Via Francigena: Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano

View from bathroom window

We woke up to sunshine this morning and a wonderful view of the misty clouds and fields from our bathroom window. I was so pleased as today was promised (by the guidebook) to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire route.

Chris making coffee

Chris and I had a room (called Forrest Gump) in an annex which had a shared kitchen with the room next door. In the morning we had been left a croissant each in our Forrest Gump labelled basket together with a plate of sandwiches, a bottle of sweet peach juice and yogurts on our labelled shelf in the fridge.

Piazzetta Della Cisterna

After breakfast we called the owner and he met the 6 of us at the property where we paid for our rooms in cash.

Piazzetta Della Cisterna

Gambassi Terme is a pretty small town even in the rain but it looked even more attractive in the sunshine so we took the opportunity to have a quick look around before starting the day of walking.

Views across Tuscany from Gambassi Terme

As a hilltop village we could see far reaching views across the Tuscany countryside from Gambassi Terme.

Piazza Del Castello

After such a wet previous day we were in high spirits this morning as we set off in the sun looking forward to walking through the promised beautiful countryside.

We came across a wine tasting shop where we were encouraged in by the owner who offered to stamp our pilgrim passports. There was a range of pilgrim merchandise as well as bottles of wine for sale but with our limited capacity to carry much we sadly had to decline. And it was too early in the morning to participate in any wine tasting!

A plaque on the wall of the winery

Continuing on our way…

Through meadows
Cypress trees

This stretch was stunning… we walked along a ridge through cypress trees with spectacular views on either side, in between the trees.

View from the ridge of cypress trees
Passing through a tiny hamlet
More cypress trees
And more spectacular panoramic views
Shrine at Pancole

As we approached a tiny place called Pancole we came across a shrine which is dedicated to Mary, Mother of Divine Providence. It is said that in 1668 an apparition of the Madonna appeared and miraculously healed a poor dumb girl by giving her voice back again and providing her with fine bread, oil and barrels of wine!

Shrine at Pancole
The French pilgrim couple resting

We stopped at the adjacent Santuario Maria for a break and a snack. The group of 10 Australians turned up just after us and the French couple were also there!

Sanctuario Maria
Looking towards San Gimignano from Santuario Maria

Thunderstorms had been forecast for today but as I checked my weather app from time to time they thankfully kept moving to later in the morning and then into the afternoon. Looking across to our destiny, San Gimignano didn’t look too promising however…

Walking away from Pancole
Through a gorgeous flower filled little hamlet
Through the woods
San Gimignano on the hill in the distance

Through a clearing in the trees we could see San Gimignano which was about 3 km away.

The weather still remained dry as we passed a monastery. But not for long…

Thunderstorm in the distance

Suddenly along the road into San Gimignano we felt a few huge drops of rain and we quickly put our waterproofs on. Thankfully we were caught the edge and missed the worst of it.

Approaching San Gimignano
Outskirts of San Gimignano
San Gimignano north gate

The rain had stopped by the time we reached the gate of San Gimignano and we hadn’t got too wet.

Cheese, apple, rocket and walnut salad with a honey dressing for lunch

It was lunchtime when we arrived in San Gimignano so the first thing we did was to find a lovely restaurant… a bit more classy than yesterday’s lunch of leftover pizza in the dirty rat infested scruffy deserted barn…

San Gimignano

After lunch we set of to explore… San Gimignano is on the tourist trail with day trippers arriving from places such as Florence or Lucca so was busy…

We made our way to the medieval historic centre with its 13th century towers. The town was established before the 10th century with its strategic location on the top of a hill and was an important trade route between European and Middle Eastern markets.

The towers were originally built between the 11th and 13th centuries by noble families and upper middle-class merchants as symbols of wealth and power.

View from the top of the tower

Another day another tower…

Unable to resist the opportunity for another spectacular view from the highest point of San Gimignano, 5 of us climbed the 218 steps to the top of Torre Grossa, the highest of the family of towers.

View from the top of the tower

San Gimignano has several masterpieces of Italian art and at the foot of the tower was a small exhibition:

Above left is ‘Cassone’ by 15th century artist Pier Francesco Fiorentino and above right is ‘Madonna and Child’, circa 1460-70.

At around 4 pm we made our way to tonight’s accommodation… staying in a monastery!

Having found a website I had booked 3 ensuite rooms by email in the Monastero San Gimignano. They sent me a helpful email during the morning with instructions to arrive between 3:30 – 5:30 pm when the sisters will be able to answer the door and let us in.

Our room in the monastery

Sister Maddalena greeted us but couldn’t speak any English – thankfully Roza helped out by conversing with her in Italian! Sister Maddalena showed us to our rooms which were similar to hostel rooms. Our spacious room had two single beds and a bunk bed and one of the best showers of the trip!

View from the room

We also had an amazing view from our room!

Later we met the others in a lovely open air bar in the historic centre for a pre-dinner glass of wine.

And that evening enjoyed a meal in a small restaurant as recommended by Sister Maddalena (and understood by Roza). Here we had traditional Tuscan food and organic local wine sitting at a table down in the cellar!

Organic wine
The bed in the monastery

That evening, reflecting on another fabulous day, I had a comfortable nights’ sleep in the monastery complete with its cute floral pillow case and bedding.

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