Church bells ringing joined the hum of voices around the town square.

“Are we really here?” I asked Mr Word Loft, sipping a cappuccino opposite me in the shade of a café parasol on the first day of our escape from England.

Three years ago, we booked the holiday to northern Tuscany, and everyone knows what happened next to stop us from going. Then a month ago, our outward flight was cancelled and rescheduled, plus all the paperwork to log our location and Covid vaccination history had been a worry.

“It’s hard to believe,” he replied as we took in our surroundings – flowers around windows and doorways – tables crammed onto verandas. San Miniato looked like a friendly place and we spent a lot of time there over the following two weeks. Especially for evening meals when we sampled various trattorias. All, thankfully, served good food, even though we were initially confused by the menus and had ordered too much.

After refreshments, we ambled to the top of town for a closer look at the fortress and tower originally built by Frederick the Second. The iconic landmark can be seen from miles around and is even more stunning at night when illuminated.

Heading back down through the cobbled lanes, we came across the town hall and museum. Painted in warm Tuscan hues, it tells part of the city’s history and was the community’s governors residence after Frederick the Second’s death in 1250.

The Hall of Seven Virtues there is splendid, and I was surprised to see clear acrylic seating, but I imagine it was chosen so as not to obliterate heraldic wall panels. There is further grandeur in the council chambers. In addition to elaborate decoration, the Italian flag and other banners signify San Miniato’s prestige. We thanked the guide and carried on our way.

Through streets originating from the Middle Ages, we admired the buildings. The façades aren’t pristine but are full of character. Some with chipped plasterwork, window shutters and entrances in natural shades. Most have charming features, such as faded crests or ornate planters. All in all, exuding a storybook quality.

The Via Francigena hiking trail goes through San Miniato and follows the ancient route of pilgrims travelling to Rome, so there are many holy places. From the grand cathedral with its bell tower to the boxy terracotta brick church wedged into the corner of Piazza Buonaparte. Believed to have been constructed during the plague, the exterior is draped with strings of pearly lights. But the best is inside; frescoes radiate from the walls and ceiling. Exquisite and emotive in such a small space.

San Miniato is only a short drive from Agriturismo Bellavista where we stayed in a studio apartment, a piece of a converted farmhouse. Set on a hillside, with views over typical Tuscan countryside. Tall pointed cypress trees, olive groves, vineyards. At dusk, bats swoop, and hoopoe birds call to each other around the rose-covered arbours encircling the aquamarine swimming pool.

“Here’s to a happy holiday,” Mr Word Loft said, as we clinked wine glasses filled with Chianti on our terrace that evening.

“I’m sure it will be,” I chimed in, and we weren’t disappointed.

Until my next blog post about Pisa.
Best wishes, Sue. X