Updated: Nov 22
So the furthest point of the road trip would turn out to be the town of San Gimignano, population 8,000 and like the centre of Florence, UNESCO listed. It's a popular day trip place from Florence but not that many choose to stay there it seems.
Getting the car into the centre of this town was basically impossible, so it required parking at a designated parking lot then walking in. Most popular Italian cities and towns have what's known as a Limited Traffic Zone (LTZ) to reduce congestion and improve air pollution. Accidentally drive in and your number plate is automatically registered, if you aren't certified to be in there, expect a fine. Avoid LTZs!
San Gimignano is known as the Town of Fine Towers thanks to it's 14 large towers that dominate the town and can be seen from afar. Note there used to be over 70 up to 70 metres tall, this in a town maybe 800 metres long!! The town is filled with 12th/13th century medieval buildings, cathedrals and frescoes, one of which depicts Mary topless, the only such fresco apparently. It's definitely like walking in a history book, especially at night. The views from the town walls across the Tuscan countryside are also really nice, especially early in the morning when the mist blankets the valleys.
Like many Italian towns, this one has a strong association with a particular saint, namely Saint Fina, born in the 13th century. She became very ill at 10 years old but despite pain and near paralysis refused a bed and chose a wooden pallet. It's said after a while her body became attached to the wood and worms and rats fed on her rotting flesh then her parents died but her devotion continued and it became an example to the many that visited her (she died at 15). Her presence is everywhere in Sam Gimignano.
Also very much present here are ... cats. It would be the beginning of amusing encounters with cats for the rest of the road trip, in every single town. The first one here resided inside the 13th century Church of St Augustine, the rest loitered at the town gates in various small back streets. Cats have such a presence here, a Japanese film maker made a documentary about the life San Gimignano's cats, it's on YouTube.
We bought a 'San Gimignano Pass' which allowed us to see the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall),
Pinacoteca (gallery), Torre Grossa (tower, climb up for views), Archaeological Museum, Spezieria di Santa Fina, Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery (ok-ish), Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte (entirely decorated with frescoes depicting the afterlife through rather suggestive details of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise). All very impressive, in fact there's such an overload of things to see in each site you almost become blinded by the spectacle... "oh another ancient, one of a kind fresco... NEXT!". It's hard to say but true.
From here there was also a side trip to a tiny nearby named Colle di Val d'Elsa, entirely deserted, at least in the old town situated up high on a hill. Walked the length of the old town and saw maybe 2 people. It's basically one long street connecting castle ends and a cool town gate (Porto Nuovo) guarded by at least 6 ... cats. The main street runs on a ridge and off to the side there are tunneled streets in the cliff face as well as ancient wells, quite unique. We also visited the more well known town of Volterra, also castle town built up on top of a hill surrounded by typical Tuscan countryside. The drive back was a back road through a very misty oak forest.
And so ended the road trip in Italy, it was extremely difficult to leave, how could anything compare? The next driving section would be the longest at 500km (6hrs) in horrendous weather (flooded roads, heavy rain) to get to Menton in France, just 5 km across the border from Italy. Arrivederci Italia... ciao ...ciao.