San Gimignano is a charming and quaint hill town in Tuscany and looks just how you would likely imagine: clotheslines hanging in alleys, plenty of vineyards, stone buildings, chickens roaming free in yards, talkative elder locals, etc. Of course, there’s also quite a few tourists, but I find a lot of joy in wandering away from the crowds down little side streets and alleyways that are less crowded. There’s also quirky little things like an art piece of a scuba diver embedded into the stone wall of the city, so what more could you ask of a place?
We took a bus from Florence to Poggibonsi and switched buses there to get to San Gimignano. The bus system in Italy was quite odd to me. You purchase local bus tickets at any tabacchi (tobacco shop similar to a convenience store), and then you insert your ticket when you get on the bus in order to validate it. Unlike the train system, no one ever checks your ticket on the buses and you don’t need to swipe a ticket or even show it to the driver in order to board. This was a regional bus though, so we had to buy tickets at a large bus station in Florence. When we got off this bus there was an officer collecting tickets and we had to show her our tickets, but this didn’t happen with any of the other buses we took during our time in Italy. It would have been super easy to quickly sidestep around her and walk away without showing her a ticket since the bus was packed and everyone got off at once. Honestly, the enforcement of public transit rules in Italy is still perplexing to me.
So once the bus arrived at San Gimignano, we basically ran down the giant hill we’d just driven up and walked on a gravel road for 20 minutes to get to the vineyard where we were going for a tour and lunch. The views were so beautiful, and I wanted to take pictures but there was no time because our tour started in 20 minutes and Google Maps said it was a 20 minute walk to get there! We made it on time though and several people arrived after us, so it wasn’t a big deal.
San Gimignano has a thriving agriculturismo industry due to its olive oil and wine production, so we saw quite a few bed and breakfasts and hotels offering vineyard tours as well. Our tour was at Guardastelle and the staff was incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and patient with questions and our slow eating. We were with a group of Brazilians, two Canadians, and an American couple, and the Brazilian group was funny and asked a lot of interesting questions.
The grapes were not anywhere close to harvest size when we visited since they’re harvested in the fall. The baby grapes were quite cute though! I learned there is a consortium that governs wine production and there are a lot of rules; for example, they can’t use irrigation, only natural rainwater. They also cannot use any pesticides. One year it was incredibly hot and dry, so Guardastelle had to send in an application to the consortium so that they could water their plants with water that was not rainwater.
There is a wine called vernacchia (from the vernacchia grape) which is only produced in San Gimignano, and this is because the consortium says that it can only be produced there. I also learned the wine cellars have to be made of a particular type of wood, and agents come to check the quality of wine before it can be sold. Our guide said they’re a very small company, selling only about 26,000 bottles of wine per year.
After the tour and lunch, we walked up the gravel road hill back to the main city center. I really enjoyed this walk because I was in a rush on the way down to the vineyard, but I was able to take my time coming back up to town.
It was wonderful to just take in the stunning scenery, the slow pace of life, and the serene atmosphere. And there were hardly any vehicles on this road (there was maybe 1 or 2 cars total) but there were quite a few poppies.
Once we got back into town, we explored around, saw some more beautiful views, and we stopped by this super famous gelato place called Gelateria Dondoli! It was delicious.
San Gimignano is the epitome of a delightful Tuscan town. I would’ve enjoyed staying there a bit longer, but we only spent one day there and returned to Florence that night.
As we left, the early evening light made everything look crisp and beautiful, and a couple of my favorite photos of the trip to San Gimignano are below.