Under the Tuscan Stars

by Trish Clark /
Trish Clark's picture
Sep 30, 2009 / 0 comments


This month we’re off to Italy, to that glorious part of the world called Tuscany and one it’s most beautiful hilltowns, San Gimignano. A town of medieval art, architecture and atmosphere, San Gimagnano is  nicknamed ‘the Italian Manhattan’ on account of its 14 (there were once 72) lofty, ancient towers which stand out on the Tuscan skyline. The towers were built centuries ago by local families as a sign of wealth and prestige – the higher the tower the more prestigious the family. These days the interior of the towers can be climbed and serve as terrific vantage points for taking photos of the activity below or of the rolling expanse of vineyards, olive groves and saffron fields in the surrounding area.


San Gimignano

San Gimignano, VM

Kind of at odds with the character of the town, the local Torture Museum is one of its most visited attractions. However, for something a little less grisly take in the 14th century frecoes on the wall of the Church of Sant’Agostino, (St Augustine) part of an Augustinian monastery and which look as though they were painted yesterday. During the summer months, concerts and musical events are held in various squares around the town which make dining in the intimate restaurants or street cafes an even more enjoyable experience. Don’t forget to try some Tuscan specialities such as Ribollita, a tasty bread based soup, ‘square’ pizza, Florentine beefsteak and local pecorino cheese.


Casa de'Potenti

View from Casa de'Potenti


There are a number of small hotels in the San Gimignano, but they can be rather pricey. A B & B is better value especially when it is situated in the centre of town. The Casa de’Potenti is located in a former 13th century convent in the Piazza delle Erbe and the interior has been converted into ensuite guestrooms with cable TV and air-conditioning. Breakfast is served daily but is priced separately. Rooms are clean and comfortable and some have views over the rooftops and the piazza below. Secure car parking can be arranged. The only minor problem is picking up the key from the owner’s place of work which is situated some 100 metres away in the main square, the Piazza della Cisterna. However, all part of the Italian experience! Step outside the guesthouse and there are plenty of street cafes where you can linger over a morning caffelatte and cornetti (croissant) and watch the passing parade. You can always cool off with one of the exquisite gelatos (try saffron flavour for a new taste sensation) from the gelateria in the Piazza della Cisterna, which has proudly boasted the title of ‘Gelato World Champion’ every year since 2006.


Casa de'Potenti




From around €50.00 per room per night depending on the season (plus breakfast).





If you want to see San Gimignano but avoid the crowds you could stay at the Villa San Paolo, 5 kilometres from the town and with a bird’s eye view of the towers and town walls in the distance. The resort nestles amongst leafy gardens, cypress and olive groves and long rows of grapevines marching up the surrounding hills. The guestrooms have private facilities, air conditioning, satellite TV, telephone, safe, hairdryer, bathrobes and spacious balconies with views to San Gimignano. There is an on-site restaurant (closed Monday) and snack bar. And what could be better than breakfast on the balcony, a relaxed morning by the pool, maybe an indulgent facial or a stress-reducing massage in preparation for a light lunch on the terrace – possibly with a glass of crisp, local Vernaccia white wine in hand.


Villa San Paolo


Mid afternoon the army of tourist buses which deliver visitors en masse to the town each day depart for Florence, in time for the day-trippers to get back for dinner. This is the ideal time to do some sightseeing as San Gimignano will be yours, along with the inhabitants, until about 1100 the next morning; and from the Villa San Paolo the town is just a short drive away. Theoretically you could hire a bicycle and ride– but remember it is a hill town! To get the most out of a stay here, a car is a necessity as taxis are not easily available and the San Paolo is not within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants – and this part of Tuscany is filled with treasures such as Certaldo (that is if you haven’t had your fill of medieval hill towns,) Siena and it’s famous piazza, Colle Val d’Elsa the Italian home of Italian crystal, Volterra and its alabaster craftsmen and the beautifully preserved 13th century, pedestrian only hamlet, Monterrigioni, almost a compulsory stop on the San Gimignano —Siena road.


Villa San Paolo


€117.00 per room per night (low season) including breakfast and taxes.

NOTE: Cars are are generally banned from the narrow, twisty streets of the Tuscan hilltowns; however, parking areas have been established outside the walls. Be warned that San Gimignano has a reputation for having the most vigilant parking police in Tuscany!




  San Gimignano

 San Gimignano, S Greg Panosian


Hotel photos courtesy and copyright of The Casa de’Potenti and Villa San Paolo.



Trish Clark is author of Good Night and God Bless: A Guide to Convent and Monastery Accommodation in Europe, Vols I and II,
both published by Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press NJ. She
writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators as the European
Accommodation Editor
. You can find her at http://goodnightandgodbless.com/