(Australian Associated Press)
To say Sergio Dondoli is passionate about gelati is an understatement.
Tucked away in the world heritage town of San Gimignano, 270 kilometres north of Rome, is his Gelateria Dondoli, twice crowned the best in the world.
There he offers 40 flavours daily, from saffron to pine nuts and pistachio to peach, though the selection is constantly changing.
He even has one he calls Michelle, named after the former First Lady of the United States.
And he’s more than happy to tell you the story of how it came to be.
It seems, two years ago, Mrs Obama was scheduled to visit Italy and the San Gimignano region, prompting local officials to suggest Sergio serve her some of his famed ice cream
Sparking his creative juice, he came up with a new flavour, a blend of almonds, honey, orange and fig.
Unfortunately, he was stood up, as a change in travel arrangements meant the first lady never arrived.
“Don’t worry, I say, whenever she finds time the gelato is ready,” he laughs.
Sergio is one of the characters of this small Italian town that was once an important stop-off for pilgrims travelling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena.
Encircled by 13th-century walls, its old town centres on the Piazza della Cisterna, a triangular square lined with medieval houses.
The Patrician families who controlled the town at its height built more than 72 tower-style homes, each trying to outdo the other in grandeur.
Only 14 have survived but help San Gimignano retain its medieval atmosphere and appearance.
The tallest remaining tower, the Torre Grossa, offers stunning views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
Its original internal staircase, supplemented by some modern editions, requires some effort to climb, but it’s worth it.
The town’s medieval character is on display from the restored bell tower while the rolling hills appear to go on forever.
Equally spectacular is the Duomo di San Gimignano, a 12th-century church with frescoes by Ghirlandaio, the Italian Renaissance painter born in Florence, in its Santa Fina Chapel.
Less known than nearby Siena and certainly less of a tourist drawcard than Rome, San Gimignano is often overlooked by both independent travellers and tour companies.
But a growing number of companies, such as Trafalgar, are opting to include it on selected itineraries.
San Gimignano also benefits from being just a one-hour drive from Florence and an acceptable three-hour drive to Venice, one of the obvious must-do destinations of any Italian tour.
It’s hard to imagine just what can be said about Venice that hasn’t already been said,