And finally, here I was on my way to San Gimignano, the small walled medieval hill town in the provinence of Siena, Tuscany.
Though I was still catching my breath from the sprint I had to make to take the bus from Siena to San Gimignano, I already started smiling as I looked out my window to see the beautiful Tuscany Italy. I was glad I took the bus ride for the route was different from what I saw during my train ride. People say that Tuscany is an area one should explore by driving instead of taking trains. While I adore my train traveling methods, after hopping onto that bus ride, I now understood what they meant. For I was able to witness views like this…..!
From Siena, one can reach San Gimignano via bus or train which takes about 60-80 minutes. But because this ancient village is on top of a hill -yes literally on top of a hill!- even if one takes a train one will have to get off at Pggibonsi-S.G. to change into a bus. While the location seems inconvenient for train travelers, the bus rides were frequent and easy to use from Poggibonsi-S.G. (or even from Siena or Florence) for many people get off this station to reach San Gimignano. There are also buses from Florence, but probably the easiest and most flexible way to enjoy is if you are driving with your own (or rented) car.
This was going to be interesting for me. I have heard so much about this place before that I was curious how good it really was going to be. Every time I asked someone, “Where should I visit in Tuscany?” Almost 8 out of 10 would always mention San Gimignano. And I always wondered why. I mean, I flipped through some photos of this location via internet (which is how I have determined if my locations were worthwhile for me to take a long train ride) and what I did see online didn’t really impress me. I mean, yes seeing ancient places is cool. But the stone-walled pictures didn’t really look that exciting. So I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Oh and suddenly, I spotted the village from far away! Wow. Well, I said to myself. I shall decide what this village has to offer when I see in person.
That turned out to be a good thought, for when I got off that bus ride, full of tourists by the end of the drive, I found myself standing in front of a great wall town. The walls were so tall that I still didn’t have a clue what I was about to discover here. I had a quick look at my next return bus time and made my way slowly towards the entrance in which a crowd was forming to enter. And as I made that turn into the entrance of the village of San Gimignano, I had to drop my mouth in surprise. I mean, WOW!!
I had to stand at this spot for few minutes at awe. This was pretty cool…and soon within the next few hours my “pretty cool” impression quickly changed into “pretty awesome” and into a place where one could say its “pretty worthwhile a visit!” As I slowly walked up the hill center where one sees the tower, though surrounded by tourists, I would pass by shops like this. Aren’t they so cute?
Though it was hot, there was also a cool breeze. I mean, even the sky was so blue that all my photos taken at this place turned out great!
Before we continue to be dazzled by this place, allow me to inform you a bit more background about this village. (I didn’t know it was considered a village, but apparently because this place is so small it is a village. Who knew a village could be so worthwhile a visit for people all over the world!)
As I said, this is a small walled medieval hill town in Tuscany. It is mainly famous for its medieval architecture and its towers which can be seen from several kilometers outside the town. (That is why I could even spot it from my bus ride to the village.) San Gimignano was founded as a small village in the 3rd century BC. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, it was a stopping point for Catholic pilgrims on their way to Rome and the Vatican. The city’s development also was improved by the trade of agricultural products from the fertile neighboring hills. The city flourished until 1348 when the Black Death that affected all of Europe compelled it to submit to Florence. However, it became famous again in the 19th century when its status as a touristic and artistic resort began to be recognized.
The cities fame largely rely on its old towers. Unlike Florence or most cities in Italy where most towers were destroyed during the war or due to catastrophes or urban development, San Gimignano has managed to conserve fourteen towers of varying height which have become its international symbol.
So perhaps you are thinking of what I was thinking when I first read this, as in “is it worth a visit?” It seemed odd that so many people would recommend a place that didn’t have more information than this. I mean, its white wine is also lovely too…but…still? Fourteen towers? Hm. But when someone says 8/9 out of 10 that is a good place to go or a good place to eat, one should at least try to see why the majority decided to give such a vote. Maybe they were all wrong. Maybe they are all right, but one should decide on its own by checking it out on its own. Hence, I did. And I’m happy to say, after my visit, that I will consider myself voting for “visit San Gimignano if your going to Tuscany.” And these are some top reasons why..
1. The unique historical wall and towers. Somehow I have been visiting a number of cities with unique architecture, and San Gimignano definitely fit in this category of uniqueness. While Siena was beautiful and fun in its own way, San Gimignano was a different one too. Here I share some photos I have taken during my time there, but I must emphasize how much more amazing this place is when you are seeing this in person. (In fact, every time I visit somewhere this theme of thought is reminded – that when you actually visit places in person, it is more amazing and exciting than one could think of. Even if you have seen a bazillion times of that image or place in photos.)
2. The amazing Tuscany view that you can see from the tower. That’s right, it’s not just the city of San Gimignano that you can see when you go up this tower, but the entire region of Tuscany. You can see pretty far out because this village is on top of the hill, so your sight goes pretty far out. In fact, if you are lucky like me and have made a visit when the sky is so clear, you will be able to appreciate a wonderful view of Tuscany. I just had to stand there and smile with glee. I was just too happy staying there. I didn’t want to leave!
Plus, because during my wait up to the tower I was able to befriend a new French couple! It started because I heard them speaking in French with questioning of something. I tried to assist them by answering in my little elementary French. After chatting away in half French and half English, I quickly learned that they were Opera singers from Paris, and when I told them how much I loved Opera, they said “tell me the next time you’re in Paris!” And so, here is how the Tuscany magic works. You meet great people and make new friends! In fact, thanks to them I was able to take such a wonderful photo at the top of the tower!
3. Secret passages all around the city. While the building itself is interesting, the narrow walled streets are the other fun part of this city. Every corner there is a street that seems to lead somewhere else. I felt like Aladdin where I had to do pick-a-boo at every other corner and seek out some new discoveries. In fact, I did, at most places.
For instance, when I walked a small corner, I came across places like this! Pretty amazing right? Hence you can’t really go wrong by turning into any corner within here. Remember, San Gimignano VILLAGE is pretty small so its easy to explore.
4. Relax in Italian style over some local wine and food. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do this. BUT, the next time I come, I am planning on doing this because not only did I see so many cafes but I saw so many enjoying their afternoon in this way and it looked pretty nice. Plus, not only are San Gimignano’s wines famous, but its “free” wine tasting is an experience in itself. Though I didn’t test out different wines personally, I did see many trying out. (I was afraid that few glasses will make me tipsy to miss my bus to my next destination..)
But, I did have my Italian gelato! I tried two and this was one of the famous ones. It’s easy to tell because it claims that it is famous. So the next time your here, check this place out! It’s easy to spot because it’s in the middle of the city center and there was a long line of people.
The sun was getting hot, and I didn’t have enough time to check out all the museums but the one I did visit was nice. Plus, the city itself was a historical museum that I didn’t really felt like I needed to go inside the museums to feel going back into history. I couldn’t stop myself from taking pictures. Every corner was so beautiful that I couldn’t wait to tell my friends who have told me that “Monica you need to visit San Gimignano!” I was happy that I could return to them and say “Thank you guys, I loved your recommendation!”
My return bus time was approaching but I didn’t feel like saying goodbye. The streets were still quite busy with tourists but it didn’t feel so crammed either. Perhaps because of this open air atmosphere, it didn’t feel crammed at all.
The breeze was still good. I closed my eyes, I wanted to remember this. Remember this moment. And I did.
Continue reading…and check out part 3 where I head to Pisa!