No Tuscany villa holiday would be complete without a trip to San Gimignano. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990, San Gimignano is one of Tuscany’s most famous towns. Its skyline is instantly recognisable thanks to its dramatic towers. Of the 72 originally built, only 14 remain today. On the flip side, its fame does mean that it can get very busy. During the Summer months, it is a bit of a tourist hot spot. As a result, at peak times of year, we recommend you try and visit either first thing in the morning before the crowds have arrived, or last thing in the day, when the crowds have gone home for the day. Whatever you do, don’t let the crowds put you off though. San Gimignano is well worth a visit during your Tuscany villa holiday.
What to see and do in San Gimignano
Any visit to San Gimignano has to start in San Gimignano’s Medieval centro storico. This is where you will find the Piazza della Cisterna, a triangular shaped square where you will find a number of towers to admire. These include the Torre del Diavolo (Devil’s Tower) and the two Torri Ardinghelli as well as the remains of a couple of towers at Casa Razzi and Palazzo Tortoli. The towers were originally fortified homes for rich families, each tower built to rival the one that came before it.
From here, take a walk along the Via del Castello to the Piazza del Duomo. This is where you will find the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. This Romanesque church originally dates back to the 12th century but it was enlarged in the mid 15th century by Giuliano da Maiano. The exterior of the building is actually very plain however the interior is home to a number of incredible frescoes including works by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Bartolo di Fredi and Barna da Siena amongst others.
The Piazza del Duomo is also where you’ll find the two Torre Salvucci. When the towers were built, there was a statute in place which limited the height of the towers to that of the Podesta Tower. And so, the Salvucci family built two towers, whose combined height was taller than the Podesta, annoying their bitter rivals, the Ardinghelli family. To the left of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is the Palazzo del Popolo. The tower of this building is the 54 metres tall Torre Grossa. This is the tallest tower in the town and it’s also the only tower in San Gimignano which visitors are able to climb. It’s certainly worth doing so to enjoy the incredible vista over the Val d’ Elsa from the top, views that stretch as far as the Apuan mountains. The Palazzo del Popolo is also where you will find the Municipal Art Gallery (Museo Civico). This houses an excellent collection of artworks dating between the 13th and 17th centuries. Arguably the most famous of these are Filippino Lippi’s circular paintings of the Annunciation and the altar piece by Pinturicchio. It’s also where you will find the Sala di Dante, so-called after a visit by the poet Dante to the town in 1300.
If you want to admire one final tower, then one of the most recent towers to be built in San Gimignano is that on the 18th century Casa Campatelli. This was built by a wealthy Florentine family long after the town had declined in importance. This decline owed much to the emergence of new, faster trade routes which made the traditional Via Francigena route on which San Gimignano sat much less frequented. These days, visitors can still admire some of the original family furnishings here. And there is also an interesting video people can watch which tells the story of San Gimignano. Let us know how you think this Tuscan family home compares to your own Tuscany villa rental!!
From here, it’s worth heading towards the outskirts of San Gimignano to the Piazza Sant’ Agostino to visit the 13th Church of Sant’ Agostino. Its plain brick-built Gothic exterior contrasts with its much more elaborate interior and the series of 15th century frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli that decorate its choir. These depict the life of St Augustine. There is a second church in the Piazza – the Church of San Pietro – which is one of the oldest churches in San Gimignano.
And finally, head to San Gimignano’s outer walls. It’s possible to walk along these walls and enjoy the lovely views and admire the impressive gates. These include the 12th century Porta San Matteo, the 13th century Porta San Giovanni and the Porta delle Fonti where you will find a Medieval public fountain.
Sat up against these walls is the Rocca Montestaffoli, a castle built by the Florentines in 1353 but demolished two hundred years later on the orders of Cosimo I. As a result, only a tower and parts of the original walls remain but it’s still worth a visit to enjoy the wonderful views from the top.
And also near the walls is the tiny Romanesque Church of San Iácopo. This was supposedly built by the Knights Templar on their return from the crusades in the 13th century. This would have had a hospice for the poor and for pilgrims travelling to and fro Rome on the Via Francigena.
Finally, San Gimignano has a number of museums you may wish to go into. The first two of these are rather gory and perhaps not for the feint hearted – the Museo Storico della Tortura (Torture museum) and the Museo della Pena di Morte (Museum of the death penalty).
The other museums have a very different feel to them. The Santa Chiara museum is an archeological museum and herbarium, home to over 100 examples of the glass and ceramic containers once used to sell herbal remedies along with examples of the herbs used. It’s also home to a number of Etruscan, Roman and Medieval artefacts from this area of Tuscany. The Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery sits above this museum and holds a number of temporary art exhibitions.
If you’re in need of a bit of a rest after all this sightseeing, then why not take a seat and enjoy some wine tasting? San Gimignano is at the heart of the production of Tuscany’s only dry white DOCG wine – Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Head to the Museo del Vino Vernaccia to learn more about the history of the wine and then to one of the nearby wineries to enjoy a tasting.
Events in San Gimignano
San Gimignano holds a number of annual events. These kick off with the carnival every January or February. On 12 March, the town celebrates the Festival of Santa Fina. Fina is the patron saint of San Gimignano who died on 12 March 1253. The day is marked with a traditional fair in the two main squares – the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Cisterna.
In June each year, La Giostra dei Bastioni takes place at the Rocca Montestaffoli. This is a Medieval tournament which is part of the Ferie delle Messi which is the biggest event of the year in San Gimignano. The event includes a historical parade and jousting tournament between the four districts of the town. Street performers will keep the crowds entertained and there are markets selling Medieval arts and crafts.
On the first Sunday in August, the town again celebrates Saint Fina with a festival of thanks to the patron saint. This is followed the next day by Santa Fina’s Fair when the Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza delle Erbe will be filled with market stalls.
And finally, a bit later in August to mark Saint Lawrence’s night, there is the Calici sotto le stelle. This is a chance for visitors to taste San Gimignano’s local wines under the stars.
Restaurants in San Gimignano
No visit to San Gimignano would be complete without a visit to Gelateria Dondoli. This is an exceptional gelateria where you can try some rather unusual flavours such as Champelmo® (pink grapefruit and sparkling wine) or Dolceamaro® (cream with aromatic herbs). If you have time, you can even learn from the experts by enjoying a gelato making class here before heading back to your Tuscany villa rental.
Enjoy a meal at La Mangiatoia if you want to enjoy some traditional Tuscan fare in a charming setting in the heart of San Gimignano.
Where to stay in San Gimignano
This 3 bedroom San Gimignano apartment is a great place to stay if you want to explore San Gimignano for yourself.
Sleeping up to 9, it can work even for a larger family or group of friends.
How to get to San Gimignano
By plane: A 50 minute drive away, the nearest airport is Florence Peretola however, Pisa airport is only an hour drive from San Gimignano.
By car: If coming by car, there are a number of car parks around San Gimignano but they do get busy. The largest and cheapest is P1 Giubileo but there is also P2 Montemaggio, P3 Bagnaia Superiore and P4 Bagnaia Inferiore.
By train: Unfortunately, San Gimignano does not have a train station but the nearest train station is at Poggibonsi. Trains from Florence to Poggibonsi take an hour. From here, catch the number 130 bus to San Gimignano.
By bus: A number of buses will take you to San Gimignano. The number 130 bus goes from Siena or Poggibonsi to San Gimignano whilst the number 128 goes from Certaldo. There is also the 133 bus from Poggibonsi as well but this takes a more roundabout route than the 130 bus.
Try out the Omio website to find the best routes and to purchase tickets for bus, train or flights.