Where to stay, what to do and where to eat around San Gimignano (Tuscany)
by Elisabetta Lombardo
In April we spent a few magical days in Tuscany.
As most of you know, I am originally from Italy (Turin, to be precise), and I had not traveled back since 2019. I was so happy be back and to enjoy the sun and a few peaceful days in the Tuscan countryside. Here are a few notes and tips from my travels.
Where to stay: Borgo Pignano
We flew in through Pisa airport and rented a car (you will need a car to explore Tuscany).
An hour drive from Pisa is Borgo Pignano, a dog-friendly medieval country estate on the top of a hill. Be prepared for lots of curvy roads on the way up. We stayed in the “Legnaia” (woodshed) maisonette, in the oldest part of the estate (ca 1200).
The exposed bricks, stone sinks and marble details were very special. Borgo Pignano is largely self-sufficient: they produce everything you eat there, from the delicious bread to the pesto to the amazing onion grissini and oil. I recommend to order the pesto and tagliatelle from the estate shopping list and enjoy it al fresco.
Do not miss: San Gimignano
Probably the main reason for our trip here: spending time in San Gimignano, a UNESCO-World-Heritage site medieval town that is hard to properly describe in words. San Gimignano has a rich and complicated history: a wealthy town thanks to the production of saffron (still its number one source of income to this day), and its geographical position on the Via Francigena (the ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome and then to the Holy Land), it fell under Florence's influence in 1353. Its 13 towers, erected by rival families to show off their wealth, make it a spectacular sight.
It is a short 30 minute drive from Borgo Pignano. Cars are not allowed in the city center, so I recommend you park your car in parking lot P3 (the closest to the town).
Once in town, stroll around and take in the magnificent sight.
Don't miss the city squares (Piazza Duomo and Piazza della Cisterna) and make sure to climb all the way up the Rocca of Montestaffoli among the ancient medieval ruins, which host concerts and events in the summer. Climb up the stairs of the old tower to enjoy the amazing views.
We stopped at Divinorum wine barfor lunch with amazing views (you may need to be patient to get a table, but make sure you try their bruschetta). San Gimignano is famous for its white wine “Vernaccia”: stories and legends about this wine and its origins are numerous. It is delicious, so do not miss it.
Stop by Balducci Ceramics to admire and purchase Franco's and Esther's stunning work and have a look at San Gimignano 1300, a free museum featuring a stunning terracotta miniature of the city as it was in 1300. The museums is also the home of a few ceramic artists in town and their kiln is in full display.
San Gimignano is home to an impressive amount of restaurants, so there really is a lot of choice when it comes to dinner.
I recommend to book a table at Cum Quibus. We dined on the outside terrace in a sophisticated yet laid back atmosphere. The delicious food was served by engaged and kind staff that regaled us with stories about the dishes we were about to enjoy. Do not miss this place. Really.
Volterra is another medieval town around 20 minutes from Borgo Pignano.
It is smaller than San Gimignano but still worth a visit. I was looking forward to visiting the Etruscan museum, though unfortunately it was under renovation.
In Volterra we visited Alab' Arte, an alabaster workshop run by Roberto Chiti and Giorgio Finazzo. Alabaster is a stone first discovered by the Etruscans in this area. The carving of this stone into sculptures and objects has been a specialty of the town of Volterra ever since. During our workshop we were given a look at the techniques used in carving the stone and we also were able to carve a little something of our own.
While Volterra has a lot of restaurants, I recommend the locals-favourite La Carabaccia: the menu changes every day and features homemade delicacies. Probably the best risotto I have ever had.