A short drive away from Siena is the small walled town of San Gimignano (pronounced San Giminiano) .
Known by some as the medieval Manhattan, San Gimignano boasts 15 spectacular towers which were built by rival noble families during the 12th and 13th centuries. In its heyday there was a total of 72 towers. Being on the major pilgrim route to Rome , San Gimignano prospered during the middle ages. However, the Black Death and diversion of the pilgrim route resulted in a period of decline from which the town never fully recovered. San Gimignano has remained mostly unchanged, its towers attracting visitors from far and wide.
Via San Giovanni, the main street of the town, is lined with interesting shops selling, amongst others, pottery, paintings, linens and objects made out of olive wood.
It is not a very long street but the wares on sale are too tempting to ignore and each shop lures you in with the promise of a new little treasure you just have to buy. The street winds itself towards Piazza della Cisterna, the heart of the old town. The well in the square is still a meeting place for the townspeople.
This square in turn leads to Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the modest 12th century Romanesque church known as La Collegiata.
While most visitors tend to stick to the main street and square, I found that wandering through the quiet back streets was a more rewarding experience since they were mostly deserted and I could stop and admire the old buildings and, of course, the towers.
However, I was also intrigued by a number of very interesting door knockers and house bells made out of wrought iron.
The streets at edge of the town provide a wonderful spot from where to stop and admire the Tuscan countryside.
Small wine bars and restaurants abound in this little town and it is also home to Gelateria di Piazza. It’s owner, Stefano Dondoli, lovingly creates delectable ice-creams which have impressed visitors from around the world. His chocolate ice-cream once won the title of the world's “best ice-cream of the year”. Having tasted his Fior di Nutella and Frutti di Bosco (forest fruit) flavours, I can attest that these ice-creams are amongst the best that I have ever had the pleasure to eat.
In some strange way, San Gimignano seems like a benevolent grandfather; an old town with a gentle soul. Perhaps it’s because everything happens under the watchful eyes of the towers, their strength and longevity emitting an aura of security. Gazing up at their towering height I couldn’t help but marvel at those builders of long ago, at their sheer tenacity and marvelous feats of engineering.
We left San Gimignano as the sun started to set over the Tuscan countryside. In the fading light, all detail was lost and all we could see were silhouettes. It was almost surreal, like a land out of a fairytale. In the stillness of the night I felt like we were intruders in a magical land that had cast a spell over our hearts - a spell that will not easily be broken; a spell which, I believe, will last a life time.