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yuliangpang San Gimignano - A travel report by yuliang
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San Gimignano,  Italy - flag Italy
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yuliangpang's travel reports

San Gimignano-The Best Italian Town?

  7 votes
Page: 1 2
San Gimignano is strategically located between the two most visited cities in Tuscany, Siena and Florence. It is famous for its stunning hilltop skylines of towers.

San Gimignano
San Gimignano
The reason why San Gimignano is in my travelling list around Italy is quite interesting. Three years ago when i was shortly posted to Italy, i asked a colleague from Philippines who had lived in Italy 14 years "which town is your favorite one in Italy?", He replied “San Gimignano”. “What? Could you kindly write it down?” That was the first time that I heard there was a place somewhere in Italy called San Gimignano, i did not feel such a strong desire to visit it soon until one week ago i met a British guy when I visited Montepulciano, who also had lived in Italy for a long time. I asked the same question as I did to my Philippine friend, and he replied with the same answer.

San Gimignano is an UNESCO site. Before I gave you my own observations, let's start with the justifications from UNESCO first. UNESCO's remarked that San Gimignano served as an important relay point for pilgrims travelling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena. The patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 tower-houses (some as high as 50 m) as symbols of their wealth and power. Although only 14 have survived, San Gimignano has retained its feudal atmosphere and appearance. The town also has several masterpieces of 14th- and 15th-century Italian art. If I may, the main conclusions of UNESCO could be shortened into three words: preservation of history, beautiful towers and mediaval arts.

I do not have any intention to challenge UNESCO's findings, but history was too much for daytrippers and the towers were not as beautiful or special as you expected, if you have stayed here for a while and seen some around the country. What makes San Gimigiano become such an attractive stop is its strategic position. Sitting in a valley, Val D'elsa, San Gimignano is the ideal postion to overlook the surrounding area. Meanwhile it itself becomes a magnificant scence to make great shots miles away.

Favourite spots:
the Duomo
the Duomo
San Gimignano is small enough for you to go across it within 15 mintues from its two main gates, Porta San Giovanni and Porta San Matteo, at the south and at the north respectively, which are connected by two main streets, and they are named exactly the same as the gate. Almost all the interesting places are along the two main squares, Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Della Cisterna. There is an information office in Piazza del Duomo.

The Duomo and the Torre Grossa are the must-see sights, they are all in Piazza del Duomo. There are several different types of tickets, if you want to see everything all, suggest you to buy the most comprehensive and most economical one, around 8 Euro.

1. Duomo

Its plain facade and the surrounding stunning high towers make the Duomo look quite humble, but its interior houses splendid frescoes, which earns the Duomo the most comprehensively frescoed church in Tuscany. But if you are not an admirer of Bible, you may choose not to go and save the money.

What's really great:
overlook of the town, Via San Giovanni
overlook of the town, Via San Giovanni
2. Pinacoteca and Torre Grotta

Flanking the Duomo, Torre Grotta remains the only tower that is open for the public to climb up for great views of the Val d'Elsa. It houses the Sala di Dante, where you may enjoy the great works of Filippino Lippi, Memmo di Filipuccio. If you do not know much about painting, you may just climbe the stairs up to the top of the tower, where you can overlook the whole town.

3. Sant'Agostino

Near Porta San Matteo, it habors some splendid frescos from Benozzo Gozzoli, depicting the life of Saint Augustine.

4. San Piero

Close to Sant'Agostino. Though it looks quite small and humble, it claims to be one of the oldest churches in San Gimignano. There are some great fresco on its walls, but the most atmospheric thing for me is the music in it.

5. Rocca

Behind the Duomo, it is an ideal place for making pictures, and deserves your visit.

View from Rocca
View from Rocca
Frankly speaking, San Gimignano does not live up to the high expectation that i got from my friends. I mean San Gimignano has something quite beautiful and special, and that's why it attracts thousands and millions of tourists every year to come, but it is not good enough to be my own favorite italian town.

Let's me give you my to-do list in San Gimignano:

1. wandering around the narrow street and wall

You may be surpried if i said it was not the towers, but the small street and wall that were most striking to me. Wandering along the street, touching the wall, you feel history being with you.

2. Climbing up to Torre Grossa

Though it would be quite hard to do, particularly for those had some problems of height, but it would deserve your try. The world is quite different when you change your position to look at it. Those stunning towers that you see on the ground are not as high as you think any more.

3. Taking pictures from Rocca

Again it is an ideal place to make pictures

piazza del Duomo
piazza del Duomo
I do not stay in San Gimignano, but my Rough Guide to Italy says two things that may be quite useful. San Gimignano has very life of its own, try to come well out of season or spend the night here-the town takes on a quite different pace and atmosphere in the evenings. It also suggests you to try at the house of the Boldrini Family, on Via San Matteo 95.

the tower
the tower
San Gimignano is very small, it will be such a great fun to explore it by yourself. Anyway, It would be a quite quiant world at night when the waves of daytrippers die out. Along the two main streets, Via San Giovanni and Via Matteo, there are many bars and caffe. But if you do not like crowed place, try to find one in the less visited street.

Piazza della cisterna is the main place for people to get together or take a rest. It would be a greater pleasure that you buy the great ice cream at Gelateria di Piazza, which is strongly remmended by Rough Guide, meanwhile enjoying the world around.

Rocca is also a nice place to go, it is just behind the Duomo. you may find some olive groves and walls here, but what's more interesting is that you may have a better and more complete view of the towers.

looking at the well from tower
looking at the well from tower
Il Pino, just around the street to the left of Porta Matteo, is the restaurant that is strongly recommended by several travel books, i did have enough time to try it out. But I did unexpectedly pass it on my way to Sant'Agostino, the owner was just standing outside the door and enjoying his cigarette, he was very friendly and gave me a nodding and smile. For this, i would like to recommend it to you too.

Other recommendations:
landscape of San Gimignano
landscape of San Gimignano
1. Transport

San Gimignano can be easily reached from Florence and Siena, there are still some problems with transport. San Gimignano does not have train station, you may get off at Poggibonsi and from there change bus. Even the bus service, you need to be very careful about the schedules, particularly in the weekends or holidays. Therefore, strongly suggest you to come with your own transport.

2. Timing for visiting

From Easter until October, it is the most heavy period for San Gimignano, therefore try to avoid visiting during this period. If you can't, then aim to spend the night here.

Published on Monday November 3th, 2008

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Sat, Nov 08 2008 - 01:50 PM rating by rangutan

Excellent! Your reports are getting better, hoping to see more soon. The gaps disturb a little but can be fixed? [4.6]

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 09:32 PM rating by jorgesanchez

It is a pleasure to read your reports. This one is one of your best.

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 01:46 PM rating by bootlegga

Another excellent report!

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 04:18 AM rating by krisek

Yuliang, what a great and special little place you have written about! Tuscany is indeed wonderful. So, perhaps this is not a glittering place but your writing and superb pictures make is so inviting. Many thanks indeed!

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 02:51 AM rating by pesu

Yuliang, I agree to you that San Gimignano might not be one's favourite town in Italy although you described its agreeable atmosphere and beautiful position very well.

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