I started Sunday off right with a gourmet buffet at the hotel with fruit, yogurt, granola, and eggs and coffee too. Then I headed to the main entrance of town to meet up with Shirin who traveled from Siena in the morning. I started off the day by visiting the torture museums, gruesome, but interesting and a big highlight of San Gimignano. A must see if you have time, but if not, get on to main attraction, the Torre Grossa and the main town hall. Shirin and I started by looking around the town hall, which really wasn’t too interesting – the main highlight being the “Sala de Dante”, a very “scandalous” room of frescoes. “Scandalous” in those times mean there was a in image of a woman bathing painted on the wall – gasp! We were ready to climb up to the top of the tower – but watch your head if you decided to do so, I would know.
The top of the tower is a must see view if visiting San Gimignano. You can see for what seems like forever in every direction – miles and miles of Tuscan landscape dotted with farmhouses and vineyards. The tower is the highest point around, and hiking up to the top is worth the breathtaking views. You can also see the entire layout of the town from the top of the tower. Highly recommended! After descending from the tower, we went next door to the Duomo. I had to wear two cover up shawls to enter because my shirt didn’t have sleeves and I was wearing shorts. The docents were not too happy, but there really is no other way if you are visiting Tuscany in late July. The Duomo is a fairly typical Baroque style church and although the frescoes and altars are nice, I found the most interesting painting to be along the back wall of the church; a last Judgement scene. Morbid and foreboding, it was a clear marketing effort from the church to communicate the consequences of sin to a largely illiterate audience.
Upon leaving the church, Shirin and I saw yet another wedding – San Gimignano is a very popular destination wedding spot! We went next to the Museo del Vino Vernacchia. Vernacchia is a local white wine produced using the grapes visible to the eye from the town walls. We decided to do a complete wine tasting of 4 different wines local to the area… yum! If I ever return to San Gimignano, I would try to book one of the museums wine tasting to local vineyards in the area for an even better experience. After sipping our wine, we decided to explore some more churches within the town wall.
We found a beautiful courtyard inside of one church and friendly cats who loved to be petted. We made our way around the town trying to take everything in. For dinner, we stopped at a trattoria right outside the walls. It was around 5:30 and no one was serving dinner yet because in Italy, and especially in a small town like San Gimignano, dinner doesn’t begin to be served until at least 7. Nonetheless, we convinced the trattoria owner to serve us some pasta which we ate quickly before taking one of the last buses out of town down to the train station in Poggibonsi. Then, since of course the bus and train schedules do not match up, we had an hour to walk around Poggibonsi. We met a nice priest who let us into one of the old churches and we took pictures with one of the human statues that are all around the town. From a distance they look like real people, but as you approach you realize that they are not… Interesting to say the least. Finally, the train came to take us back to Pisa for our last few days as Italian au pairs!
Getting to San Gimignano is a lot of work if you don’t take a tour bus, but worth it if you have some extra time in Tuscany and want to get a feel for a medieval city. If short on time, I think a tour that combines San Gimignano with Chianti or Siena would be suitable to get a glimpse of both places. A nice thing about being a traveler on a budget is that you often bypass tourist traps and instead get to experience places as they really are, not in a glossed over perspective.