San Gimignano — the perfect launching pad for your Tuscan adventure
Whenever I travel with my kids I like to have a home base. Call me crazy, but a little stability goes a long way when exploring with the toddler set. This doesn’t mean we are stuck in a hotel for hours on end, it just means we aren’t in transit every other day. If you are headed to Tuscany, a home base is even more important. There are so many great hill towns and cities to explore, and none works better than San Gimignano.
The town’s iconic towers, 13 in all, rise high above the landscape, making it an easily recognizable spot to set up camp. In the 14th century families would build towers to show their power and wealth. At one time there were as many as 72 towers, but many did not survive stand the test of time.
Obviously history explodes out of the narrow pedestrian filled streets (watch for cars though!), but that isn’t why you should visit San Gimignano. Oh no, it’s the proximity to everything else that you are after. An hour south you will find the stripped Duomo di Siena, an hour east is the Ponte Vecchio of Florence, and north about an hour and a half you can try to hold up the leaning tower of Pisa. Poggibonsi, Lucca, and Volterra (yes, the same one from Twilight, although it was famous well before the book) are within easy reach as well.
Then again, there is so much to explore within the walls of San Gimignano that you may never want to leave. The town boasts its own Romanesque Duomo, which holds the Chapel of St. Fina’s famous alter by Benedetto da Maiano and frescoes by Domenico Ghirland. The Church of Sant’Agostino may be plain on the outside, but inside it houses Piero del Pollaiolo’s painting of “The Coronation of the Madonna and the Saints.” If you crave a little serenity, don’t miss the peaceful cloisters housed next to the chapel.
If religious monuments aren’t up your alley, then the gelato will certainly keep you there. In the main piazza you will find Gelateria di Piazza. Now I’ve had my fair share of gelato around the globe and this was pretty darn good. The unique flavor combinations are what really make it stand out. Blackberry Lavender, Raspberry Rosemary and Creme di Santa® (cream with saffron and pine nut) graced the menu, leaving us running back for more, sometimes twice in the same day.
A sunset stroll to a playground built around old ruins reminded me why we had chosen this particular city as our home base for our Tuscan adventure. It was big enough to give us a variety of food options, coffee stops in the morning, and shops to browse, but small enough that we could have a playground all to ourselves to unwind after a long day of sightseeing in neighboring cities.
San Gimignano became our home away from home while traipsing around Tuscany, seeing all we could during our short stay. The whole family had a familiar place to lay our heads each night, but we could still get out and see a lot in the area without making a nonstop road trip out of it. Slowing down, even just a little, allowed us to see more without a lot of stress.