Our B&B, the Casa del Principe, tucked away on the south side of the town was very comfortable. From our bedroom window we had a clear view across the landscape to San Gimignano, our destination for the day. Our landlady booked us into a lovely restaurant for supper just a few steps away. So, we ate well and slept well and, with the prospect of a shorter day ahead, started a little later.

From our bedroom window this morning – the towers of San Gimignano just below the centre horizon

We started out on the road, but were soon onto well made tracks passing from farm to farm, some perched on hilltops and others nestled down into small valleys, most surrounded by vineyards and olive trees.

Looking back across a vineyard with Gambassi Terme centre right on the skyline
Today was cooler, with extensive cloud cover but fortunately no rain
The first of several farms offering direct sales of chianti and olive oil, including wine tasting for €15 – tempting, but not at 1030h with a day’s walk ahead of us!
An idyllic farmhouse nestled into its own valley surrounded by vineyards and olive orchards

At a newly renovated organic vineyard we were able to google the names of the owners to learn that they had brought a successful legal claim against the Hong Kong government, securing equal financial treatment for married same-sex couples, ie pension and income tax rights. It’s amazing how much you can find out about people on the internet!

Descending into a valley with a small stream at the bottom
And back up the other side of the valley, looking back towards Gambassi Terme

The only village on today’s walk was Pancole where there is a sanctuary church. The story goes that in 1668 a young deaf-mute girl saw a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was cured. Her family was thereafter provided with all the basic necessities of life; flour, wine and oil. In 1670 the Sanctuary church was built. It was destroyed by occupying German forces in 1944, and rebuilt in 1949. It looked well kept and well used.

Outside there is access to a ‘grotto’ in a passage running beneath the church, which we decided not to venture inside.

Access to the grotto beneath the sanctuary church in Pancole
Looking back at Pancole and its Sanctuary church

After Pancole the road wound around the leeward side of the ridge, much to our relief as the wind had become quite strong during the afternoon and it was very cold, blowing in from the north-west. As we got closer glimpses of San Gimignano, the sun started breaking through the clouds – both warming us and lighting up the views for the first time today.

San Gimignano now much closer, with its towers on the hilltop just below the horizon

It looked as though we had only a short distance to go, but then the Via Francigena took off uphill towards a small hamlet of houses and a ruined tower. However, a bit further along the road we suddenly came upon the monastery of Bose, an active community of monks worshipping in a simple church, La Pieve di Cellole, and providing traditional hospitality. Had we arrived in time we could have partaken in lunch there. The church was built in the late 900s and was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. In the 1200s lepers were cared for here. Today, the monks offer peace and friendship to all, in return asking for respect for their rule of silence from 8pm to 8am, and during prayer times.

The simple church of Cellole
Monasterio di Bose near San Gimignano

A short walk down the track brought us to a busy main road, with the footpath hemmed in behind crash barriers – worryingly damaged in places. We had been seeing signs stating that San Gemignano was 3kms away for some time, and still the signs said we had 3kms to go! This last stage of the walk wasn’t pleasant, with fast cars whizzing by too close.

Broad beans growing between the vines – better practice than spraying weeds!
San Gimignano’s tower houses looking like modern day tower blocks from a distance!

As we approached closer to the town it looked like the planners had allowed modern tower blocks to be built in the centre and our hearts momentarily sank.

Approaching closer still we could identify many medieval towers inside the walled town. Reading up afterwards we were almost right: during the middle ages there were 72 towers of up to 70m in height, each built ever higher than the last by competing families, until the local council placed a limit on building height. Today, about a dozen tower houses remain.

Entering the medieval centre of San Gemignano through one of the 8 gates

Stopping briefly at a cafe for a warm drink and tasty not-too-sweet marmolada biscuit, we carried on up the street towards our digs overlooking one of the four central piazzas.

Piazza Cisterna at night with ghostly towers receding into the night sky

Today we enjoyed being in the countryside with magnificent far-reaching views alternating with small sheltered valleys. We can imagine how lush the scenery would be in a few more weeks’ time when spring really gets going. The monastery of Bose was a pleasant surprise: we find ourselves drawn to these simpler places of worship and the peaceful vibe of a working monastery. Fortunately, San Gimignano had emptied out of tourists by the time we arrived, but it is evidently a honey-pot as several tourist buses were leaving town as we were arriving. We shall find out more tomorrow as we are spending a rest day here.

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