February 09, 2015

The Tuscan Hill Town of San Gimignano

Thirty miles southwest of Florence in the rolling hills of Tuscany is San Gimignano, the Town of Fine Towers. Our visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a pleasant break from the cultural overload of Florence and Rome. Only 14 of the town’s original 72 towers remain standing but they create a dramatic skyline. And while wandering the streets of this picturesque town I sampled award-winning gelato, a traditional Tuscan sausage and one of Italy’s oldest wines.

San Gimignano, the Town of Fine Towers

San Gimignano is surrounded by two medieval walls and the cobblestone streets are restricted to pedestrian traffic. The walk is all uphill from the parking lot so I was glad I’d worn comfy shoes. We entered through Porta San Giovanni and made our way to the town's main square.

The Main Gate, Porta San Giovanni

Via San Giovanni

Arco dei Becci

Via Palestro

The 13-century well (cistern) on Piazza della Cisterna was once the town’s major source of water. Well-preserved medieval houses and defensive towers line this charming square.

Piazza della Cisterna

The Well on Piazza della Cisterna

The Devil's Tower, Piazza della Cisterna

On the east side of the piazza is the award-winning Gelateria Dondoli where Sergio Dondoli explained the process for making his gelato. His frozen confections are prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients and never more than 24-hours old.

Gelateria Dondoli, Piazza della Cisterna

Fresh Gelato at Gelateria Dondoli

Many Flavours at Gelateria Dondoli

I sampled three of the many unique varieties: Venere Nera (blackberries & lavender), Champelmo (pink grapefruit & sparkling wine) and Crema di Santa Fina (cream with saffron & pine nuts). Also known as “red gold”, saffron comes from the stigma of the crocus flower and has been cultivated in San Gimignano since medieval times.

Venere Nera, Blackberries and Lavender

Three Scoops of Dondoli Gelato

All three flavours were delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day! I was interested to learn that Dondoli also served his tasty gelato to the cast and crew of the 1999 film Tea with Mussolini (link to the movie trailer).

On adjacent Piazza del Duomo is the Romanesque Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta with some fine fifteenth century frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio. These frescoes were featured in scenes from the movie.

Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta

Piazza del Duomo

Piazza del Duomo

For lunch we followed our tour director’s excellent recommendation, Armando e Marcella Pasticceria, for a quick sandwich and a glass of the local Vernaccia wine. This crisp, dry white is one of Italy’s oldest, dating from Renaissance times. And for dessert we chose the Ricciarelli, a traditional almond cookie that originated in Siena.

Armando e Marcella Pasticceria

Tomato, Parma Ham and Mozzarella

Vernaccia Wine


After lunch we browsed the town’s shops which cater mainly to tourists. The windows are filled with colourful ceramics, dried pasta in myriad shapes and colours and cans of local extra-virgin olive oil.

Leoncini Hand-painted Ceramics

Chianti Wine and Pasta

In the specialty food shops where cinghiale or wild boar sausage is sold, ferocious-looking stuffed boars guard bottles of Chianti wine. I sampled the sausage and the meat is very lean with a flavour similar to pork.

San Gimignano Food Shop

Cinghiale, Wild Boar

Tuscan Prosciutto and Salami

Samples of Cheese and Cinghiale or Wild Boar Sausage

On our way back to the parking lot I stopped to admire the view of the countryside below – a peaceful vista of vineyards, cypress trees and terracotta rooftops. Then we returned to Florence for our last night in Tuscany before moving on to the Ligurian coast and the scenic Italian Riviera.

The Tuscan Countryside

Next:  My Bucket List:  Firenze

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