San Gimignano, like most Tuscan towns, has its share of towers. More than its share, actually - the 13 towers still standing give this little town the record. It isn't all about height, though - in fact, only one of the towers is open for climbing. San Gimignano has other charms to draw you.
Yes, this town, with its population of about 7,000, is the home to the world's BEST gelato. This record is held by the gelateria in the Piazza della Cisterna in the center of town, which has won an international contest so many times, it's rumored each year that the owner is bored with the contest. It's a nondescript little shop, but the flavors are heavenly...we had tried lots of gelato already on our trip, but this was by far the best. Choose your flavors (be aware - the champagne and white wine gelatos are not just flavors - I think I got a little tipsy!) and bring it out into the piazza. Grab a seat on the cisterna (community well), and watch the diners in the nearby cafes, the organ grinders, and the tourists.
San Gimignano is very well touristed. With good reason - it's extremely walkable, has beautiful views of the surrounding valleys, and some really lovely little alleys and buildings. But, just a block or two away from the main tourist streets things quiet down, laundry hangs from windows, and neighbors chat. Definitely make time in your stop here to venture a bit beyond the tourist-heavy areas.
One of our more surreal experiences on this trip happened in San Gimignano. While climbing one of the little streets on the outskirts of town, we began to hear music. I assumed it was being piped in from some unseen restaurant nearby, until we rounded a corner to an open area with a beautiful view...and a harpsichord player. Lovely music for a lovely setting. But still, a strange instrument for a busker!
We were also struck by the buildings themselves. Almost every wall is scarred with reminders of former neighboring buildings, once attached to one another for support. Many buildings had what looked to be old windows, bricked in to provide another use for the rooms inside. The changes felt very organic, though - not as if anything significant had happened to initiate them, just a part of the natural growth and change of a town. That change has been minimal, though - the streets still feel ancient. As you walk through the streets of town, be sure to notice the front doors to homes - most were heavy, studded, wooden things, polished brightly and standing in sharp contrast to the rough stone of the buildings.