11 August 2013

A flying visit to San Gimignano

A couple of months before the wedding, we took a trip to San Gimignano so we could see the villa where we were getting married, view the surroundings and to meet our wedding planner, Ben Singleton from Italy Weddings.

We flew to Pisa from Luton with Easyjet on a Monday which cost us about £30 each way. We then hired a car from the airport which cost us about £130 for three days and then drove from Pisa to San Gimignano which take just over an hour.

Once we got out of Pisa, the drive was really beautiful. The sun was shining, the route was littered with lovely historic towns and buildings and even the air smelt nice! It was June and Tuscany weather had been really wet, which meant the landscape was apparently unusually very lush and green.

A few towers on the horizon en route to San Gimignano

You can see San Gimignano from about 20 miles away as the towers rise out of the hills on the horizon. For the whole journey I wanted to stop every five minutes to take photos as it was so picturesque. But Adam wanted to get there for a drink in the square!

Tom Tom was our guide as we had a version with European maps. And it worked pretty well until we got to San Gimignano when it sent us into the town itself. It sent us through one if the narrow gates into the town, down windy, narrow, cobbled, high walled streets, littered with tourists flocking like sheep and utterly unwilling to move out of our way. To this day, I have no idea whether we were allowed to drive down some of those streets, but we got there in the end!

Where we stayed

You can't actually park inside the walls of San Gimignano. But there are three public car parks just outside all of which you can easily walk into the town from. Watch out for the prices though as they vary according to how near they are to the walls. We parked in P1 which was €6 a day, whereas P2 was €20 a day.

Enjoying the view on our hotel balcony (La Cisterna Hotel)

We stayed at La Cisterna Hotel which was right on the main square. The website claims the hotel has the "best view in San Gimignano" and our room did have a balcony with the most amazing view of the square. We also had a fridge in our room which meant we could have a glass of wine in the sun while watching the tourists and also buy some cheese to take home. It was quite loud in the mornings (as TripAdvisor had warned us) and the church bells seemed to clang incessantly. But, as we were only there for a few days, we didn't mind being up bright and early.

Adam (in the blue t-shirt) on our hotel balcony. Taken from the main square.

All the reviews warned us that San Gimignano was going to have queues and queues of tourists. I don't know whether it was because it was early in the season or because they'd had a lot of rain, but it was pretty quiet. There are lots of little shops to wander around where you can buy wine, cheese, pasta, wild boar products and arts and crafts from the region and none of them were busy and we didn't even have to queue at the famous Gelataria, Dondoli's.

One of the many small shops selling local produce (including boar!)

Where we ate

There are hundreds of nice places to eat in San Gimignano so we were spoilt for choice. However, we found few places where you can actually eat outside. The view is so spectacular that it seems a shame to look at it through the window of a restaurant. Here's a couple we found.

If you're going out for dinner, I'd recommend a drink beforehand at Enoteca diVinorum. They had some tables outside with a wonderful view. There was a great selection of wines and we enjoyed a crisp, cold glass of the local white wine, Vernaccia, and a platter of meat and cheese. The view over the fields was stunning and we found that by this time in the evening there were fewer day trippers in the town spoiling the serenity.

Enjoying a glass of Vernaccia at Enoteca diVinorium

Our favourite restaurant was Le Vecchie Mura. It had a lovely outside panoramic terrace and we went at the perfect time to watch the sun setting. The staff were very friendly and attentive without being overly familiar and we ended up eating far, far too much. I had two of region's traditional dishes of wild boar pasta and a steak Tagliata which is a sliced rare steak over bitter salad with Parmesan and balsamic. All washed down with a bottle of Serreto (a mixture of Merlot and Sangiovese grapes) from the Cappella Sant'Andrea winery.

The view from Vecchie Mura

If you're eating inside, we also had a nice meal at Trattoria Chiribiri. We both had a delicious rabbit pasta with a platter of meats and cheeses. You can pick whichever pasta you like with the sauce which is a nice touch. We picked a half carafe of the house Chianti and it was perfect. Our wedding planner took us here which is probably an indication that the locals think this place is good.

On the main square, there were two ice-cream parlours  Both claim to have award winning gelato and the best in the world. However, the Gelateria Dondoli has actually won the award for the best gelato in the world and had an amazing selection of innovative ice-creams. I had one scoop of Prosecco and grapefruit flavour and another of raspberry and rosemary.

Gelateria Dondoli's amazing selection

As you can probably tell, the wedding diet was out the window!

Wine tasting

You can't go to Tuscany without visiting a vineyard. We chose to go to one which was within walking distance of San Gimignano called Sovestro in Poggio. It was about a 20 minute walk from the town but a very pleasant walk, especially on the way back after a few glasses. They did a proper wine tasting tour at 11.30 every day which included a look round the vineyards and cellar followed by a tasting and lunch for €25. As well as wine tasting, the farm also offered accommodation with a pool.

We were only able to go in the afternoon, so we popped in for a tasting at around 4pm. It's very tranquil at the farm with a stunning view of San Gimignano over the vines and up on the hill. We paid for a tasting of three wines with olives and cheese. This comprised one white Vernaccia and two Chianti. You can buy wine from the vineyard, but they are pretty hefty tourist prices of from €12 a bottle (but then everything is expensive in San Gimignano) so we just bought one bottle of the Vernaccia which was lemony and peachy and very delicious.

The owners of the farm were really friendly and very active on twitter. We have even arranged for my brother to stay at the farm in September. The only slight issue we had was that a coach load of American tourists turned up halfway through our tasting. It was quiet and calm before they swarmed upon the tasting room and so if you go to the Vineyard, I would recommend checking whether the farm is expecting any coaches.

Wine tasting at the Sovestro in Poggio

And, of course we met up with our wedding planner and took a trip to see the villa we had hired for the wedding which was between Volterra and San Gimignano. For us, it made us feel much more reassured about the wedding having met the planner (yes, Ben did exist and he was a very nice man) and looking round the villa to see that it was as nice as it looked in the photos (it was better!). Also, it helped us make decisions which we had been struggling with remotely. Things like where to hold the ceremony, what additional lighting did we need, what to do if it rained (gasp!) and where the band were going to set up.

Overall, because we had such a lovely time that it made us more excited about our wedding. And, although it is an additional expense to an abroad wedding, I would recommend everyone to try and build a visit to the venue into their wedding budget. 

Roll on September :)

View of the square from our hotel balcony