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December 14, 2010

Italy: San Gimignano

Filed under: Europe 2010, Food, Italy, The List, Travel, UNESCO World Heritage — anotherheader @ 10:48 pm

San Gimignano viewed from Podere Montese

“Why would you leave?”

A tower in San Gimignano

As we waited for a bus to depart idyllic Positano Italy long ago, an elderly Italian gentleman sauntered up and asked this simple question.  I’m sure he has practiced his English and asked many tourists the same thing.  But it is a good question.  Why would we leave paradise?

The dilemma posed by the old man had no easy resolution so we quietly did what we often do.  We vowed to return.  It’s the closest thing to not leaving in the first place, isn’t it?

Indeed, vows to return are a common finish to Becky and my travel experiences.  Is a pledge to revisit is the only way we can get ourselves to leave in the first place?  Our list of places we want to return to has since become long and distinguished.  This is the type of list that fills much faster than it can be completed.  It can never be finished.  We will always want to return.

One of the earliest members and always near the top of the “vow to return” wish list has been San Gimignano.   Long ago, before Becky, I visited San Gimignano, the UNESCO World Heritage designated Tuscan hill town noted for its towers.  The town and Tuscany resonated with me like it does for so many.  On each subsequent trip to Italy, consideration has been given to a detour to San Gimignano, but a stop could never be accommodated by the schedule.  Finally, during our 2010 road trip, San Gimignano was back on the itinerary.

A cat with a view

When I first visited San Gimignano around 20 years ago it was a popular tourist destination.  But at night, when the tour buses departed, you could explore the medieval street plan beneath the 15 towers by yourself.  Today the tourist crowds still pack the streets during the day.  And now many of the visitors linger into the night.  But still, it is San Gimignano and it is Tuscany.  There is that certain something that comes with the combination of a medieval hill town set amongst the Tuscan vineyards and olive groves.  San Gimignano’s popularity is an inevitable side effect.

Our base for San Gimignano was Podere Montese.  The agriturismo B&B sits on a hillside amongst the vineyards a hollow away from San Gimi’s hill.  From the deck outside our room, we could look past the morning dew and count the towers of the town.

G distorting the ambiance of San Gimignano's Ferie delle Messi

One afternoon, after visiting the hill town, we returned back under a threatening sky to Podere Montese.  The B&B is only a couple of kilometers from the center of San Gimignano.  From our room we sat watching as an afternoon thunderstorm rolled over the hills.  Flashes of light, the rolling thunder of lightening strike miles off, barking dogs in the distance, bird songs, and the drums and bells from San Gimignano’s Ferie delle Messi (Medieval Harvest Festival) filled the windless storm’s air.  The air was cool and ozone fresh.  Eventually the rain came with a gentle and steady drum of the droplets.  It was a peaceful and timeless moment.

When the rain passed, the festival’s drums continued.  Ferie delle Messi is part festival and part historic reenactment.  It was a popular event and added to the human density inside the San Gimignano’s walls.  Sometimes the festival added to the historic feel.  But then, when you eye the participants in medieval garb walking about the town chain smoking cigarettes and talking full speed on their cell phones, a bit of the authenticity is lost.

Of course we always eat well in Italy.  It’s unavoidable.  On this visit, we had an excellent lunch at Antinori’s Osteria di Passignano and perhaps the best gelato ever at Piazza della Cisterna.  And I won’t even get started on the region’s wine, as I just might not be able to stop myself.

In the end, San Gimignano is much as I remembered it.  And, of course, before we left we vowed to return.  After all, life is indeed good in Tuscany.

Pictures from San Gimignano’s Ferie delle Messi and San Gimignano itself are on Picasa.


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