San Miniato is a tiny hill town in northern Tuscany, located right between Florence and Pisa, and you probably have never heard of it! While certainly not as popular as other Tuscan hill towns, such as San Gimignano, Assisi, and Orvieto, San Miniato retains a distinctly Italian charm and is almost devoid of foreign tourists (especially American tourists). To draw in some tourists , San Miniato boasts lots of history (what Italian town doesn’t?) a ruined castle, a handful of churches, and its most well-known draw, the White Truffle Festival! And yes, I traveled all the way to San Miniato just for its fabulous white truffle festival in November 2016! In my defense, I have always wanted to go to a real Italian truffle festival AND we were going to Italy anyway! So why not?! And, San Miniato is totally gorgeous….
For those unfamiliar with white truffles, white truffles are the most prized of the truffle family and are most abundant in certain parts of Tuscany, including in and around San Miniato. To celebrate this delicious and expensive treat, San Miniato hosts the most famous white truffle festival in the world every November! Given its status as the most famous white truffle festival in the world, I expected San Miniato to be packed with pretentious foodies, but that was not the case at all! In fact, although San Miniato’s White Truffle Festival does have an international presence, there were a noticeable lack of English-speaking visitors and most visitors were Italians from surrounding towns!
San Miniato’s White Truffle Festival takes place the last 3 weekends of every November. Even if you do not speak Italian, you can (and should!) confirm the dates on San Miniato’s town website before booking travel. Once we confirmed our itinerary and the dates that we would be in San Miniato, I obsessed over making hotel and dinner reservations, figuring that the town would be packed with tourists. And while it was packed during the day, my worrying was unwarranted. The large majority of tourists were day trippers from surrounding Italian towns who left before dinner. As such, San Miniato was really packed during the day, but quietened down substantially at night. I still recommend making hotel and dinner reservations in advance, but its not as dire as I imagined (although I would note that San Miniato does not have many hotels right in the town…many are located a car ride away).
Upon my return from San Miniato, I received lots of questions about the San Miniato White Truffle Festival. What did you do? Was it terribly expensive? Was it hard to reach? In short, there is so much to do. No, its not ridiculously expensive. No, San Miniato is not hard to reach.
For purposes of visiting the San Miniato Truffle Festival, your main objective should be tasting those delicious truffles! If you are looking for an entire sit down meal featuring white truffles (and you should!), it makes sense to reserve a table for dinner at one of San Miniato’s sit down restaurants, which all feature white truffles in November. The white truffle dishes are not cheap, but they are well worth the cost. We found that most white truffle dishes ran between €30,00 and €50,00….but they were DELICIOUS and so worth the cost!
If you are not set on a blow out truffle meal, don’t stress. The truffle festival is filled with free truffle tastings! To get your bearings, San Miniato’s White Truffle Festival is spread throughout the entire hill down, centering its three main squares: Piazza del Popolo, Piazza del Repubblica and Piazza del Duomo. Be sure to hit all three to get the full experience!
We started touring the festival in the Piazza del Popolo, right in front of the Chiesa di San Domenico (warrants a 10 minute, free walk through), because it was close to our hotel. During the White Truffle Festival, Piazza del Popolo is home to a large, covered tent hosting lots of local businesses selling truffle-based products, including truffle cheese, truffle-infused sausage, truffle-infused honey, local wine, and friend polenta, among other delicacies! Most offer free samples! In addition to the stands directly in front of the Chiesa di San Domenico, a number of stands are set up just to the right of the Chiesa di San Domenico under the proticos adjacent to the church. We had the best friend polenta and some Italian craft beer in this stand, and the BEST truffle Parmesean cheese!
We next made our way down San Miniato’s main street to the Piazza della Republica, where there is another, larger covered tent with even more stalls selling truffle-based products and wine. For both the businesses set up Piazza del Popolo and the Piazza della Repubblica, you can sample for free and purchase products. I recommend bringing cash, although some larger stands did take credit card. And on that note, the stands range from fancy producers who are very commercial to tiny mom and pop businesses! Try them all but I prefer the mom and pop shops!
We finally made our way to Piazza del Duomo and the wine tent, which is the main attraction in the Piazza del Duomo and can be very dangerous! To taste wine in the wine tent, you can either rent a glass for € 5 or purchase a glass for € 10. Both options come with free tastings of any and all of the wines. However, for the rental, you cannot leave the tent and come back. You can drink all day with the purchased wine glass, and it also comes with a (cute?) holder for the glass that goes around your neck. Somehow, I made it through the entire festival and trip to Italy without breaking the glass!! That was a huge accomplishment!
If you want a hot white truffle based meal and are not planning to sit down in a restaurant, the wine tent is your best bet! The wine tent offers several tapas-sized white truffle dishes at a fraction of the price of a full white truffle meal in a restaurant.
In addition to the “main areas” of the truffle festival, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza de la Repubblica and Piazza del Duomo, the entire town is open on every Saturday and Sunday of the truffle festival. Many shops have sales and certain restaurants keep longer hours to accommodate the influx of people.
How Long To Stay In San Miniato?
One question that I struggled with in planning my visit to the San Miniato White Truffle was how long to spend there? In all seriousness, the festival and San Miniato’s few sites can been seen in a day. However, to fully experience San Miniato, I recommend staying at least one night; we stayed two. To accomplish this, we hired a driver to drive us from Milan to San Miniato immediately upon arrival from the US (3.5 hours, we slept). We arrived just in time for a stroll and dinner, and then had the full next day (Sunday) to enjoy the festival. We left early Monday morning for Florence via the #strugglebus…I mean train!
How To Get To San Miniato?
As I mentioned, San Miniato is not difficult to reach. It is a 45 minute train ride from Florence and 30 minutes from Pisa. If you train to the festival, know that the train station is tiny and at the bottom of the hill town (meaning the bottom of the very steep hill on which San Miniato sits). You will need to hire a cab to get to the top of the hill, to San Miniato proper. The bad news – there is only one taxi in town and he charges €25,00 each way. You can also walk but it will take an hour up hill. Alternatively, driving is an option and there is parking near the festival.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel San Miniato: Via Aldo Moro 2, San Miniato 56027, Pisa, Italy. Tel: +390571418904 E: firstname.lastname@example.org. One of the few hotels in San Miniato’s upper town. Hotel San Miniato has a number of rooms but do book a bit before leaving home, as there are not many hotels right in San Miniato. Excellent complimentary breakfast.
Restaurant L’Uppa: Via Augusto Conti 15, 56028 – San Miniato (PI), located just up from the Piazza del Popolo. Tel. 0571400429. E: email@example.com. Very small, very local restaurant serving excellent white truffle dishes. Since there are so few tables and its hours vary, definitely call ahead and make a reservation.
Cinema Vecchio: Via IV novembre, 30 56029 San Miniato – PI – Toscana. Tel. +39.057142518. E: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Tuesday – Sunday, 19:00 – 24:00. Good pizza restaurant if you are truffled out, although Cinema Vecchio does offer an excellent truffle pizza during the festival. You probably do not need a reservation, but you can make them online via thefork.com.
Trenitalia: Italian National Railway’s website in English. You can buy train tickets online, including those between San Miniato and Florence. If you have any schedule at all, I recommend buying train tickets online before you leave. They are good for a four hour window from the departure time listed on your ticket and the San Miniato
ON A BUDGET
Generally, San Miniato is not an expensive town. Its lack of tourists keeps the prices lower than other Tuscan hill towns. However, white truffles are super expensive! If you are on a budget, budget at least €50 for a blow out white truffle meal. Alternatively, fill up on the many, many free samples at the truffle festival! Also, hit the inexpensive hot dishes in the wine tent. In terms of drinking, wine is literally cheaper than water so you will have no problem there!