignano). I advise you to buy a ticket in advance on both routes. Ticket office addresses – HERE. Bus schedule – HERE – write the initial and final point of the trip (the site has the Italian version only). The prices for the route are: Siena – San Gimignano – 6.20 euros and San Gimignano – Florence – 6.80 euros. We used this sequence, as we departed from Siena – Piazza Antonio Gramsci. There’s also a ticket office. As I told you, get your ticket in advance from San Gimignano (no matter to where), because there is no cash desk there, and tickets from the driver are more expensive. In Florence we got off at the main stop – the Firenze Autostazione.
How to get there by car?
In my opinion… the best way to travel in Tuscany is by car! Because of the beautiful scenery and the opportunity to stop anywhere… It is definitely preferred! But… it has its downsides. As you may guess, parking is not easy… There are two options – you stay in the paid parking lot for the evening and spend the night in the city or find an overnight place with parking space. Keep in mind that the second option isn’t possible if you want to sleep behind the walls of San Gimignano…
Parking and overnights
First option… there are several paid parking lots that can be used. The most profitable financially is Parcheggio Giubileo P1 – € 1.50 per hour and € 6 per day. But it is the farthest… The rest are priced at € 15 and € 20. You can see all the possibilities on the site of the town – HERE. If you opt for this option, I would recommend a great and budget place for stay – A La Casa Dei Potenti. An old building with a wonderful location in the heart of the city!
Option two… Places with private parking are limited a bit, most of them are farther from the city center… On my first visit, I used this option, and I recommend it – Appartamenti Il Criollo. It is located right next to the fortress wall and has a small parking lot for three cars, a lovely breakfast and a very nice view.
From the medieval streets of San Gimignano
Okay… you left your car and your luggage… or just your luggage… or just came for a few hours to visit San Gimignano and go elsewhere afterwards (for the latter I do not advise you). No matter which of the three you choose, you can start the tour from Porta San Giovanni. Crossing the threshold of it, you are already in one place dating from the 3rd century BC. Established as a small Etruscan settlement, later renamed San Gimignano (Saint Geminian by Modena), the small town reached its prosperity in the 13th – 14th centuries. Then its present appearance is being built, but with the difference that many of its buildings have failed to be preserved…
The main street is Via San Giovanni
On the main street via San Giovanni are many interesting wine shops, local delicacies, fine cafes and more… And imagine that less than a millennium ago many pilgrims and merchants were walking around because of the proximity to Via Francigena – the former road connecting Rome and northern Europe… This also gave a great deal of prosperity to the place. As you think… and now it’s no different… Tourists from Florence and Siena are come in the morning in the town and picked up in the evening… The proximity to the two major Tuscan cities makes San Gimignano a very attractive tourist destination…
The most beautiful view
Shortly before the heart of the city, we will head slightly to one of my favorite places… A panoramic ground that offers great views of the endless fields of the fertile Val d’Elsa valley and some of the city’s medieval buildings. Definitely one of the most beautiful places in San Gimignano! I give you the exact location HERE.
The main squares of San Gimignano
To reach the two main squares, the Piazza della Cisterna and the nearby Piazza del Duomo, we have to go through one of the most beautiful arches in San Gimignano – Arco dei Becci. It was part of the former original gates of the city before its expansion.
And the name of the first square comes from the middle of the Cistern… or well. And to this day it is there, surrounded by numerous medieval buildings and several towers. And of course… one of the most famous Gelateria in Italy – Dondoli! The famous ice cream of Maestro Sergio Dondoli must be tasted! The magic of this square is hard to tell, it has to be lived…
Nearly attached to it is the Piazza del Duomo. Here is the Cathedral of San Gimignano, a few more towers, palaces, as well as the municipality… The cathedral is magnificent and worth a visit! Also the tallest tower – Torre Grossa.
It’s time for lunch!
But … let’s have a bit of a meal first, it’s still around noon. The variety is huge and most of the places are delicious! But there are some that are quite expensive … Our solution was in the golden environment – great quality at decent prices. And so we headed for Echoes. The small restaurant is literally hidden in the fortress walls and it is not easy to find… The kind owners offer several main dishes and specialties of the restaurant – bruschetta! When you hear the bruschetta, don’t imagine small slices of bread… As it says from the entrance… Le bruschette sono grandi or translated – The Bruschetta is very big! And the variety – 66 species! Perfect choice with a glass of cold white wine, preferably the local Vernaccia. And I will only insert the only negative… no space outside…
Back to the Cathedral – Collegiata
Already satiated, we head back to the Duomo. At first glance, the boring facade on the outside hides unique murals inside! Entrance fee is € 4… only for the cathedral. But there are many combined ticket options that include other of San Gimignano’s landmarks (including variants with Torre Grossa).
The Cathedral itself dates from the 12th century, but changed dramatically in the 15th century. As I mentioned, the exterior contrasts with the interior of the temple… Beautiful arches in white and black marble and many colored murals… This is what awaits you inside.
San Gimignano from above – Torre Grossa
I mentioned you several times about the towers, one of the symbols of San Gimignano… And the tallest is Torre Grossa and the only one we can climb today. And if you are already wondering why there are so many towers… it’s time to answer the question! In fact, nowadays there are only 14… Only?? Well… 14 left out of a total of 72 towers! Well… the famous towers began to appear in the 12th century. They came up with two basic ideas – to provide shelter to their owners and to show prosperity. In addition to the second, the higher the tower, the higher the standard you demonstrate! Something very important for the aristocrats and thanks to which, San Gimignano has received a unique vision!
Climbing the steps of Torre Grossa, we have endless views of the Tuscan fields… I’m not convinced that anywhere else in the world there can be a similar synchronization between the vineyards, the olive groves and the many cypress trees that rise around them… Tuscan idyll! And looking down… the squares and medieval buildings… The whole town at our feet…
The courtyard and the view over Via Costarella
I forgot to mention you about the courtyard before you go to the tower… Very beautiful and nice! One more tip, go up the stairs and go to the terrace to Via Costarella… Great view, right? The old street, meandering between typical houses and over their roofs… Tuscan fields!
To Sant’Agostino Church
We head down the other main street in San Gimignano – Via San Matteo. It takes us to the other end and does not give way to the diversity and beauty of Via San Giovanni. It has many delicatessen shops where you can taste all kinds of cheeses and sausages. It is also often crossed by narrow streets leading to the fortress walls and small restaurants located on them…
At the end of the street, just before leaving the fortress walls, you have to turn right… And you will find yourself at the spacious Piazza San Agostino, bearing the name of the church in the corner. It dates from the 13th century and is the most important church building after the Duomo. We were fortunate enough to see a local choir… It was great to sit down for a while and just listen to them…
The remains of Rocca Fortress
We go back to the Piazza del Duomo and turn right before it, to the Piazza delle Erbe… In San Gimignano you can go and return to different places several times, the distances are very short! Well, the charming square reveals some nice views of the city and the towers, and we pass through it to reach the remains of the former fortress Rocca.
And if you expect a grand fortress, you will be disappointed… But the park, with its olive trees and beautiful views, is worth a look… Apart from the fields around the city, there is a great view of part of the towers…
Back to Via Costarella
Do you remember the alley in the terrace under the Torre Grosse tower? Yeah… let’s get back to it! It’s my favourite! Because of the lack of crowds of tourists, even though it is just a stone’s throw from the center… Also because of the ivy house, it’s great! It wrapped almost all of the facade and left only the wooden shutters to open… I shot it on both my visits, it is so magnetic…
View of the San Gimignano Towers
For a little while we will go beyond the fortresses… You will certainly no longer meet many tourists here, you may not even meet anyone… This place can be a bonus to the tourist tour of the city… Along the way you will see a sign for the direction of Via Francigena, but you have to take the opposite way – along Via Vecchia per Poggibonsi! The narrow and dusty street will take you to incredible views of the fine towers of San Gimignano! From here you can clearly see the strategic location of the city… The alternating uneven shapes of the fields, sculpt a great valley beneath the sunlit towers. And the typical cypresses are neatly arranged under the ancient buildings! You can find the exact location HERE.
Night serenade on the square
We saw everything! It remains to feel the city… And the best time for this is the evening! I told you in the beginning that I do not recommend you to come for just a few hours… The buses have already exported the groups of tourists and there are far fewer people on the streets… Not only that… there is a fragrance of medieval romance! The heart of the city is Piazza della Cisterna! Take a drink from a nearby place and sit around the well in the middle or directly in the square… And there… there will be street musicians to contribute to the wonderful atmosphere… Now is the best time for ice cream (Gelato)! And the place is certainly clear… Gelateria Dondoli!
P.S. Dinner places are really great! But… San Gimignano is one of the bit towns that makes you want to just grab a pizza and sit down to eat it on the steps of Piazza del Duomo…
Morning in Tuscany
Did you get the impression that many of my photos up here are free of the crowds of people I talk to you about repeatedly? And no… I did not remove them with photoshop… It is impossible to take such photos during the day… I left you something for the final, another tip… Another opportunity to get a better feel for the town… Get up early! First of all! Believe me… there is nothing better in San Gimignano than feeling the city awaken! Stroll through the deserted streets and see the merchants who start opening their shops… Breathe in the morning Tuscan air! Is unique! Do you remember the panoramic playground at the beginning of the walk? Yeah… It’s the perfect place to enjoy the rising sunshine that bathed the endless fertile fields… This is a true Tuscan landscape!