San Gimignano



San Gimignano is one of the most charming and picturesque of all the Tuscan hill towns (and that's saying a lot).

San Gimignano dates back to the third century BC and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, the town has a few noteworthy historical curiosities. Its purpose, like many other walled cities of Tuscany, was to serve as a protective fortress throughout the centuries for various ruling nobility and empires. In addition, this city was a sort of rest stop for pilgrims en route to Rome along the Via Francigena.

It's noted mainly for its medieval towers, which dominate this town in the way that skyscrapers dominate modern cities. These towers were built as symbols of wealth and as a security precaution by the town's prosperous merchants. At one time there were more than 70 towers, but only 14 remain today.

Tuscany is renowned for Sangiovese red wines, but the king of white wines in Tuscany is the Vernaccia grape, a variety indigenous to San Gimignano. It was even favored by Dante Alighieri, who noted it in his masterpiece The Divine Comedy.

San Gimignano is 25 mi/40 km southwest of Florence, and it takes quite a bit of time to get there from either Rome or Florence, so it's best to spend at least one full day and night there. That way, you'll also get to see the town after the hordes of day-trippers have left. Another option is to stay in nearby Volterra, with its Etruscan ruins and vertiginous views from high on a hilltop.

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