When I want to get away from the worries of daily life, I choose the countryside of San Miniato. Following the Via Francigena, I walk, run, cycle or even horse ride through this land of vineyards, olive groves, hamlets and rolling hills. In San Miniato, every sense is awoken, beginning as a balm to the eyes.
As I admire these exquisite landscapes, the noise of the city is but a distant memory. Finally, having roamed around for hours, I refresh myself by stopping off at a farmhouse, or by lounging by a pool, or by stretching out on the green grass to watch the sun go down.
There’s a common saying in these parts: ‘If you don’t care about what you eat, you don’t really care about anything at all’. With this in mind, I always seek out traditionally Tuscan places to eat, osterie and trattorie with exposed wooden ceiling beams and open fires that in winter make meal times all the more convivial. Often there’s no elaborate menu; you just eat what the cook has decided to serve up that day. The truffle – prince of our tables – is often one of the main ingredients, along with mushrooms, oil, cold cuts, cooked meats, cheeses, vegetables… And let’s not forget the wine! Is there really anything better than unwinding with a glass of fine Sangiovese?
If I feel like a change of pace, I decide to spend the day immersed in culture. San Miniato has a rich history going back to medieval times, as the churches, palaces, monasteries and hamlets still standing today reveal. I love learning all about twelfth-century Grand Countess Matilda of Tuscany, or the lesser-known episodes of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, both of whom lived around here. But San Miniato doesn’t just look back; it also has a thriving present. It’s a favourite spot of various celebrities, and I sometimes bump into the Taviani brothers, who have set many of their films here. And when I come in the summer I get to see La Luna è Azzurra, performances by the best puppet theatre company in the world. July’s cultural highlight is the oldest Italian film festival, Il Dramma Popolare, which is unlike anything else of its kind in Europe.
But if I want to get to know San Miniato’s history, then there’s nothing better than a visit to one of the town’s small museums. A small museum isn’t just a downsized version of a larger museum: it is more welcoming, more original and more deeply rooted in its setting. Artists and artisans, events and objects; these lie at the foundation of a people, making the area what it is today. And San Miniato’s small museums really tell these stories, bringing them to life with all kinds of artefacts. The unified network of exhibition spaces guides you through the urban and natural past of San Miniato, and is enriched by many different buildings and collections, owned by the municipality, the diocese and other foundations.