Amongst the myriad towns that lay nestled within the undulating hills of the Tuscan countryside, you might not expect to see a sight reminiscent of big cities and bustling towns. And yet, the skyline which rises so resplendently from between the rolling farmlands of the Siena landscape – practically bursting at the seams with Chianti grapes – soon to be wine – is quite a difficult thing to ignore.
Though its given name gives nothing away, the walled settlement of San Gimignano has sometimes been known by its other moniker ‘The Town of Fine Towers’; for those on the winding approach from Florence, it’s easy to see why. Fortunately, being placed far enough away from the various epicentres and over-enthusiastic developers that have encroached on surrounding areas in the past, this gem retains much of its genuine medieval charm. Its increasingly rare original features also survive, including the fourteen titular towers; impressive, still, despite the consideration there were once over seventy of these sky-scraping structures.
So internationally renowned has the town become for its ancient, yet unusually urban-like architecture, that it has been forever immortalised in everything from literature (The Broker by John Grisham), to film (Tea With Mussolini) and video-games where. The Assassin’s Creed series allows you to explore the town, albeit virtually, as it would have been in the 15th Century (all while sneaking past guards into aristocratic abodes and helping yourself to the treasures within – please don’t think this is acceptable to do in real life).
From the highest heights of the towers (Grossa and Rognosa being the tallest) visitors are rewarded for their sharp climb with sweeping panoramas across the encircling Elsa Valley and views over the Etruscan rooftops; from fortina to duomo, from palazzo to piazza.
And though it may be a much maligned travel cliché to suggest there is something for everyone here, the fact remains that this modest hilltop deep in Siena has a heck of a lot to give. From a world-famous gelateria and many more Tuscan treats from the surrounding fields (wild boar, saffron-infused fare, wines and fresh fruits), gastronomic guests will be like pigs in the proverbial, while art-lovers will delight in getting lost in the gorgeous frescoes and artworks that line many of the Renaissance-centred heritage sights. Of course, if you’re looking for something to truly top it all off, a visit to the Museum of Medieval Torture should give you an experience that will really rattle your cage. If you pardon the expression.