If you have time to see only one hill town while you’re in Tuscany, Volterra gets our vote. What? Not San Gimignano?! Well, San Gimignano is nice for those who love huge milling crowds of foreign tourists surging through cramped streets…. You’ll understand what we mean about a mile before you arrive in town, when you start seeing an unbroken line of parked tour buses. These days, until the furor dies down, the most beautiful thing about San Gimignano is the view from a distance (pictured at right), when you drive around a bend in the road and see those famous towers looming incongruously over the rolling hills.

The best place to see that view is on the road from Volterra, which lies across the hills about twelve miles away from San Gimignano. People have lived on Volterra’s steep hill since Neolithic times, but the city as we know it has Etruscan origins. It offers a rich – and blessedly small – array of ruins, art works and architecture from different historical periods, its pristine streets and spacious squares are relatively deserted, and it has a good choice of nice hotels and restaurants to boot. All these features make it our (current!) favorite Tuscan hill town.