Hundreds of years ago the people of San Gimignano could surely never have imagined that rather than being struck down by the plague or murdered or tortured by invading forces that these days they would instead be in danger of being run down by a stampede of tour groups.
Our first visit to San Gimignano was on a Sunday. Not only were lots of Italian families visiting and enjoying lunch in the town there were also bus loads of tour groups trawling the ancient streets. We were left feeling a bit “ho-hum” .
Thank goodness we gave San Gimignano another chance. We returned on a quiet weekday and the town was able to reveal its charm and we completely understood why it is so very special and one of the iconic hill towns of Tuscany.
The vision of San Gimignano in the distance is truly breathtaking. That a town of medieval “skyscrapers” still stands after hundreds of years is incredible.
Thanks to our son we discovered the medieval walled town of Monteriggioni. He knew about it from a computer game and was keen to visit. It doesn’t turn up much in the guide books as it is a tiny little place but this is part of its charm.
Some places in Tuscany can be really crowded (see section on Sundays in San Gimignano). But Monteriggioni was very quiet.
And we were able to peacefully explore the small town and enjoy lunch in the lovely piazza. Local specialities were enjoyed – including wild boar as well as risotto with zucchini and saffron. (It turns out that the San Gimignano region is famous for saffron – though in medieval times it was for dyeing clothes rather than cooking.)
Here’s the wild boar and produce in a speciality store…
Monteriggioni was built by the Sienese in the early 13th century as a fortification to protect Siena during their war with Florence.
To keep the kids entertained on the windy roads we sold Volterra as the home of the “Voltari” vampires from the Twilight saga books. (Though the movie was actually filmed in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano further south, Volterra is still capitalising on its connection to the Twilight saga.)
Volterra is yet another impressive hill town of Tuscany.
The incredible ruins of a Roman arena also highlight the beautiful vistas of the surrounding countryside.
Siena is steeped in history, having been one of the major centres of the region for over a thousand years. Before heading to Italy I had read a fascinating book that touched on the history of Siena and its warring families. There is also legend that the true origins of the Romeo & Juliet story originated in Siena, not Verona.
The main piazza of Siena is the Piazza del Campo where the famous horse race the Palio is held each summer as it has been for hundreds of years.
The Cathedral of Siena – or Duomo – is one of the most beautiful cathedrals we have ever seen.
The interior is incredible.
Each of the detailed mosaic marble floor panels telling a different story.
Click HERE for Tuscany official tourism website