San Gimignano, Italy Was A Disappointment

For years I’ve been hearing about all the lovely little medieval towns perched on hilltops throughout Tuscany. Some years back I read the book Under The Tuscan Sun and that probably added to my already significant interest. So I made it a point to visit San Gimignano, perhaps the most popular village on the Tuscan tour route.

Castle at the entrance to San Gimignano Italy
Castle at the entrance to San Gimignano
The remaining towers of San Gimignano Italy
The remaining towers of San Gimignano
One of 14 remaining towers in the medieval town of San Gimignano Italy
One of 14 remaining towers in this medieval town
View over Tuscany from the top of a tower in San Gimignano Italy
View over Tuscany from the top of a tower
View of San Gimignano Italy from the top of the town's main tower
View of the town from the top of the main tower

San Gimignano was at one time a thriving town – in fact the village became such a successful center of trade that it was able to operate independent of powerful Florence, to which most small villages in the area turned for government and protection. In its heyday this enclave boasted more than 40 brick towers that covered the hilltop and dominated the surrounding landscape. Then the Black Plague descended and so thoroughly decimated San Gimignano that it never fully recovered – never, that is, until it was “discovered” by tourists.

Looking at the wishing well from the top of the only tower that can be climbed in San Gimignano Italy
Looking at the wishing well from the top of the only tower that can be climbed
Wishing well in the main piazza in San Gimignano Italy
Wishing well in the main piazza
Towers of San Gimignano Italy are revealed one by one as morning mist buns off
Towers are revealed one by one as morning mist buns off

Today only 14 of the original towers remain, but that is enough to draw crowds of day trippers from all corners of Tuscany. The problem is, that’s just about ALL there is. The one tower that is open to climb provides a stunning view of this gold and red brick town, surrounded by undulating green hills that are planted in curvaceous rows of vineyards. The main piazza, with it’s old cistern, is quite nice. Having climbed the tower, seen the view, and thrown a penny into the cistern, there wasn’t much more to do. I could have attended any number of wine tastings but since I’ve been sober nearly 12 years I figured that wasn’t an option. I could have shopped till my heart’s content, since there were tacky gift shops every few feet. I could have visited museums (two for the price of one!) that featured torture instruments, wine making equipment, or reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci‘s inventions (I’ve seen this last “museum” in every Italian town I’ve visited). Or I could have eaten myself into oblivion at any one of fifty high-priced eateries. The most interesting thing that happened for me was watching the towers reveal themselves as the early morning fog burned off.

Towers in the mist in San Gimignano Italy
Towers in the mist
The main piazza at San Gimignano Italy
The main piazza at San Gimignano

Even the locals are so bored that they sit around all day long on plastic chairs in the main square, watching the tourists make idiots of themselves.

Locals sit in the piazza and watch tourists in San Gimignano Italy
Locals sit in the piazza and watch tourists

Don’t get me wrong – it IS a cute little town. I just don’t think it deserves anywhere near all the hype it’s been getting.

7 thoughts on “San Gimignano, Italy Was A Disappointment”

  1. Sorry to hear you did not enjoy San Gimignano. Sometimes destinations do get overrated and do not live up to the hype. Perhaps in your next Italian trip you might want to consider the Maremma in southern Tuscany, it is still relatively unknown to foreign tourists.. so it is less “touristy”, yet you will enjoy great wine & food, hilltop vineyards and medieval villages, beaches, nature reserves..

    • Hi Raffaella: I will add that idea to my list, thanks! I’m always on the lookout for wonderful, barely discovered places like Maremma.

  2. Sorry you didn’t really like San Gimignano Barbara. I guess it goes to show you – different strokes for different folks. Sometimes I enjoy not running around with so much to do. I enjoy being bored and just walking around or sitting and watching the sun set from up on the walls. And since I’m a wine lover , I’d be perfectly content to sit in an enoteca and sip to my hearts content. I enjoyed it most in the evening, after all the day-trippers left. It is true that there are many great hilltop towns to visit in Tuscany, but I still like San Gim too. Everyone has a favorite. I’ll be interested to hear which town will be yours! Enjoy Tuscany!

    • Hi Robin! I’m actually not in Italy at the moment. Occasionaly I feature older content on my Facebook page, so that’s what you’ve seen. You are right that a lot of my disappointment may have been the masses of tourists – I really prefer off-the-beaten-path destinations, especially when I can connect with the local culture. The towers were beautiful, as was the view from the top of the one that was open to climb, but I never felt I saw what it was like for the locals.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I visited a variety of the Tuscan and Umbrian towns and villages and enjoyed most thoroughly with their ruch cultures and history but somehow San Gimingano never did much for me. Elegant from the tower and in a beautiful setting but the whole town now seems to serve visitors and has lost its heart.

  4. I love Americans and Yours ingenuousness . I live in Perugia and it’s just when I can think that I hope to becomes a guide for tourist.; also that isn’t comes real I studied for it for some months, but You know, the life is strange and only on 40 years old I open my first touristic Blog. Id’ love to explain to you many things: for example: San Gimignano,it’s a very pretty little town ( only 100 km. from my Home, Perugia) hat you can see in a beautiful day, but ONLY FOR A DAY!!It’s so little. If you want to really know IT LIFE you must stay here one month. You could speak Italian and to know PEOPLES only in that way you’ll find what you want. a real life, many real relationships , all what we wants. I hope to becomes one of your friend. I write in many Blogs.

  5. Hi Barbara
    I told you so! San G very over-rated. Volterra, Montepulciano, Arrezzo are all better bets.
    ps I see from Italian TV that the Palio was on in Siena. so it would have been very busy there.


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