The name San Miniato is almost synonymous with tartufo bianco, or white truffle.
Halfway between Florence and Pisa, the small town is world famous for its annual white truffle festival.
For three weekends every November the squares and streets of this impossible pretty Tuscan town, draped over a series of small hills, are given over to the celebration of good food.
San Miniato seen from nearby hillside. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
Dozens of stalls sell everything from locally-made craft beer to pecorino cheese and salami laced with the precious white truffles, which are found in the surrounding area between September and December and highly prized as some of the best quality truffles found anywhere in Europe.
You can also try other local favourites, like herby porchetta sandwiches and potent San Giovese wine, as well as delicacies from further afield, from Sicilian cannoli to chilli jam from Calabria.
Pecorino cheese in San Miniato. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
Walking up a narrow cobbled street leading to the main piazza, even the air on a crisp autumn evening is heavily scented with white truffles. The aroma is no doubt wafting from the kitchen of one of many tiny trattorias in town, each of which has white truffle-laced dishes on the menu at this time of year.
Free of tourist tat and full of quality produce at mostly reasonable prices, with a fantastically festive and friendly atmosphere, this really is one of the best food festivals in Italy.
White truffles on display in San Miniato. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
But if you missed it, don’t worry. You can enjoy white truffles all winter in San Miniato, and other kinds of truffle almost all year round.
You can buy them whole or as part of various products at Gemignani Tartufi, which has been trading truffles of all types since 1930, or enjoy them stirred into pasta dishes at any restaurant in San Miniato.
For a simple bite to eat, squeeze into the surprising little dining room tucked behind the Falaschi butcher’s shop, with a small menu full of traditional flavours an high quality ingredients.
The dining room at Falaschi Macelleria, San Miniato. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
For a treat the elegant Papaveri e Papere, a contemporary Tuscan restaurant owned by three friends, is a short, scenic drive out of town. During the season it serves decadent dishes like handmade tagliolini with butter and white truffle a la carte, and has a six course white truffle tasting menu.
You can join truffle hunts in the surrounding countryside as well as vineyard tours and cooking classes, which the tourist office can help arrange. If you’re looking for a truffle dealer, they can help with that, too.
But this town isn’t only of interest to people who spend half of their lives thinking about food; it’s also full of history and incredible sights.
The picture-perfect Tuscan town, San Miniato has palaces, towers and a Romanesque cathedral, all in a hilltop setting looking out over misty valleys and rolling, cypress-dotted hills close to the Arno.
Views over the countryside near San Miniato. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
Hilltop medieval Piazza della Repubblica, also known as Piazza del Seminario, is the main square and the centre of some of the action, including cooking shows, during the truffle festival.
But the square itself is interesting, and really best seen when there’s no festival on; its curved shape is formed by the city walls, and it’s lined with rare examples of artisans’ workshops dating from the 1300s and covered in designs dating from the 1600s.
You can see that the town was once strategically important, with its fortified hilltop towers commanding views almost as far as Pisa.
To enjoy the panorama, you can climb the cathedral’s bell tower or make the more challenging trek up to San Miniato's reconstructed medieval fortress tower, Torre di Frederico II. Stop in at tourist information to get a combined ticket for all the main sights (adults €5, kids go free)
San Miniato only really gets busy during the festival and in the middle of summer. At these times, it’s near impossible to park in the town itself – the festival puts on a shuttle bus from a large car park in San Miniato Basso, at the bottom of the hill.
For the rest of the year, the old town is mostly free from crowds yet has plenty to see and do.
Come for the truffles, but stay for the views. San Miniato is the perfect Tuscan day trip at any time of year.