What made Italy so special to me was that wherever we would go, I felt like I was immersed in history. Simply walking down a narrow cobblestone alley or seeing ancient ruins before my own eyes was like I had stepped into a time machine and traveled to another century.
This is how I felt in San Gimignano, also dubbed the “Medieval Manhattan of Italy” for its towering buildings. Though not quite as large as the skyscrapers of New York City, the tall buildings in this town symbolized economic power and status in the 14th century.
The drive — approximately 90 minutes from Florence — weaved through the Tuscan hillside, offering breathtaking views of the vast countryside. I’ve never seen the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun,” but I imagine this is what much of the movie probably looked like.
Despite being in my mid-afternoon daze and also being lulled by the calm bus ride, there was no way I would allow myself to fall asleep and miss this beautiful sight.
At last, we arrived at the outskirts of San Gimignano, where we had to walk uphill a bit to reach the main part of the town — a masterpiece of distinctly medieval architecture comprised of brick churches, walls and other buildings that now housed primarily souvenir shops.
We followed Giuseppe, our tour guide, through a narrow pathway and toward a large open space, where he treated each tour member to the “best” gelato in the world at Gelateria Dondoli. It literally is the best gelato in the world since the shop’s gelato maker, Sergio Dondoli, is actually a member of the Italian team that won the World Ice Cream Championship a few years back.
I ordered the pink grapefruit sparkling wine and hazelnut flavors.
The verdict? A truly divine moment for my taste buds.
We had another hour or so to wander the town, admiring the brick facades, browsing through the shops filled with a wide array of handcrafted items, and marveling at the sweeping Tuscan views.
As the sun started setting behind the town, it cast the perfect golden hour glow that gave the landscape a mesmerizing, dreamlike appearance. I took in the view (while also taking a photo of the view) and pinched myself as we made our way down the hill and back to the bus.
No, I wasn’t dreaming. I really was in Tuscany, Italy.
After driving back to our hotel in Florence, we had some time to relax and unwind before heading back into the Tuscan hills for dinner with the Trafalgar tour group.
Unfortunately, my mom caught some kind of bad cold that was going around among the group, so she decided to stay back at the hotel.
Our bus arrived at a charming, rustic building where we were greeted by live musicians serenading us as waiters poured us glasses of bright blue bubbly. This was Blumond, a sweet sparkling wine.
This was my kind of drink!
We got seated while the waiters poured us more deliciously sweet bubblies, Fragolino — with a hint of strawberry — and Volare — with a hint of pink grapefruit.
All three were from a company called Fratelli Saraceni. I enjoyed these drinks so much that I actually ordered a few bottles of to be shipped back to Hawaii.
To be honest, the main course — prime rib and potatoes — was overshadowed by the excellent company and conversation as well as the Italian opera singer and the guitarist who accompanied him.
Another highlight: One of the talented tour members, Joey, showing off his guitar skills.
This dinner was the perfect way to cap off our time in Tuscany. I’ll never forget this place and the warm and fuzzy feeling I got here. And I promise it wasn’t only from the alcohol.