Driving out of Florence wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be – it is an Italian city after all – but there wasn’t much traffic and the roads were easy to navigate. I was surprised by how lovely the city’s suburbs looked – I drove out to the south, and the city really changed character, the roads widening, more trees along them, really what you would expect in any suburb. It didn’t take long before I was surrounded by green on both sides, getting a taste of the rural Tuscany I was setting out to explore.
After about an hour on the road the small medieval city of San Gimignano, known for its many tall towers – ‘the Manhattan of Italy‘ apparently, came up on the horizon. It was easy to find, and as soon as you start getting closer to the city there will be plenty of signs for parking – very convenient although on the pricey side.
The first thing that met me was the little church of Saint Agostino. Since it was free I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a look – it was a perfectly lovely little church with a nice little courtyard attached to it.
From there I wandered on through the city which seemed very likeable – cute and clean streets with plenty little restaurants and stores. I do appreciate it when places like these don’t give off an extremely touristy vibe.
The target for my wander was the Duomo of the city which I’d heard great things about. Sadly no pictures were allowed (and I can ensure you that it was enforced!) but I’ll describe it to you: paintings and decorations everywhere. It wasn’t a large church, but I thought it was quite spectacular what they had done with it – on one long side the birth, life and death of Jesus was told in a multitude of pictures among which I recognized him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the wedding at Canaan and some others I forget. On the other long side was the Old Testament: Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark and many more. It was very interesting to have a look at.
The ticket for the Duomo covers not only the church but also the Torre Grossa and some museums. I figured I’d just climb the tower and have a quick look at the museums on the way down.
Torre Grossa is, as the name suggests, the highest of the towers and the view from up there is not bad at all. That is truly my mind’s Tuscany. You can clearly see from here how the fields are starting to change from stark green to a more muted color, as they are beginning to plough to prepare for autumn.
I ended my visit in San Gimignano by buying a gelato at Gelateria Dondoli which proclaimed to have been world champions at gelato (I envy those judges!) for several years. I picked a chocolate flavor that you could only get at their place which was absolutely very good, and a strawberry that could absolutely have been better. All in all I enjoyed San Gimignano very much.
Siena was bigger than I expected, but not in a bad way. The architecture reminded me more of Florence, as it wasn’t as medieval-ly as I had thought. I liked the place though, and the back streets seemed to contain a fairly good shopping and dining scene. Stumbled upon quite a few rather large open places additional to the famed Il Campo that is so large that they have a horse race around the place twice a year. I had to see its size to believe it, and now I believe.
That is one big arena, in front of a surreally high tower – it seems almost out of place that it is so high, at least from my point of view. I spent a lot of time simply following the general movement of people along the narrower streets behind Il Campo – there were a lot of people but not at all the extreme amounts I would expect there to be in high season. It had a very nice athmosphere in general, and I enjoyed the city.
The thing that would make me want to come back though – oh boy, that cathedral, the Duomo di Siena! That is the most spectacular church I have seen in a while. It is quite striking from the outside being striped all over, especially if you haven’t seen that particular style before (seems to repeat itself throughout the region), but the inside is the special part.
There is just so much to see! All the pillars are striped; all the walls are covered in large paintings; the floor has oozes of pictures made of stone; the dome itself is quite stunning with its golden pattern – I just couldn’t stop taking pictures. Had to remind myself to close my mouth from time to time. Could have spent hours in there, honestly. It is a place I would love to return to because I think you would discover something new every time – especially in this case, as there were a few things covered up because they were being renovated.
In Siena I stayed at a B&B called Villa Zara a little outside the city, which I thought deserved a mention. Such a nice place, beautiful rooms, sweet caretaker and delicious breakfast buffet. I decided to exploit the minibar (very reasonable prices!) and try an Italian beer, a Moretti, which was good even at room temperature.
Have you been to Siena or San Gimignano? What did you think? Comment below!
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