Towering charms of Tuscany’s San Gimignano

Idyllic scenery and history of San Gimignano in Tuscany move gym boss Alexander Salihin

Who: Singaporean Alexander Salihin, 35, managing partner, founder and trainer at Level gym and fitness centre in Telok Ayer Road. He is married to Briton Gabrielle, 31, head of operations at a finance firm here. They have a two-year-old daughter, Sienna.

Favourite destination: San Gimignano, Italy

Why: Tuscany's charming hilltop village of San Gimignano, southwest of Florence, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. When there, I feel teleported hundreds of years back to the mediaeval times.

The walled town is special to me because I went there on my first trip to Europe, which was also my first vacation with my in-laws.

We spent two weeks in San Gimignano and the surrounding Italian countryside, which was so beautiful and serene.

Away from the hustle of the city, the area's idyllic scenery, vast spaces and depth of history moved me.

The natural beauty and slower pace of life in Tuscany also gave me clarity and time to reflect on life back home. It put me at ease and inspired me to begin planning my vision that would become Level.

Favourite hotel

Hotel Sovestro (Localita Sovestro, 63 53037 San Gimignano; tel: +39- 057-794-3153; is beautifully located in the middle of the countryside outside San Gimignano, which means clean, crisp air and no crowds.

The location is perfect for touring the nearby towns and regions of Tuscany, like the Chianti wine region.

The food and service at the hotel's restaurant are excellent and eating dinner here means not having to worry about driving or finding parking at night.

The restaurant serves a typical Tuscan breakfast of cheese, bread and a wide selection of deli meats, which I love.

Favourite restaurant

D!Vineria (Piazza Delle Erbe 1, 53037, San Gimignano, Italy; tel: +39-05-7794-3041; is a little wine bar which overlooks the San Gimignano valley, a view no other bar in the town has. Try its mixed cheese and antipasti platters with a bottle of Vernaccia, a crisp white wine produced in San Gimignano.

There is also Trattoria Rigoletto (Viale Roma, 23, San Gimignano, Italy; tel: +39-05-7794-0159), a restaurant near the entrance of the town's walls. It's a tiny, fun place to eat where the food is superb and it feels like you are being served by members of your family.

Each of these restaurants has its own charm and is incredibly picturesque.

Best tourist site

As you peer down from the town's many mediaeval towers and get lost in its narrow winding streets, you could easily miss treasures like the Duomo di San Gimignano.

It may not look like much from its simple exterior - and parts of this cathedral show wear and tear - but the details and colours of the frescoes which cover the walls inside are astounding.

Though they were completed in the 14th century, the paintings, which depict stories from the Old and New Testament, remain vivid to this day. This is a must-see.

Must try

The gelato from Gelateria Dondoli (Piazza Cisterna, 4, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy; tel:+39-05-7794-2244; Hands down, it serves one of the best gelatos ever, using fresh local produce. It has won many awards over the years.

It's located in the heart of San Gimignano and the gelato costs about $6 a cup. My favourite flavour is one of its unique specialities, Crema Di Santa Fina, an orange cream with saffron, bourbon vanilla and pine nuts.

Best views

Take the winding walking trails - most of them are ancient mule tracks - off San Gimignano to explore the countryside. From the rolling hilltops, you can see across the horizon to nearby mediaeval villages, a pristine landscape and winding back roads.

Great day trip

Wine is one of Tuscany's most renowned products, so take an afternoon to visit the many wineries in the region for a Tuscan lunch and wine tasting.

I highly recommend Sovestro in Poggio Winery (Localita Sovestro, 53037 San Gimignano, Italy; tel: +39-05-7790-7209;, a 10-minute drive from town.

Event to bookmark

On the third weekend of June each year, the whole population of San Giovanni goes back in time and gathers to celebrate the harvest in Ferie delle Messi, or the Mediaeval Harvest Festival.

Members of San Gimignano's neighbourhoods compete in traditional games, tug of war, archery, horse races and mediaeval pageants dressed as knights and courtly gentlemen and ladies.

Planning your trip

I didn't plan my trip - we went without an agenda and that's what made it so special.

Martin, my late father-in-law, acted as our guide and showed us most of Tuscany. Otherwise, we used a map, drove around, making plenty of stops along the way and discovering places as we went.

You need to be there at least a week to take in the region.

Foodie souvenir

San Gimignano is known for its extra-virgin olive oil, saffron and truffles. You can get them from many stores in town. The truffles can be costly, though, ranging from $60 to $100 for a few hundred grams to $2,000 a pound for the prized white truffle.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Alexander Salihin's Travel Black Book Towering charms of hilltop town'. Print Edition | Subscribe