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The Towers of San Gimignano
Amongst the myriad towns that lay nestled within the undulating hills of the Tuscan countryside, you might not expect to see a sight reminiscent of big cities and bustling towns. And yet, the skyline that rises so resplendently from Siena's rolling farmlands (practically bursting at the seams with Chianti wine grapes) is quite a difficult thing to ignore.
Though its given name gives nothing away, the walled settlement of San Gimignano has sometimes been known by its other moniker "The Town of Fine Towers"; for those on the winding approach from Florence, it’s easy to see why. Fortunately, being placed far enough away from the various epicentres and over-enthusiastic developers that have encroached on surrounding areas in the past, this gem retains much of its genuine medieval charm. Its increasingly rare original features also survive, including the fourteen titular towers — still impressive despite the fact that there once were over 70 of these skyscrapers.So internationally renowned has the town become for its ancient, yet unusually urban-like architecture, that it has been forever immortalised in everything from literature ("The Broker" by John Grisham), to film ("Tea With Mussolini"). The "Assassin’s Creed" video game allows you to virtually explore the town as it would have appeared in the 15th century — all while sneaking past guards into aristocratic abodes and helping yourself to the treasures within. Please don’t think this is acceptable to do in real life.
From the highest points of the towers (Grossa and Rognosa are the tallest), visitors are rewarded for their sharp climb with sweeping panoramas across the encircling Elsa Valley as well as views over Etruscan rooftops, from fortina to duomo, from palazzo to piazza.
And though it may be a much maligned travel cliché to suggest there is something for everyone here, this modest hilltop deep in Tuscany has a lot to offer. From a world-famous gelateria and many more Tuscan treats from the surrounding fields (wild boar, saffron-infused fare, wines and fresh fruits), gastronomic guests will be satisfied. Art lovers will delight in getting lost in the gorgeous frescoes and artworks that line many of the Renaissance-era heritage sights. Of course, if you’re looking for something to truly top it all off, a visit to the Museum of Medieval Torture should give you an experience that will really rattle your cage. If you pardon the expression.