Most travelers visit San Gimignano to see the stone skyscrapers of “Medieval Manhattan.” But little did we know that some mouthwatering eats can be found in this infamous tourist trap. And at budget prices, to boot!
Let’s mix things up and start with dessert first, shall we? Forget the biscotti and tiramisu, delicious as they are, and head straight for the gelato. Sampling the various flavors and comparing the different shops is something the whole family will want in on no matter where you go in Italy. However, in San Gimignano, you only need to make one stop – Gelateria Dondoli.
The multitude of flavors in this ice cream parlor will boggle your mind (see them here, here, and here), and the line out the door will make you wonder if the whole shebang is even worth it. Have some faith my friend, you’re about to taste the best gelato in Italy!
I must admit, our unadventurous souls shied away from the most creative flavor combinations like raspberry with rosemary or gorgonzola with walnut. However, I couldn’t resist a spoonful of the champagne – unbelievable! Other favorites: espresso, cinnamon, mango, and wild berry yoghurt. But, who cares what we liked – keep sampling until you find the one, or twenty, that you dig.
And, to put the cherry on top, this incredible ice cream shop is one of the cheapest in all of Tuscany. Apparently all the Gelato World Champion fame hasn’t gone to their heads. The title has, however, made the neighboring gelateria green with envy. Don’t be fooled by their sign touting “the world’s best gelato.” In this case it’s best to argue semantics and to keep your eyes peeled for the crucial word champion.
Unfortunately, no “world minestrone championship” exists. But if it did, it would be a bore since Trattoria Chiribiri is the clear winner. Progresso ruined my opinion of minestrone for years; but one big bowl from Chiribiri has me stalking websites for a similar recipe.
Soup not your thing? No worries. Order the beef in Chianti or the gnocchi with cream sauce instead, and insist that the waiter bring you an extra loaf of bread. You’ll be sending the plates back to the kitchen cleaner than a whistle, trust me. Trattoria Chiribiri served us the BEST restaurant meal of our Tuscan vacation (second only by Trattoria da Leo in Lucca), and for under 35 euros no less.
For more on Trattoria Chiribiri, check out my review on TripAdvisor (look for the shoes!) or the recommendation in Frommer’s. You can also browse their website, but I should warn you that the food photography is atrocious and does not reflect the quality and flavor of the dishes.
In this village, everyone’s a tourist. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single soul without a backpack or camera. While this is annoying in some respects (no “authentic” Italy here), in other ways it’s a relief. For once, it’s easy to blend in. Just strap on a DSLR, add a fanny pack for flair, socks with sandals if you can stomach the look, and you’ll fit right in. Really.
Most sandal and shutter-stocked sightseers head straight for the towers. We weren’t keen on sharing a small staircase with fragrant strangers, so we opted to view the village and countryside from the Rocca. In addition to being extremely budget friendly (read: free), those with sturdy legs will get the best view of the stone high rises from here. For east side scenery, follow the signs to Punto Panoramico.To ditch the crowds, follow the path outside the walls counterclockwise starting at the Porta delle Fonti. You’ll be treated to Tuscan views peeking through the olive-laden trees.
Spend the afternoon checking out churches or gagging at the grotesque in the Museo della Tortura. Whatever you do, you’re bound to have a pleasant stay in this famous city. Despite its overpriced tourist heart, San Gimignano still offers budget gems to travelers who know where to look.
- Toilets – All public potties are pay-to-pee, fifty cents a pop. Drink responsibly, and use the bathrooms in restaurants you patronize.
- Prams – Many streets are incredibly steep (a central theme in Tuscany..). You’ll see the Italians using strollers, but save yourself the struggle and stick with a backpack carrier.
- Prices – If it’s souvenirs you’re after, don’t buy them in San Gimignano. Other Tuscan hill towns are cheaper. For instance, a package of pici noodles costs 1,98 euro in the grocery store. An identical bag in Pienza sells for 2,50… or 3,50 in San Gimignano.
- Timing – For day trippers, try to make the extra effort to arrive very early or stay late. The empty streets and perfect lighting will make for beautiful photos.
- Playgrounds – We found two areas for the kiddos. The first is near the Rocca. Head to the south side, and you’ll see a set of steps leading to it further down the hill. The other is on the east side of Via Folgore da San Gimignano. It’s behind a gate, but visible from the street.
- Parking – You can save a bit by parking down the hill at lot P1 (1 euro/hr). We left the car in P2 (2 euro/hr), but it was worth it not to have to hike up the hill in the hot sun or wait for the park-and-ride bus.
This post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series. Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!