A Day of Enchantment in San Gimignano, Tuscany

October 12, 2010
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I awake in a castle.

Outside my rock-lined windowsill runs a path worn raw over hundreds of years of suitors and surreptitious runners alike. Their winding road leads them into a sheltering canopy of rustic oak. I follow the mellow tumble of lush hills with my eyes. Adorned with fertile grapes, their caretakers have arranged them ever-so-neatly to provide for a panorama of intricate symmetry.

When I finally convince myself to leave my history-filled bedchamber, I emerge onto a sun-baked alleyway. The cobblestone streets are worn just enough for thin wedges and promise that in another half-life, they will be apt for stilettos. A waft of gentle, warm air wraps me in its embrace. The aroma is distinctly sweet and earthy, one that could only be described as Tuscany.

But this is more than “just Tuscany”; this is the enchanting town of San Gimignano. The village is neatly contained inside the walls of the original castle and offers a historical escape from the relaxed ways of Tuscany in such a pure form that I swore I hear clinking armor in the night. True to its history, the castle encompasses everything a king could desire in a day: wineries and meat shops, boutiques and museums. Petit bed-and-breakfasts juxtaposed to family-owned restaurants and all but a few are built into the castle walls.

Once outside, I dodge flocks of school children who waddle after their mentors on history field trips. In and out of small-scale authentic museums they go. Because automobiles are forbidden inside the castle walls, the teacher’s biggest fear is of a rectangular boutique that, were it not oozing with customers constantly, would be indiscernible from the medieval facade. Sergio Dondoli’s Gelateria di Piazza, is how they refer to the culprit.

My taste buds become restless as I squeeze into the gelateria, its walls plastered in awards and plaques: “World's Best Gelato” they say, one year after another. I fall victim to the fresh champagne gelato that practically crackles upon contact with the tongue. School teachers be afraid, be very afraid.
After filling myself with the icy bit of euphoria, I set out to find an authentic small bakery that, from the outside, appears to be just another glass-covered castle wall. Inside though, seasoned chefs bicker with each other in their thick accented Italian, transforming the rhythmic language into a full-out melody. Their jingle must be a spell, because I have never tasted such delectable breads.
Unsatisfied with just carbohydrates, I scamper outside of the fortress for a few hours to enjoy the docile hum of locals and tourists, making their daily rounds of the castle and surrounding village. My wandering leads me into a family-owned grocery store where mere instinct fills my basket with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and even home-made balsamic vinegar.
As the sun grows weary, so too do the tourists and suddenly the castle seems to be my own. I see hardly another individual as I wander the winding alleyways and find myself outside, surrounded by watchtowers. I wonder if they saw me coming.
A seemingly-abandoned open door leads to winding stairs that creak their welcome to me as I caress their time-softened stone. Upon reaching the top of the guard tower, I arrive just in time to observe the stooping sun kiss the stretching vineyards for the last time this day. Eager to arrive, the moon and his devotees sweep away her path, channeling her powers as they do so.
Within minutes I hear the hum of cheering, chanting, and celebration. In the square, beneath a clock declaring that the world has rotated past ten, I observe fifty young men and women, partaking in camaraderie as they dedicate their evening to the anachronistic big screen TVs that broadcast high definition soccer. Laughter and striking emotion interrupt the tranquil night.
Free of light pollution, the sky has reached a full occupancy of stars. Gelato in hand, I observe the twinkles in the villager’s open windows as another fairytale day takes its place in history.





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