When most think about Tuscany, images of the Duomo of Florence or the Tower of Pisa come to mind. Yet, as popular as this beautiful region is, there are still places that can be discovered, towns and villages that are not known by most, pearls like San Miniato, equally important when it comes to art, architecture and gastronomy.
As a matter of fact, this gorgeous town is so quintessentially Tuscan, it reveals itself as “more Tuscan” than most of its neighbors.
Historically, San Miniato has been an important stop for pilgrims on their way to Rome – equally far from Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia and Siena- and its strategic location has made it the perfect spot for a short getaway. The San Domenico church, built in the 1300s, showcases a beautiful fresco by Masolino del Panicale, while the cloisters of San Domenico are home to the town archives, which feature amazing historical documents such as some of the most ancient papers that belonged to the oldest families in town.
Even more remarkable is the Seminary, located in the central Piazza della Repubblica, with its spectacular frescos: from there you can take a leisurely walk in the square first, admiring Palazzo Formichini and Palazzo Grifoni, and then down the three sets of stairs that bring you down to the Prato del Duomo to take in the beauty of the Palazzo Vescovile –built in the 1300s- and what remains of the fortress ordered by emperor Federico II to host his party during hunting sessions.
Although small, San Miniato offers a good number of accommodation and dining options that range in luxury (and price). Hotel Villa Sonnino (www.villasonnino.com) is a magnificent villa built in the 1500s by one of the most influential families of the area: today it has been transformed in a gorgeous 4 star hotel, located close enough to the town center to reach by foot walking down a scenic driveway delimited by tall cypress trees.
As ancient but more down to earth is Villa Contessa Marianna (www.villacontessamarianna.it), a quiet residence at the foot of a hill just outside town, perfect for those who wish to rest and relax. Dining can be the perfect way to really get to know the area: at Papaveri e Papere, beautifully located in an old rural church, the menu is an ode to local products such as oil, truffles and wine; at Piazza del Popolo the atmosphere is more informal, but the food is equally genuine and delicious.
Although not as famous and noble as the white truffle from Alba, the local white truffle is very appreciated by foodies, tourists and locals alike: every year a festival dedicated to the tartufo takes place for three weekends in November and December, attracting a large number of aficionados.
San Miniato is the ideal place to go shopping, especially if you are interested in buying local ingredients and delicacies: the town features a large number of family run botteghe, small mom-and-pop stores that still sell the same traditionally prepared ingredients and products they sold when they first opened decades ago.
Il Cantuccio di Federigo, centrally located in the old medieval quarters, sells some of the best Vin Santo of the area, as well as delicious cantucci cookies. If extra virgin olive oil is what you are after, pay a visit to Frantoio Sanminiatese: you will be amazed by the fragrance of its oils, all made using locally grown olives and ancient pressing methods.
Last but not least, if you miss the festival dedicated to white truffles you can make up for it by stopping at Tartufi Gazzarini, where you can buy the precious tubers or, if on a budget, oils, butters, spreads and many other delicious ingredients infused with it.
San Miniato is best reached by car: from the A1 higway take the Firenze Scandicci exit, from the A12 take the Pisa Centro Exit. Regardless, follow the Fi-Pi-Li freeway and use exit San Miniato to get into town. Alternatively, the town is connected by train to both Pisa and Florence (and therefore the rest of Northern and Central Italy). The nearest airports are Pisa and Firenze, the nearest port is Livorno.