I’ve been in San Gimignano in Tuscany three times and each time I remember it differently. The town is known for its medieval towers (around 72 at its peak, now reduced to 14). The first visit was an aside on a day trip from Florence to Siena and I remembered walking up a steep atmospheric street (a bit like Dubrovnik I thought) and sitting in a cool arcaded area. No towers. I did not remember a single tower.
I found that seated arcading on my most recent visit, a shaded place on the Piazza del Duomo where the genuine inhabitants of the town sit (now on stackable chairs) to watch the spectacle which daily tourists provide.
On my second visit, in August, towers, views and some wonderful ice-cream were what I remembered, together with an increasingly determined discussion with two guardians of the Duomo who barred my entry to the church. ‘Only for private prayer’, they said. I knew nothing about the inside but I resented being excluded. I was finally admitted to pray, closely escorted into the empty building by one of the attendants. My furtive glances convinced me that this was a building I wanted to see more of. Hence my most recent four night stay in the town. A return trip well worth making.
San Gimignano is a tourist magnet with the usual tourist souvenirs. Group after foreign group is bussed to the peripheral carparks and crocodiled through arched gateways, up paved streets and into the two central piazzas (and also the Duomo which, under the eye of the same guardians, is generally open to tourists). Young Italians, however, many with buggies and many with dogs also crowded into the Piazza del Duomo to meet, chat and relax.
That was a surprise and I spent a happy hour eating roast chestnuts and watching them.