San Gimignano: Gelato and Towers in the Tuscan Countryside

San Gimignano is an old, walled Italian hill town in Tuscany surrounded by numerous vineyards and cypresses.

Centuries ago, during a period of conflict and intense rivalry, San Gimignano’s prominent families tried to outdo each other by building houses of ever increasing height. Each new house was built to be taller than the others until they were literally towers.

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In the end, the city council put a stop to the contest by decreeing that no tower house can be taller than the tower annexed to its seat of power, the Palazzo Comunale. (Legend says, however, that one family tried to get around this rule by building two tower-houses just slightly shorter than the maximum height allowed.)

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There used to be as many as 72 tower-houses; 13 remain today. You can get a good look at them and the surrounding countryside from one of the turrets at the Rocca di Montestaffoli. (You can also climb the Torre Grossa — the tallest remaining tower — but that would set you back €5.)

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Aside from its iconic tower-houses, San Gimignano also has an old stone well in the middle of Piazza della Cisterna, a church surrounded by thousand-year-old towers, medieval alleys, olive groves, and beautiful views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside.

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Hole in the wall:

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Oh, and San Gimignano has award-winning gelato! I had saffron- and tiramisu-flavored scoops. Nothing like eating gelato to make you feel like you’re really on an Italian holiday.

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Ice cream with a view…

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Fun fact: the “forgotten” city of Avalle of the Towers in Guy Gavriel Kay’s book Tigana was based on San Gimignano. I’d actually started reading Tigana not long before I was due to leave for Italy, not dreaming it was actually about the places I was soon to visit. I had already included San Gimignano in my itinerary and when I got to the part in the book about Avalle, I got this prickling sensation as I realized: this is where I’m going!

Guy Gavriel’s books have been described as historical fiction with a quarter-turn to the fantastic. (If you’ve only read his more well-known Fionavar trilogy and, like me, didn’t like it, don’t give up on him. His other books are so much better.) I’d recommend Tigana for anyone planning to visit the Florence/Siena area.

“Springtime morning in Avalle
I don’t care that the priests say:
I’m going down to the river today
On a springtime morning in Avalle.

When I’m all grown up, come what may
I’ll build a boat to carry me away
And the river will take it to Tigana Bay
And the sea even further away from Avalle

But wherever I wander, by night or by day
Where water runs swiftly or high trees sway,
My heart will carry me back and away
To a dream of the towers of Avalle

A dream of my home in Avalle.”

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4 thoughts on “San Gimignano: Gelato and Towers in the Tuscan Countryside”

  • Love this post Gaya. The pictures are AMAZING!! Don’t you love that you could actually be in the places you’ve read about? Life is great that way. And yes the best gelatos I’ve had were in Italy!

    • Hi Boots! Ugh, I’m so sorry for the super-late reply. I had a lot of work to catch up on after my trip and have just gotten around to replying to comments.

      YES! It’s just such an amazing feeling when you read about a place, and it becomes a part of you in that way, and then you actually get to BE there and see it for yourself. And I think it actually makes the experience better when you have a personal connection to the place you’re visiting, whether it’s the setting of one of your favorite stories or you were fascinated by its history when you were at school.

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