Day-trips in Tuscany #1 – San Gimignano, Colle & Volterra

Guests at our agriturismo in Chianti are always asking us for ideas for day-trips, and so we’ve got good and creating manageable tours that won’t leave you exhausted.

And here’s the first. It’s one of our most popular days out. It’s a circular tour that starts and ends at Podere Patrignone, but you can start wherever you like, and go clock-wise or anti-clockwise, though clock-wise works slightly better in this case. You’ll see why later.

Stop 1 – Colle Val D’Elsa

Colle has a new-town, and an old-town; you want the latter. The old town sits high up on a finger or rock that juts out into the Elsa valley, and is stunningly preserved. It’s not large, so it won’t take long to walk around, but it’s very beautiful, and almost completely unspoilt by tourists. There are a few small museums, a couple of them dedicated to Colle’s main industry, crystal glass, which it’s famous for world-wide.

Stop 2 – Volterra

This spectacular fortress hill-top town is one of my favourite places to visit. The views on the drive up are stunning, and you won’t forget your first glimpse of the castle. Volterra has a lovely atmosphere, not quite so sleepy as some of the other Tuscan towns you’ll visit, more of a bustle to it, with a lived-in feel. There are plenty of decent restaurants and bars, some interesting shops (especially if you’re interested in Volterra’s famous alabaster), and some very interesting buildings and ruins. The Roman amphitheatre is well-worth a look. But you’ll enjoy just wandering around, catching glimpses of stunning views and castle ruins down alley-ways that have been around for the best part of 3 thousand years. Have a leisurely lunch, take some photos, and think about getting back in your car sometime after 4pm. If you feel like buying me a present, pop into my favourite coffee shop and bring be back a 1/2 kilo of his finest home-roasted beans. [You’ll find his shop and roasting room here.]

Stop 3 – San Gimignano, or “San-Jimmy”

If you’ve done any research at all, then your guide book will put San-Jimmy as a “must see”. It’s a beautiful little medieval town, perfectly preserved, and famous for its many towers. But beware: if you go during the day during peak months, it may not be quite the romantic experience you were expecting. It can get super-busy. The crowds can really be quite intolerable, especially if one or more cruise ships have docked in Livorno the night before. As you fight your way through the crowds, the shops will seriously underwhelm you too; dozens of tacky souvenir shops, many stocking a bewildering array of knifes, swords, crossbows, beebee guns and throwing stars.

But if you time your arrival at San Gimignano for around 5pm, you’ll find the town much quieter – this is why a clock-wise route makes more sense. The tour buses have gone, and you’ll enjoy the town without feeling the need to purchase any crowd-control weaponry. You’ll be able to appreciate the town’s true beauty, meander through the quiet back-streets, and browse some of the more interesting shops and art galleries. Look out for linens and leather, which are of a good quality and inexpensive. You’ve got plenty of time for a nice wander around, and can still get back to Podere Patrignone in planty of time for sunset drinks on the Terracotta Terrazza. Or watch the sunset from the top of the old castle in San Gimignano, grab dinner in one of the many good restaurants (though stay well-away from restaurants on the main drag), and the drive home to Podere Patrignone will take just over ½ hour.

It’s a lovely day out, with a total driving time of around 2 hours (without stops to admire the spectacular views around Volterra). And if you only have ½ a day, you could always skip one of the three stops.

As with any sight-seeing, a little advance research can help you get a lot more from your visit. There’s a mountain of stuff online, so you’ve haven’t got much of an excuse. Easier still, find the local tourist office and organise a guided tour. Many places offer free tours or rent audio guides for pocket-change.

Keep your eye open for the next edition of Day-trips in Tuscany: The Hills of Northern Chianti.

The route

This map shows the route I’d take and where I usually park, though there are plenty of parking areas available.

If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, and you would like to know more about staying at our agriturismo in the Chianti hills, Podere Patrignone, we have a large villa and 5 villa apartments to rent. As we live here all year, we’re always willing to give you a help and advice. We hope you can join us!


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