As I mentioned in my previous post, Going All The Way To Italy For San Miniato’s White Truffle Festival, San Miniato is a tiny hill town in Northern Tuscany. While most famous for its namesake white truffle festival held every November, San Miniato makes an interesting and easy stop any time of the year, especially since its between Florence and Pisa! And, its ridiculously gorgeous and mostly devoid of foreign tourists.
San Miniato dates waaay back to the 700s. In its early days, the town was built on top of a hill for strategic and safety reasons. Now that modern times are here, San Miniato has spread out at the bottom of the hill too, including its tiny train station. If you are planning a trip to San Miniato, you should aim to stay on the hill. That is the San Miniato you traveled to see. You should also know that the train station is not exactly within walking distance of the hill top and there is only one taxi in town and it charges €25,00, each way.
Now that that is out of the way, what should you do in San Miniato and how long should you stay? San Miniato can be seen in a couple hours if you are pressed for time, but I recommend staying at least one night (or two during white truffle season in November) to get the full flavor of the town! No matter when you visit, here is my perfect itinerary to ensure that you hit the main highlights!
THE SAN MINIATO ITINERARY
Before I even start, I will note that if you visit during the white truffle festival, your itinerary may vary slightly as there is something going on in every corner of the town to distract you AND I recommend skipping lunch and relying on the free/cheap samples from the white truffle festival to get you through the day. Save your sit down meal for the evening when the white truffle festival closes down and the crowds dissipate.
In any case, no matter when you visit, you should start your visit in the morning with an uphill walk to Frederick’s Tower (aka Rocca di Frederico II). Frederick’s Tower was built in the 13th century by Frederick II, and it was later bombed in WWII and rebuilt. But you are not doing this to see the tower, you are going for the stunning views of San Miniato!! The walkway to the tower is located right behind the San Miniato Duomo (in Piazza del Duomo), or via a steep staircase on Corso Giuseppe Garibald. The walk to the tower is uphill, free, and not for the mobility inclined. Once you reach the top (15 minutes) you will be rewarded with stunning views of San Miniato and Frederick’s Tower (which isn’t nearly as exciting as the views).
While the views from the park should be enough of an enticement to get you to make the trek, you can also climb to the top of Frederick’s Tower for € 3,00 (cash only). The walk is much easier than the walk from San Miniato to the tower (its just a lot of stairs) and totally worth the € 3,00, and take a selfie stick! The views from the top of Frederick’s Tower are even better than you can imagine.
I would allot an hour for visiting Frederick’s Tower, but you can do less if pressed for time, or more if you are really into photography. Side note – there are no bathrooms, food, or water at Frederick’s Tower. The walk back down, while the exact same path, is so much easier.
After making it down from Frederick’s Tower, visit the Duomo (aka the cathedral). San Miniato’s Duomo dates back to 1622 and while seemingly rather plain, contains some really interesting majolica bowls on its exterior! Plan to spend 20 minutes here, unless you have a special interest. Remember that the Duomo will generally be closed to tourist visits during normal mass hours (but tourists are welcome to attend mass). There is also an art museum, the Diocesan Museum, next to the Duomo, which we skipped. The Diocesan Museum is the home of works by Filioppo Lippi, Jacopo Chimenti, Neri di Bicci, Fra Bartolomeo, Cigoli and Verrocchio.
No matter the time of year you are visiting, a break is likely in order post Duomo. If you are visiting during the White Truffle Festival, the wine tent, which offers hot truffle-based small plates, is always set up in the Piazza del Duomo. If you are not visiting during the White Truffle Festival, now is probably a good time to find a lunch spot in town! Before leaving the Piazza del Duomo, public restrooms, although not the nicest, are located in the right hand corner of the Piazza del Duomo (near the stairs). In either case, your next move is to head into the main part of town town, specifically the Piazza del Repubblica, which is just down the stairs in the right hand corner of the Piazza del Duomo.
Entering the Piazza del Repubblica will put you on the main street of town (name changes frequently, even though the town is tiny!). If you do not have lunch reservations, this is a great place to find lunch, gelato, drinks, coffee, and lots of shopping! This street is particularly fun on Saturdays, and on Saturdays and Sundays during the White Truffle Festival, as everything is open and lots of people are out and about. If you turn left and head up (slight uphill) from Piazza del Repubblica, you will find San Miniato’s historic town hall, which was built in the 14th century. If you are more interested in eating, drinking and shopping, or seeing the white truffle festival, turn right and head town to explore more of San Miniato.
If you want sit down lunch, I recommend Osteria L’Uppa, right on the main street and about a 3 – 5 minute walk from Piazza della Repubblica. Osteria L’Uppa opens at 13:00 for lunch and since the restaurant is tiny, I recommend making a reservation or getting there right at 13:00. During white truffle season, Osteria L’Uppa offers EXCELLENT white truffle dishes! However, during white truffle season, you may want to save your sit down meal for the evening when the white truffle festival closes down and the crowds head home.
After lunch/strolling around, make your way down to Piazza del Popolo – the end of the main street. Without stopping, this walk will take you less than five minutes. With stopping, it really depends on you! When you reach Piazza del Popolo, be sure to visit the Chiesa di San Domencio, or the Saint Domenican Church. Entrance is free, and this church is less modern than the Duomo The Chiesa di San Domenico was built in the 14th century and the interior contains art work by Luca della Robbia, Masolino da Panicale and Donatello!
Piazza del Popolo ends your tour! At this point, you have seen the most interesting sites of San Minato! If its not white truffle season, slow down and enjoy the town. San Miniato is unique in that it is not overrun with tourists and remains filled with locals. If it is white truffle season, explore the truffle festival. The white truffle festivals offers tons of local products, samples, and drinks. You can really spend hours at the truffle festival!
If are are visiting any time other than white truffle season, be sure to try some local specialties from the area, which should be featured in the restaurants. Also, San Miniato has its own type of red wine – from the via Francigena – and it is quite different from other red Tuscans!
STEAL OUR TRIP
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.
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
As I mentioned in my previous San Miniato post, San Miniato generally is not an expensive town. Its lack of tourists keeps the prices lower than other Tuscan hill towns. Wine is very cheap (literally cheaper than water) and the main tourists sites are very inexpensive. If you are looking for a budget friendly yet delicious restaurant, try Cinema Vecchio, a pizza restaurant serving delicious pizza and other Italian fare!
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.