Cherished in the heart of Tuscany, crossed by Via Francigena, there's a territory rich in art, history and natural beauty. We are talking about Valdelsa: marvelous earth suspended between Siena and Florence areas. Its origins have to be sought in the Etruscan times as showed by the many findings around the territory. But it is thanks to the Via Francigena, since medieval times, that Valdelsa became an important centre from a social, politic and economic perspective, by favoring the urbanization over the whole area. Here are some villages that best describes Valdelsa:
The "Manhattan of Tuscany", as it's oddly referred to because of its numerous towers, is in the Val d'Elsa area and it's very popular among the tourists who pass through Tuscany, even for a short period of time. San Gimignano really does have a lot to offer, not only regarding its striking architecture, but also in the art that's hidden inside its churches. It also has a good contemporary art gallery and installations of contemporary sculptures by important international artists placed around town.
The photo above is sufficient to show you how unique Monteriggioni is. As you enter one of its gates you'll se a tiny walled town, so small you can see the opposite borders straight through it. It's possible to walk along the walls (which are 2 meters wide) and get a great view of the countryside, and the whole way around will take no more than half an hour. A simple medieval church (much restored) is at the center of town in the piazza with a picturesque well out front. While it doesn't seem important now, this fortified castle town is a stop on the Via Francigena that runs through this area.
Certaldo, Boccaccio's native town, is on the border between the territories of Florence and Siena and it's very close to San Gimignano, so I couldn't help but recommend it to you if you're going to visit the area. Certaldo is mentioned in Bocaccio's Decameron as a small and prosperous town with some really great onions, which pretty much describes it still today. Just like Monteriggioni, this is a great place to step back in history. Being quite small, you won't need more than half a day to explore it.
Extremely dynamic and focused on industrial activities in the field of furniture, interior design, sparkling jewelry and on the production of the famous Chianti wine. But Poggibonsi is more than this. In recent times many of its historical-cultural attractions as romanic churches, medieval castles and renascimental villas scattered around its surronding area, have been revalued. Its position is advantagious, in fact is an unavoidable point of passage for the pilgrims on the Via Francigena, on their way to Rome. Furthermore, in the past, has been zone of boundary between the states of Florence, Siena and Volterra that often tended to resort to violence to try to take possession of the village.
You drive through the lower part of this town if you're going to Volterra or San Gimignano. The upper historical part is a walled town with some very interesting Renaissance gates (the "Porta Nova"). The city has a 16th and 17th century imprint, including the fascinating Palazzo Campana (a building that also serves as a gate) and the Neoclassical Duomo (dating back to 1603). The architect Arnolfo di Cambio was born here in 1240. Despite that he produced his most important works in Florence.