Thursday, 10 December 2015

San Gimignano: Deli Bertelli and the Vernacular Vernaccia

San Gimignano, Italy (San Gimignano, Italia)
On our way to Florence from Monteriggioni (home to our memories of pretending to be Ezio), we stopped for a wander in San Gimignano. 
Having heard that the town's silhouette looked like a medieval version of Manhattan, we had to take a look for ourselves. 
Lo and behold! Right in the middle of rolling Tuscan hills covered in neat rows of grape vines, we spotted it. 
The reason behind the sheer number of towers is simple: the nobility in the town wanted to one-up everyone else and built taller and taller towers in an attempt to do so. At one point the number of towers reached its highest at 72! Today only fifteen remain. 
A museum showcasing a model of the town as it would have looked in 1300 was free to enter, and I nerdishly counted all the towers. There were around 40, showing that between then and when the Black Death struck in 1343, 32 towers had been constructed! After the plague, half of the population had been wiped out and the town suffered. A ban was put in place restricting tower heights to no taller than that of the duomo, meaning that family rivalries had come to an end. 
Upon leaving the museum, we followed a sign for what we assumed would be archaeological ruins of a fountain (we surmised this by the word "fonti" and a symbol of knocked down columns). We never did find the fountain, as the path led quickly down a steeply descending track out of town, but we did see an animated man talking on his mobile with a mysterious observer. 
Heading back up, we found a popular lookout point which was crowded with tourists but did provide a beautiful view over the surrounding hills. 
Continuing our wanderings, we passed innumerable wine shops and delis. This seemed to be the Tuscan way. We ate at Del Bertelli, a quaint little panini shop which was run by a guy who sounded like Don Corleone, but was one hundred times nicer to strangers than the fictional don. He let us taste two types of salami before adding our preferred one to the sandwich, and filled our wine glasses (in actuality they were plastic cups) to the brim as his bottle was nearly finished and he figured he might as well empty it. You could tell he had been making excellent sandwiches for much of his life. Indeed, the Bertelli family has lived in San Gimignano since 1779! The wine served is vernaccia, a white wine from the town's surrounding hills. So far we had really only sampled red wines as Tuscany is mainly known for, so it was a nice change. 
Trekking up to the Rocca, which was like an old fortress, we saw yet more excellent views over the town and area. Everything was picture perfect and very Tuscan. 
We were more level with the towers from the vantage point of the Rocca!
For a cheeky lunchtime dessert, we stood in the long line forming outside the simply named Gelateria di Piazza on the main square. Saffron is also a specialty of the region, so we tried that gelato along with vernaccia sorbet and several others. Boy oh boy was it delicious! We refrained from going back for seconds, as we had heard tale of a gelateria in San Donato in Poggio, a nearby village. Tiny San Donato in Poggio turned out to be quite sleepy, and nothing seemed to be open including the gelateria! We made do with the Venchi chocolate that was half melted in the car, and drove onwards to our Florence camping. 

Today's post was almost called: Turret Tourettes - Rivalry in the Skylines