The Best of Italy’s Small Towns

A travel expert’s take on why Volterra and San Gimignano are the Tuscan towns to visit.

Beyond its larger jewels of Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice, Italy’s hills are layered with thousands of smaller gems, each beautiful in its own unique way. European travel book author and host to travel shows on Public Television and Radio, Rick Steves gives us insight into his favorite smaller towns.

Read about Steve’s take on Volterra and San Gimignano below, and then share your favorite small town with us.

This article, written by Rick Steves, appears on his website:

Volterra and San Gimignano:  Hill Towns with a Twist

I’m in Volterra, my favorite small town in Tuscany, sitting under rustic, noble stones at the base of a palace that made commoners feel small six centuries ago. Bats burst through the floodlights amid ghostly towers held together with rusted iron corsets. These stones have soul. The countless peasant backs they bent so many centuries ago gave to future generations the architectural equivalent of fine wines — something to be savored and pondered in solitary moments like this one.

Volterra and San Gimignano are two stony villages dotting the hills of Northern Tuscany. Within a couple of hours of Tuscan mainstays Florence and Siena, these towns provide an emblematic but contrasting look at this famed region.

In recent years, Volterra has attracted international attention for its connection to the Twilight series of books and movies. Part of the second movie, New Moon, is set here, even though most of it was actually filmed in another Tuscan town.

But more than 2,000 years ago — before vampires took over the town — Volterra was a key trading center and one of the most important Etruscan cities. (Tuscany is named after the Etruscan people, who lived here centuries before it was conquered by ancient Rome.) The city was protected by a four-mile-long wall — twice the size of the wall that encircles it today. You can still see its mighty Etruscan gate, built of massive stones of volcanic tuff. Read more on Rick Steve’s website.

Want to explore more Tuscan hill towns? Check out the author’s comprehensive online guide, complete with regional overview, photos, and tips for planning your next trip.

Share your favorite recipe, and we may feature it on our website.

Join the conversation, and share recipes, travel tips and stories.