San Gimignano is Italy’s Medieval Manhattan with its skyline of fourteen stone towers rising dramatically from the Tuscan countryside. Originally there were 72 towers, some as tall as 50 meters, each built by San Gimignano’s patriarch families in a competition and display of their wealth. Seven of the remaining towers stretch up under the Tuscan sun around Piazza del Duomo. So what is there to do in Medieval Manhattan? Here’s our list of 7 things to do in San Gimignano:
1. Explore La Rocca di Montestaffoli
Walk up the hill from Piazza delle Erbe to La Rocca di Montestaffoli, the ruins of the 14th century fortress above the town. Lovely olive groves provide a bit of shade from the sun and a great place to enjoy salami on a baguette while taking in the views of the rolling Tuscan hills and the towers rising from the town center. Roving musicians like the harpist pluck out classical tunes while artists set up their easels and paint. In summer, there is an outdoor cinema and you can learn more about Tuscany’s best known white wines at the Museo del Vino (Wine Museum).
Museo del Vino: open April to October Thursdays – Mondays 11am to 7pm and Wednesdays 3pm – 7pm. Admission is free and wine tasting is available for a small charge.
Torre Gross, the tallest tower at 54 meters (177 feet) in height and dating from 1298, is the only tower open to the public. Climb to the top for views over the picturesque countryside.
Admission is €5 and is included with the combo ticket for the Museo Civico.
3. Drink Vernaccia di San Gimignano
When you think of Tuscany, you probably think of Chianti. But the vineyards around San Gimignano produce the white wine grape Vernaccia, so famous it was even mentioned in Dante’s Inferno. Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a crisp white wine with citrus fruit flavors. Enotecas dot the medieval streets and you can even get a plastic glass to go, which you can take to one of the many panorama viewpoints to enjoy while gazing over the stone Tuscan farm houses and rolling green hills.
4. Cool off with gelato
The world-famous Gelateria di Piazza is right in the center of Piazza della Cisterna and has a variety of creative flavors like saffron or pink grapefruit with sparkling wine. You’ll easily recognize it because there is always a line out the door.
Shops and boutiques built right into the stone walls line the alleys of San Gimignano. You’ll find specialty food, wine, leather, and ceramic shops. Fine Italian leather can be found for much less than in nearby Volterra or Florence. Window shopping might tempt you to make a purchase and come home with two new leather bags like I did.
Gourmet shops all throughout San Gimignano sell local wild boar sausage. It even comes with red wine, truffles, fennel, or pine seeds and is thinly sliced and served on a crusty baguette drizzled with olive oil. Grab a salami baguette and a bottle of Vernaccia and head up to La Rocca for a picnic lunch.
Agriturismo Taverna di Bibbiano looks directly at San Gimignano with outdoor tables on the edge of a hillside planted with a lavender field. There’s hardly a more romantic spot to sip on wine and have dinner while watching the sun set over the towers. The menu changes regularly based upon what ingredients are in season as everything comes fresh from the farm. We dined on a pear salad drizzled with balsamic glaze and Tuscan meatballs in a Chianti sauce accompanied by grilled, stuffed tomatoes. We sipped a bottle of Chianti as we watched the sun slowly dip behind the hills. A warm chocolate and pear tart was a sweet finish to our perfect little meal.
So what’s an agriturismo anyway? In Italy, it is a farm that is open to guests to experience the slower, rural lifestyle of Italy. Agriturismi (plural of agriturismo) usually serve food to guests prepared from raw materials produced on the farm, often have at least one room where guests can stay, and many have relaxing pools. And no, they won’t put you to work gathering eggs for your breakfast. The most work you’ll do while staying at an agriturismo is deciding which book to read while lounging poolside.
Know Before You Go
But if the Italian driving experience is a little too adventurous for you, you can get to San Gimignano by bus in around 1 hour 30 minutes from Florence. The BusItalia Nord (formerly SITA) bus company departs from the Santa Maria Novella bus depot and takes you to Poggibonsi. From there you catch the local bus to San Gimignano.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites we’ve visited here.