Once the home of Emperors and strategic fortress, today San Miniato is a refined hilltop town famous for the prized white truffle that grows in its woods. Located at the crossroads of the Via Francigena pilgrim route and the Florence-Pisa road, it’s a delightful town steeped in history and Tuscan charm.
An easy day trip from Florence and Pisa, San Miniato is the perfect destination for travellers looking for the real Tuscany. It has everything you could want: cobbled streets, Medieval squares, great food and memorable views. But it also offers some very unique unique Tuscan experiences in the form of wine tasting and truffle hunting.
San Miniato, Tuscany, Italy – What to see
From a distance, San Miniato is easily spotted from its chimney-shaped tower. The 13th century Fredrick II Tower dominates the old town, and speaks of the important role that this town had in Medieval times, when Emperors chose it as a strategic defensive spot, right at the heart of Tuscany.
Why does the tower have that curious shape? It was completely destroyed during WWII, and rebuilt ‘philologically’, trying to render the shape it had before the war – which is why it looks unfinished at the top.
Walk up to the Fredrick II Tower
From up there the view gives onto the Valdarno. It’s certainly worth the climb and the views are breathtaking.
Piazza del Duomo is right at the heart of San Miniato. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta still maintains its Romanesque brick facade, made interesting by some sculptured heads and 13th century maiolica that form a design inspired by the night sky. Most likely, a symbol of the journey of the pilgrim towards heaven. The interior is mainly Baroque.
The 13th century bell tower is known as the ‘Matilde Tower’, due to the legend which claims Matilde di Canossa was born in San Miniato. Originally a military structure, It was later incorporated into the Cathedral.
Opposite the Duomo, there’s the turreted Palazzo dei Vicari, where the vicars sent to govern the town used to reside.
Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra
Next to the Duomo, you find this fascinating museum where Medieval artworks of the area are kept. Among them are works by Neri di Bicci, Lippi, and a bust of Christ attributed to Verrocchio.
Church of San Domenico & Church of San Francesco
More art awaits in the 14th century Church of San Domenico and Church of San Francesco– minor works by Early Renaissance artists such as Masolino, Della Robbia.
Piazza Del Seminario
A very impressive square dedicated to the seminary, it lies alongside the old city wall which explains its unusual concave shape. When San Miniato became the seat of the Bishop, this edifice was built to accommodate the seminarians. It was finished in 1713, with frescoes that include the Virtues, and latin mottoes from the Bible. Today it host religious offices and a library.
What to do in San Miniato, Tuscany
Once you get accustomed to the history and the atmosphere of San Miniato, it’s time to experience the fruits of the territory, which are truly unique, even by Tuscan standards. A rich meal at the excellent Ristorante Pepenero will open your senses to the culinary delicacy of San Miniato: the truffle.
Another way to enter the world of truffles is join a truffle hunt organised by a local expert tartufaio and his dog. You’ll explore the woods outside San Miniato in company of a passionate truffle hunter, that will explain everything you want to know about this unique product.
When you’re there we highly recommend tried is the treasure hunt organised by local guide Sara – a unique way to explore the old maze of streets like Indiana Jones, with an ancient map, trying to solve a puzzle and lift a curse put by the witch over the citizen of the town.
Taste some beer (the have a great selection!) and a delicious sandwich at ‘Birra e acciughe’ – try the sandwich with butter and anchovies, a real treat!
If you visit in Autumn, you have the opportunity to visit the Truffle Festival, which is usually on at the end of November.
=> Read about our amazing Weekend in San Miniato!
Didi you know? Among the powerful and famous that have their link to San Miniato, there’s Napoleone Bonaparte. A branch of his family came from this area. Napoleon himself came to San Miniato to look for some documents that proved his nobility status and later to visit an old uncle.