Medieval skyscrapers, the tower with a tilt and cycling city walls

We had heard good things about the town of San Gimignano, a small walled village about half way between Florence and Siena, and were looking forward to visiting it – sadly we were disappointed.

Approaching the ancient gate to San Gimignano

Famous for its fascinating medieval towers that were built ever taller by rival families in a contest to demonstrate their superior wealth and power, San Gimignano has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990.

The old town walls of Gimignano

All the hilltop villages and towns that we had visited up until this point had provided clearly marked parking close to the historic town centres for motor homes/camper vans but this was not the case for Gimignano.

Beautiful Cypress trees so reminiscent of Tuscany

The official site which we found after quite a bit of driving round was one and a half miles (2.4 kilometres) away from the town. There was apparently a shuttle bus that picked up visitors but during the hour or so that we were driving around we didn’t see any evidence of this so sadly we decided to head on to our next destination and miss out on exploring this beautiful medieval town.

The soaring towers of Gimignano on the skyline

We were, however, able to appreciate the famous view of its 14 remaining towers – possibly amongst the world’s first sky scrapers – from the road leading out of town.

This was all we saw of Gimignano!

Our next destination was Pisa where we found a good motor home park within walking distance of the city centre and which was a very reasonably priced.

A glorious display of Wisteria in Pisa
Entering through Pisa’s city gate

Pisa was of course interesting but rather predictable. We enjoyed watching people set up their Instagram shots of the Leaning Tower and were amazed at their ingenuity. The tower was variously shot to appear balanced on people’s heads or hands, or being pushed over/leant on or kicked like a football. It was intriguing to see how much trouble people went to to get that special shot.

A small Church on the way to the Campo dei Miracoli
The ruins of a Roman thermal complex in Pisa

It was amazing to see the famous tower and rather strange. On one hand standing next to it felt so familiar and yet it also felt like a really novel experience.

This needs no caption!
Crowds of people – all trying to get that shot of the Leaning Tower.

Apparently the famous bell tower which was started in 1173 and finally completed in 1372, was already leaning during construction. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed in the 14th century and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Our first glimpse of the leaning tower of Pisa

The tower is situated in the Campo dei Miracoli (the Square of Miracles) along with the beautiful striped-marble Cathedral and the Baptistry – all of which appeared to be tilting slightly too.

The Campo dei Miracoli
The Baptistry in the the Campo dei Miracoli

The River Arno was also very attractive and we enjoyed wandering along its banks and discovering the lovely little Church of Santa Maria della Spina situated right on the river bank.

The River Arno in Pisa
The lovely little Church of Santa Maria della Spina
Bullet holes from World War II in the walls of the Church of Santa Maria della Spina

Strolling through the town we admired the beautiful architecture of the buildings in the fashionable Borgo Stretto, populated with gorgeous shops and lovely restaurants.

Borgo Stretto
Wall mural by world renowned American artist Keith Haring

Too soon it was time to leave Pisa and head for our next destination – the nearby University town of Lucca.

Ramparts in Lucca’s city walls

Famous for its immense and well-preserved Renaissance city walls, Lucca is a great place to visit.

The walls encircle the historic part of the city

We very much enjoyed cycling round on top of the walls that encircle the historic city centre. They are the only city walls in all of Italy to be completely accessible on foot or bike.

There are great views of the historic centre from the walls
Such a pleasant place for a cycle or walk

Inside the walls there are secret passages, hideaways and ramparts to explore.  

Lots of places to explore within the city walls

As we cycled round the broad and leafy paths along the massive ramparts we could look down and see a maze of cobblestone streets and admire the Cathedral and a number of beautiful Churches and other marvellous buildings.

The lovely city of Lucca with the Cathedral in the background

Lucca Cathedral
Plenty to see on the city walls.

Taking a break from “beating the bounds” we cycled into the city where we had a great bowl of pasta and a glass of wine or two before completing the city wall circuit.

The Basilica of San Frediano,
Eating lunch in a restaurant in the shadow of the Basilica of San Frediano,

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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