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HindustanTimes Thu,23 Oct 2014

Tuscany's timeless villages

Geetika Jain  Tuscany, November 10, 2011
First Published: 15:38 IST(10/11/2011) | Last Updated: 15:38 IST(10/11/2011)
The tiny hilltop town of San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy, allows you to indulge your imagination more than any of the other medieval clutches dotted in the area. It is not only the best preserved, but its tall towers tell the story of the amassing of wealth, the desire to display it and the dangerous rivalries that called for protection inside them.

Around the fourteenth century there were other towns too where these plain, rectangular towers were being built as keeps. Florence, Pisa, Lucca and several others have a handful standing till today, but here, in San Gimignano, thirteen out of the original seventy-six towers remain in place. In an area no larger than two miles square, they come together to look like Manhattan on a hilltop.

Spectacular vistas await the droves of visitors who come here. Built of the local earth-coloured stones and terracotta roof tiles, the town, with its open piazzas (squares) and narrow alleys is imbued in charm. Walking along its two main streets, Via San Matteo and San Giovanni, we were constantly drawn to the side streets that led to the vistas of the green valleys beyond. Tall, slim cypress trees swayed next to rows of grape laden vines. San Gimignano, densely packed, with light-starved alleys and an intense history contrasted with the sparse farms and fields that stretched sleepily for miles in the golden light.

Duomos, Frescoes And Gelato
The best way to experience San Gimignano is to wander at leisure and come across what you might. We were fortunate to watch a newly wed couple come out of the main cathedral's medieval setting. As they gathered themselves into an antique scooter with a side seat, her father donned his period headgear and goggles, and after several attempts at starting the scooter, put-putted off to an enormous cheer from the crowd.

For art lovers, the Gozzoli frescoes in Sant'Agostino and the rich collection at the Collegiata are worth discovering. There are dozens of hilltop villages in Tuscany and the neighbouring state, Umbria, such as Lucca, Pienza, Montepulciano, Montone, and Citerna that are a delight to explore.

They all undulate with steep steps and slopes and take you back in time. What they did not have when they were built, are the ice-cream shops that offer dozens of home-made flavours of delicious gelato. And because it is difficult to choose, you just have to keep going back for more.
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Fact file
Best time to go: Spring and autumn, summer can be hot and crowded
How to get there: 90 minutes via road from Florence and Pisa.
For more: visit www.sitabus.it
Eat at: Gelataria di Piazza Piazza della Cisterna 4 and dine at Dorando, famed for its traditional Tuscan recipes. Vicolo dell'Oro 2
Shop for: Hand painted ceramics, truffle oil, Tuscan wine and fresh produce


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