Bathed in Sun in the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano

Sunshine on San Gimignana, and hardly anyone here to enjoy it. The swimming pool next to us only opens from June to early September.

Dave the motorhome, or more accurately his driver, is taking a break from the endurance test of the Italian road. We’ve remained in our quiet, pitch dark roadside spot a mile from the remarkable town of San Gimignano.

Now that the aged couple with the ladders have given up harvesting olives around the corner, carrying their ladders and nets away, we’re left with half-hourly passings from the local bus (devoid of passengers) for company. He finishes his rounds at 8pm, and the place then turns deathly quiet. We thought we may have company when a Polish motorhome pulled alongside, but they were just using the service point next to us, and foraging for an unknown leaf in the bushes, maybe Bay Leaf, we can’t tell, sadly.

It turned cool last night. Not cold, but it was a good sign, the stars were out, followed by today’s unimpeded flow of sunshine, warming our faces. The clouds which carried a couple of days rain across Tuscany left behind an array of floods, featured heavily on a huge TV in town, and a few unfortunates even perished. To us it was just a couple of typical English days. I mused; although Britain beats itself up when traffic can’t pass in the snow and ice, it can cope with a bit of rain.

San Gimignano had an immediate impact on us yesterday. Our trip’s taken us to a fair few well-preserved medieval towns, but none have been quite like this one, this one feels alive. A few thousand people still live inside, balancing off its pack of stalking tourist shops (unreal, overpriced, but always tasteful) with washing flapping high on draw-string lines, tiny cars squeezing into garages, a passenger shouting thanks and hauling off a six pack of mineral water, and signs in Italian requesting aid for compatriots shaken by an earthquake. It’s the first of these ancient towns I’ve wanted to visit twice.

Ju takes in an age-old view out over the Tuscan hills.

The small bus running past us would, for €1 each, carry us the mile into the town and back again. I wonder how it makes money, since walking in the sun, along a ridge punctuated by renovated farm houses and looking up at the town’s tall towers easily drew us away from the stop. That’s something else unusual: towers were a thing of power in these old towns, handy for both keeping an eye out, and poking at the sky a finder of authority in a highly fragmented ‘hate your neighbour’ Italy, but building 70 of them was perhaps a bit much? In a San Gimignano of old, when they weren’t rucking with the next town, they were rucking with each other, factions building taller and taller towers to demonstrate their virility or some such. Most are gone now. Depending on which source you believe, or how good you are at counting once you’ve run out of fingers, there are somewhere between 12 and 15 left.

Countryside on the wander into town.

The walk passed in minutes, even with a muddy detour into a vineyard looking for a shot of the town sans-power lines. In through a stone door, the view of the main street again thumped me. This place is unfathomably old. The Etruscans, fore-runners to the Romans, kicked off the settlement over 2200 years ago, but the current incarnation, a jumble of crumbling masonry, arches and anarchic red mouldy roof tiles dates from around the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s extraordinary to think that half the population, killed by the Black Death 650 years ago, might still recognise the layout of the streets, maybe their own homes if they were to walk here again.

Sunshine on San Gimignana, and hardly anyone here to enjoy it. The swimming pool next to us only opens from June to early September.

Although our Rough Guide devotes pages to the frescos in the duomo (since the place no longer has a bishop it’s technically no longer a cathedral, but who’s picking the nits?), we chose not to go in. Oddly there’s a perspex sheet alongside the entrance so you can get a good look at them from outside without paying, so we did. We couldn’t spot the unlikely scene of Noah drunk and exposing himself, but (once Charlie had been exercised chasing his bits of dry dinner up and down the duomo steps) decided instead to invest our cash in the best Gelato (ice cream) IN THE WORLD. So said the sign above the door, albeit up until 2009, and the signed thank you letter from Tony Blair inside only served to add gravity to their claim. Our verdict: fabulous. The ice cream that is, not Tony Blair.

Tony Blair says that this is the best ice cream ever, who are we to argue?
Money. Much of it. Almost within my grasp. Once the town’s water source in the middle of the Piazza della Cisterna.
Christmas is coming and the town’s lights are slowly going up via cherry picker.

After a couple more hours wandering the streets and the path around under the walls, we turned back, nipping into a small shop on the way out to buy some Salumi de Cinghiale (wild boar sausage). The poor lady inside must have almost lost her soul to the river of tourists we had added to, becoming increasingly brusque with Ju within a few seconds of her entering the shop. When her attempt to flog us an entire, fat salami failed, despite her assurances it was vacuum packed, wouldn’t smell and we could take it on an aeroplane, she thumped it back into the chiller as though rounding in on Mike Tyson. A second attempt to flog half a sausage also failed and with me almost dancing about outside in fits of laughter, pointing the camera in her face probably didn’t help her mood. Nevertheless, we bought and loved a €3 piece of the sausage, while she’s probably still fuming. If you’re heading for San Gimignano, can you do us a favour and check if this woman has calmed down yet?

Short tempered wild boar of a woman proves no match for Ju. Tourist tat shops: 0, tight-fisted tourists: 1.

Italian food, even the versions of it procured from Lidl, is a sensation. I’ll never look at or think about food in the same way again. Even the names of it seem sensual. Facaccia – Pano Tip “O” Con Strutto E Olio Di Olivo (bread and olive oil), Gorgonzola Dolce (a soft strong cheese), Pomodori Secchi (sun-dried tomatoes). And that was just a quick lunch, washed down with an unlikely Latte Parzialmente Scremento (skimmed milk!).

Lunch. I forgot to mention the Formaggio Cheddar!

Tomorrow, we’ll move on, more of Bella Italia awaits, what a treat.

Cheers, Jay

Couldn’t help it, one last picture, this one of Piazza Duomo. The church opposite has the frescos which were featured in Tea with Mussolini (thanks for the tip Glen, we’ve not yet seen the film).
One last last photo. The renovated barns on the walk into town often had perforated sides made from angled tiles or bricks, presumably to dispel smells or damp air.

 

4 Comments

  1. As you appear to like old towns and free sostas there is rather unique one at Montefiascone. N 42.53365 E 12.04229

    It is within the grounds of the local co-operative winery and is circular with the MHs parking on the radii. Full services are provided FOC including electricity.

    The factory shop sells local produce with wine at 1€, 2€ or 3€ a bottle in March 2010.

    The old town is well worth a visit.

    • Hi Angus. Old towns and free sostas light our candle, thanks very much for the tip, we’ve got it marked on the map! The wine sounds great, we’ll get in a bottle or six, only fair to give something back to great folks providing us with free services. Cheers, and any more tips gratefully received. Jay

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