My Travel in Tuscany https://mytravelintuscany.com Tuscany where to go, what to eat and what to do. Mon, 12 Nov 2018 19:01:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 103428536 Firenze Rocks 2019: All you need to know https://mytravelintuscany.com/firenze-rocks-2019-all-you-need-to-know/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/firenze-rocks-2019-all-you-need-to-know/#respond Tue, 16 Oct 2018 14:47:38 +0000 https://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25678 The post Firenze Rocks 2019: All you need to know appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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Firenze Rocks is with no doubt one of the biggest music events of the summer in Tuscany and in Italy. Next June 2019, for the third time in a row, the Visarno Arena of Florence will host this great festival of rock music that in the past editions attracted thousands of fans coming from all over the country.

If you are living in Italy or traveling to Tuscany next June, and you have a passion for rock music and big outdoor festivals, I would not miss Firenze Rocks.

Thanks to amazing lineups, the past two editions were a great success with all tickets sold out in a few minutes. The stage of the Visarno Area hosted unforgettable performances of International bands and artists the likes of Aerosmith, Placebo, Eddie Vedder, System of A Down, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Foo Fighters and Guns N’ Roses. They all registered the sold out with fifty thousand people.

Firenze Rocks 2019 from the sky
Photo Credits: Firenze Rocks Facebook Page

Firenze Rocks 2019, artists and dates.

Dates of 2019 edition of Firenze Rocks are the 13, 14, 15 and 16 June 2019. The location is the racecourse of the Ippodromo del Visarno inside the Cascine park along the right bank of the Arno river.

So far, with only one date that still has to be confirmed, it seems that the next 2019 edition will be a bit softer than the past. The first two big names confirmed were Ed Sheeran and The Cure. They are not properly pure rock bands but for sure, they will liven up the massive crowd of Florence’s racecourse with unbelievable shows. The diehard fans of rock music complained in social networks very hard against this choice, hoping that different bands could fill the program of the festival.

Just a couple of days ago a third music star has been confirmed. The headliner of the first day of Firenze Rocks is the Tool

Here is the line up:

  • 13th June: Tool + The Smashing Pumpkins + more to be announced
  • 14th June: Ed Sheeran + more to be announced
  • 15th June: To be confirmed. Stay Tuned!
  • 16th June: The Cure + more to be announced

Artists at Firenze Rocks 2019

Tool

The American rock band from Los Angeles formed in 1990 will open the festival on Jun 13th for their unique date in Italy. Born as a heavy metal band, the Tool became part of the alternative metal movement. Today they are considered part of the progressive rock and psychedelic rock wave. So far, Tool sold more than 10 million albums and won 3 Grammy Awards. The new album seems to be released in 2019.

Tool headliner at Firenze Rocks on June 23th 2019

Ed Sheeran

Along his 2019 run of European stadiums, the British singer and songwriter that sold more than 38 million albums worldwide, will perform three times in Italy, in Rome and Milan (already sold out) and finally in Florence. In the recent past, he also played a duet with the Tuscan music star Andrea Bocelli with the song Perfect Symphony that has been recorded in Forte dei Marmi at the villa of the Italian singer.

Ed Sheeran Firenze Rocks 2019

The Cure

After two years from the last time, the Iconic English “post-punk” band comes back to Italy with a unique date in Florence. Robert Smith and its band, with more than 40 years of success behind, will close the Firenze Rocks Festival on Sunday 16 June with the notes of their major hits as the “scary” Lullaby, the melancholy Picture of you and the love song dedicated to Robert’s wife Just like heaven.

The Cure Firenze Rocks 2019

Where to buy tickets for Firenze Rocks Festival

You can buy tickets for Firenze Rocks online. The official websites where buying them are ticketone.it and ticketmaster.it . You need to create your own account, choose the event, insert the number of tickets you wish to buy, the method of delivery between the shipment at home and the collection at the racecourse offices the day of the event, and the method of payment.

Went on sale at the beginning of October, all PIT 1 tickets (the ones closest to the stage) for Ed Sheeran and The Cure were sold out after only a few minutes. Even PIT 1 for the Tool went sold out in a few hours. Now, only the “General Admission” tickets left. Maybe during the next few months, more PIT1 could be sell, but it is not sure.

For the next two events that still have to be confirmed, I suggest you download the official APP of the festival on the App Store or on Google Play. Through the App, you can access the presale, which starts the day before the general sale.

Consider that all tickets, both PIT1 and GA, are standing room tickets. No seats available at the Visarno Arena for the festival.

I highly recommend you to avoid third parties sites that resell tickets to a price that is two or three times higher than real.

How to get to Firenze Rocks Festival

The Visarno Arena is located a little more than two kilometers from the central station of Santa Maria Novella, so it is very close to the historical center. The use of public transport is highly recommended, especially the tramvia.

By Tramvia

The stops to reach the Visarno Arena are “Cascine” and “Paolo Uccello”, just five minutes walking from the main entrance of the Arena. The day of the concert, the service runs until 2 am.

By Bus

From Firenze SMN train station, take the Ataf 17c line buses towards Cascine and get off at the “Cascine” stop. Average journey time 15 minutes. The day of the concerts, the number and the frequency of all public transport services are increased.

By Car

The Arena is located in the center of Florence, so we strongly recommend using public transport. For those who reach Florence by car, we suggest to park in the surrounding of the park, as in the Isolotto area on the other bank of the river (and reach the Arena crossing the pedestrian bridge), or to use the car parks at the last stop the Tramvia “Villa Costanza in Scandicci Area.

For more info, visit the official website of Firenze Rocks here (Italian only).

(updated the 29.10.2018)

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What to do in Lucca for a half day https://mytravelintuscany.com/what-to-do-in-lucca-half-day/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/what-to-do-in-lucca-half-day/#respond Tue, 23 Jan 2018 21:18:52 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25303 The post What to do in Lucca for a half day appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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What to do in Lucca for a half day? If you have only a few hours to visit Lucca, follow the itinerary that our Aussie friend and blogger Anne did last summer together with her daughter in the walled town during their trip to northern Tuscany.

On a sultry day in the height of a Tuscan summer, my daughter and I sat in the mist at a café. Little jets tied to the awnings spurted out a fine mist every few minutes, and it drifted on the breeze, a light cooling touch in the sweltering heat.

We’d arrived in Lucca with no plans, for it was simply too hot to think. The city walls, however, made an easy landmark from the train station. I bought a map from a vending machine, and we headed to the old town and settled in a café for cold drinks (We had a lot of cold drinks that day). As I read the sights I wanted to see, my daughter planned our walking route on the map. Here are tips on what to do in Lucca for a half day.

Geraniums everywhere in Lucca, what to do in Lucca for a half day

What to do in Lucca for a half day

We only had an afternoon, barely enough to get a taste of the city. Next time I will stay here, so I can take my time exploring Lucca’s narrow streets, her many churches, and colored buildings. Geraniums sprouted from every corner. Completely enclosed by her walls, Lucca has held onto her medieval character. Unlike many a Tuscan town, Lucca is flat. This makes it perfect not only for walking but also for riding bikes (popular with locals and tourists alike). There is even a bike path atop her walls. If you are looking for tips on what to do in Lucca in half-day, this is our experience as “first-timers” to town.

Taste Buccellato, the traditional cake of Lucca

Sitting under the mist proved the perfect opportunity to try the local cake. Buccellato is a sweet bread mixture with raisins and aniseed. The first written reference to this cake was in 1485, in legal documents relating to a woman who used a poisoned Buccellato to rid herself of her husband. In 1578 the city administrators actually imposed a tax on the cake to raise money to rebuild Lucca’s embankments.

The cake is such a part of daily life here that there is a local saying: “Chi viene a Lucca e non mangia il buccellato è come non ci fosse mai stato” – whoever comes to Lucca and doesn’t eat Buccellato might as well never have come. Who am I to argue with tradition?

Church of San Michele in Foro

San Michele in Foro church, what to do in Lucca for a half day

Leaving the shelter of the café, we braved the heat and headed for San Michele in Foro. Dominating the Piazza San Michele, lined with beautiful 15th and 16th C palazzi, the church is unexpectedly stunning. Standing atop the old Roman forum (Lucca became a Roman colony in 180BC), San Michele has a false facade which is covered with twisted marble columns. Most unusually for a church, the inlaid marble between the columns depicts wild beasts and mounted huntsmen. High above us stood an enormous winged figure of St. Michel, with two other angels to keep him company lest spending Eternity atop a church prove lonely.

Inside the church was dark and cool – a perfect escape from the heat of the day. The painting to the right of the altar brought to mind Fra Filippo Lippi – all that time spent in museums is finally paying off! The work is actually by his son, Filippino Lippi (who can be seen – reputedly – as a baby with his mother in Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels which hangs in the Uffizi). Depicting Saints Helena, Jerome, Sebastian and Roch, this work is reputedly one of Filippino Lippi’s more beautiful paintings.

A glimpse of St Michele al Foro in Lucca and his friends
Lippi's painting reputedly showing the young Filippino Lippi - what to do in Lucca for a Half day

Casa Puccini Museum

A few corners away, in the Corte San Lorenzo, stands the Casa Puccini, where the composer was born. The birth home of the great Maestro of the opera Giacomo Puccini is now a museum where you can follow the traces left by the great composer and know more about his life and passions. The surrounding square is lined with café, each named after one of his operas. (If interested, every summer, the big open-air opera Puccini Festival takes place on the shore of Massaciuccoli lake in the close town of Torre del Lago Puccini).

What to do in Lucca for a half day, Statue of Giacomo Puccini
Lamp in the street in lucca - What to do in Lucca for a half day

Via Fillungo

From here the course on our map led for a while along the Via Fillungo, Lucca’s main shopping street. This is a perfect place to meander along, glancing in the windows and browsing the occasional shop. Somewhere in our wanders, I purchased a gorgeous leather bag for my camera (that was my excuse) – so much easier than braving the Leather Inferno of Florence.

Guinigi Tower

Guinigi Tower Lucca

A glance down a side street and I spied the Torre Guinigi, a medieval tower famed for the oak and ilex trees growing on top of it. Yet as we walked towards the Torre we kept losing sight of it – just how do you lose a medieval tower? The Palazzo Guinigi was once by the powerful Guinigi family, previous rulers of the Lucca who somehow prevented the Medici adding Lucca to their list of financial conquests. The tower with its ilex trees offers a great view over the city, showing the Roman layout overlaid with the winding old streets and laneways of medieval times.

Piazza Anfiteatro

The old amphitheatre, what to do in Lucca for a half day

We sought refuge from the heat at a café in the old Roman amphitheater. We really just wanted cold drinks but ended up with a plate of salami, cheeses, and olives. A perfect snack on such a hot day – and once again, the mist drifted down from the umbrella.

The cobblestoned Piazza del Mercato retains the amphitheater’s elliptical shape, for medieval houses were built right up to the walls. The low archways remain, where gladiators, beasts, and other combatants once entered the arena.

Walk up onto the walls

under the shadow over the walls of Lucca

We finished the day with a walk up onto the walls. This proved an absolute delight – I hadn’t realized such a wide path, complete with grass and trees, ran atop the walls. People were walking their dogs, others rode bikes, and kids were playing in parks. There were even some cafés and restaurants, and the walls overlook the city. We didn’t manage a complete circuit (some 4km), but we did pass a church displaying the scallop shell of the pilgrim, for Lucca is on the Via Francigena, the medieval pilgrimage route to Rome.

There is obviously so much we did not get to see. But that comes from being a traveler, not a tourist; a little done well, and an appetizer of what to do in Lucca when we return.

If you have more time at your disposal have a look also at the following blog posts to decide what to do in Lucca:

The walls of Lucca seen from above and below

Lucca a secret city behind its walls

Lucca Comics and Games

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Necci, the Chestnut Flour Crepes of Tuscany https://mytravelintuscany.com/recipe/necci-chestnut-flour-crepes/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/recipe/necci-chestnut-flour-crepes/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:31:31 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?post_type=recipe&p=25487 I should have written about the recipe of Necci, Chestnut Flour Crepes, some days ago, but...

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I should have written about the recipe of Necci, Chestnut Flour Crepes, some days ago, but this Christmas had been very busy. So, despite the fact today is not Christmas time anymore, I decided to dedicate some time to share one of the recipes of Tuscan Christmas tradition I love the most, for its sweetness and for its ingredients.

The Necci Chestnut Flour Crepes is typical of Epiphany eve. In my family, we used to prepare them even the 13th of December to celebrate Saint Lucy, another of the many characters related to Christmas that, in a recent past (until the post-war period), was bringing gifts to the good children.

Chestnut Flour Necci are an example of the Tuscan Cucina Povera, the cuisine from those “hard times” when chestnuts and chestnut flours were one of the main ingredients in the kitchen.

Necci are delicious even if tasted alone, but it is with a filling like ricotta cheese that they become mouthwatering. For gluttons, there is a version of these Chestnut Flour Crepes filled with Nutella instead of ricotta, but if you are a super glutton you can use both, or try the variant with honey and sheep ricotta cheese.

Traditionally, the Chestnut Necci were cooked in the testi, two iron plates with a long handle. First, they were both heated on the fire and slightly greased. Then, the chestnut mixture was poured on top of one the two hot plates, and the other was placed above to cook the Neccio on both sides. Here a video where you can see an example of how the Chestnut Necci were prepared in past.

In my family, the member who was in charge to prepare this delicious dish was my grandfather Almo (father of my father), who silently, was cooking the Chestnut Necci, while me and my cousins were all around him staring at him cooking, having fun looking at his aquiline nose, and making jokes about that.

This delicious recipe is so good that even the popular Martha Stewart talks of it on her blog. Without lessen her, or chef Mario Batali (that gave her the recipe), I assure that my recipe without eggs is the original one.

If you love chestnuts, another cake of the Tuscan tradition you definitely have to prepare is the Castagnaccio.

Here is the recipe to try to cook Chestnut Necci at your place.

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Befanini Cookies with rainbow sprinkles https://mytravelintuscany.com/recipe/befanini-cookies/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/recipe/befanini-cookies/#respond Sat, 06 Jan 2018 10:44:59 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?post_type=recipe&p=25441 Befanini cookies are traditional biscuits of northern Tuscany baked during Italian Christmas holidays. To me,...

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Befanini cookies are traditional biscuits of northern Tuscany baked during Italian Christmas holidays. To me, these delicious and colored cookies always marked the beginning of Epiphany celebrations, the 5th January, and also a sign of the upcoming return to the normal life.

They take the name “Befanini” from the Befana, the old ugly lady that the night of the 5th January flies into the dark sky on her broomstick bringing stockings full of candies or charcoal to the kids.

When I was a kid, my mother used to prepare Befanini cookies with my sisters and me. We wanted to hold some of the sweetest moments we had together during Christmas for the following days when we had to go back to school. Those days, we used to have Befanini for breakfast with a mug of milk, and also as a morning snack at school the days after Epiphany day, which is celebrated the 6th January.

I know that abroad you do not celebrate Epiphany, but you can still prepare Befanini cookies with your kids, for your friends, or to share some Italian lifestyle.

Have a look at this video about the Befana with your kids, set in Epcot, US, where the legend of Befana is told, and show Befana is becoming popular even abroad.

Here is my mum’s recipe.The recipe is very “easy to make” and you can do it even with your children. In that case, you can avoid using rum.

If you are glutton for cakes, here is the post we dedicated to the Tuscan Christmas cakes.

Enjoy the making and let us know if you liked them.

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Return to Glow… walking the Via Francigena https://mytravelintuscany.com/return-to-glow-walking-the-via-francigena/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/return-to-glow-walking-the-via-francigena/#respond Sun, 05 Nov 2017 15:32:23 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25322 The post Return to Glow… walking the Via Francigena appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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Walking the Via Francigena is becoming more and more popular. For this reason, we decided to interview the American-born Chandi Wyant, one of the first foreigners to walk the Via Francigena when still unknown.

Chandi, who recently moved to Lucca, walked 425 kilometers / 264 miles along the Via Francigena in 2009 after facing a divorce and a traumatic illness. Starting from Fidenza in Emilia Romagna, she crossed the Apennines and the rolling hills of Tuscany to reach the Eternal City of Rome.

She shares her experience in her memoir called Return To Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy which is not just a story of her walk across the regions of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Lazio, but also a personal journey of emotional and physical challenges, and a reminder of the magic of life.

Chandi Wyant the Author of Return to glow_walking_the_Via_Francigena
Chandi Wyant during her walk along the Via Francigena – Photo Credits: Chandi Wyant

The Via Francigena is not a trail that many people are familiar with, can you tell us some basic information about it?

The route is based on the descriptions of the Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious, who walked it in 994 AD. The name means “coming from the Frankish lands”. The “-gena” suffix in Francigena has the additional connotation of “coming from” or “originating in”.

It starts in Canterbury England and goes to Rome, which is about 2.083 kilometers (1294 miles). However many people choose to walk just the Italian part which I have heard is the most well-marked. (Have a look here at the map and itinerary of the Via Francigena in Tuscany)

Signs along Via Francigena
Walking the Via Francigena a sign about directions to take – Photo Credits: Chandi Wyant

Why did you choose to walk the Via Francigena instead of the most famous Camino de Santiago in Spain?

It was easy to choose the Via Francigena over the Camino. I speak Italian, not Spanish. I was going to be doing it alone, and being able to interact with locals is particularly nice when one is alone. Having the language ability allows me to have a level of interaction that is meaningful for me.

Secondly, the Camino has thousands of people on it daily while the Via Francigena is in its infancy. It was appealing to be walking the route when it was relatively unknown. I liked the fact that there was potential to get lost and that I needed to rely on my wits and my intuition. It made it feel like a closer experience to what pilgrims of the middle ages might have gone through. I don’t like the idea of being one of thousands of people walking a trail. It would give me a feeling of being lost in a crowd. It would make it harder to feel like I am claiming my pilgrimage as my own.

Thirdly, before I heard about the Via Francigena, I had already decided to walk across Italy.

A sign for pilgrims along the Via Francigena
Signs to indicate a pilgrim route – Photo Credits: Simone Radavelli

What made you choose to do the Via Francigena?

When my divorce and a traumatic illness happened at the same time, I felt shattered. Emotionally and physically weak, and very alone. The concept of a long distance walk in Italy came as I was trying to figure out a way to put myself back together. I wanted to “get my glow” back.

Chandi Wyant walking the Via_Francigena
Walking the Via Francigena in Lazio, close to Bolsena Lake – Photo Credits: Chandi Wyant

Did you do any physical training before walking the Via Francigena?

I didn’t actually prepare for it physically because I took it on rather impulsively after a debilitating illness— and my body was still weak. I wanted to do something positive to heal, so I took on the pilgrimage with a stubborn determination, telling myself the one thing I could still do was walk.

A white road along the Via Francigena
A white road walking the Via Francigena – Photo Credits: Simone Radavelli

Did it benefit you to do it solo?

I wanted the outer journey to facilitate an inner one, and I felt that to get the most out of the inner one, I needed to be alone.

Did you succeed in getting your glow back?

On the route, I practiced listening to my heart instead of my head and making choices from the heart. This practice became vital to connecting with the spiritual gifts that my journey held. I also learned a lot about my resilience.

I knew that a pilgrimage was not going to be a panacea for all life’s troubles, but I gave myself the tools for facing life challenges with an inner steadiness and with a clear knowledge of my resilience, which has served me well.

A path of the Via Francigena
A narrow path walking the Via Francigena – Photo Credits: Simone Radavelli

What were the most challenging aspects of walking the Via Francigena?

I had no idea that walking on asphalt with the weight of pack could be so hard on the feet. I developed plantar fasciitis within the first four days. That painful affliction made the rest of the route extremely challenging for me.

Those who are involved with sign-posting the route do their best to keep the route on trails and off asphalt when possible, and this may be more the case now that when I walked it. Since it is unappealing in general to walk many kilometers on an asphalt road with a pack on, and harder on the body than hiking on a soft trail, I’d say those parts of the route are the most challenging.

What was your favorite landscape to walk through?

The region in southern Tuscany called Val d’Orcia was stunning to walk through, particularly from Bagno Vignoni to Radicofani. Walking that stretch was a superb feast for the eyes.

I had stopped in the morning in Bagno Vignoni to “take the waters” (hoping it would help all the aches and pains) and then as I stepped out onto the road heading toward Radicofani, I was in awe. There had been some slight rain and there were all these violet tones in the sky and an amazing variety of greens and golds in the fields. The sun came out and the green pastures full of white flowers sparkled and the fields of wheat caught the sun’s rays and turned gold, and the clay hills took on lavender hues. I could not help but stop constantly to take photos.

Tuscan Landscape along the Via Francigena
Tuscan Landscapes walking the Via Francigena – Photo Credits: Chandi Wyant

As someone with a Masters in Florentine Renaissance history, you already know a lot about Italy’s history. Was there any new history you learned while on the Via Francigena?

Arriving as a pilgrim in popular well-known towns like Siena and San Gimignano caused me to see those towns with totally new eyes. Prior to the pilgrimage, I knew nothing about their history as related to the Via Francigena.

I learned that they became important towns precisely because of being situated on the pilgrimage route. They grew to be significant due to the foot traffic of pilgrims who passed through. Within Siena’s walls, at least thirty-six hospices were developed in the middle ages to provide accommodation and medical care to pilgrims and I learned that some, like Santa Maria Della Scala, remain today. Santa Maria Della Scala was one the first in Europe that cared for pilgrims, assisted the poor, and provided for abandoned children. It apparently was founded in the year 898.

What are the reasons you would list to encourage people to walk this route?

I think the route is particularly alluring for those who appreciate connecting with rich traditions of western civilization. All the work that is going on to preserve and revive this route is a reaffirmation of those traditions and that history.

I mention in my book the times when I felt a connection to the pilgrims of the past, which then connected me more deeply to the roots of western traditions. This is one valuable reason to walk the route. Another reason is to give oneself a time to slow down. A pilgrimage can be an antidote a fast-paced life.

Shoes are the most important friend walking the Via Francigena
Shoes are the best friends walking the Via Francigena – Photo Credits: Simone Radavelli

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope that the sharing of my experience will help empower others who may be going through similar things in life, and for those who are wondering about solo travel but haven’t done it. I hope it inspires them.

I also hope that it encourages the idea in-depth travel of reaching out across borders and getting to know people who are from other cultures and breaking bread with them instead of fearing them and putting up walls to keep them out.

Purchase Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy on her blog www.paradiseofexiles.com or on Amazon

Connect with Chandi on Facebook: Paradise of Exiles.

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Walking the Via Francigena Pinterest Cover

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Pontremoli, hidden gem of northern Tuscany https://mytravelintuscany.com/pontremoli-hidden-gem-tuscany/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/pontremoli-hidden-gem-tuscany/#comments Sun, 08 Oct 2017 17:06:09 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25243 The post Pontremoli, hidden gem of northern Tuscany appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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Pontremoli is one of the main villages of Lunigiana located at the bottom of Tosco Emiliano Apennines in the green and wild northern Tuscany. Out of the classic itineraries of the mass tourism, set on the border between Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia Romagna, Pontremoli astonishes visitors for a mix of nature, history, and culinary tradition, different from the rest of region. Even the dialect and the accent are different, closer to the Emilian and Ligurian accent than to the real Tuscan.

A step back into the history of Pontremoli

According to the Latin, the name of Pontremoli comes from the words “Pons Tremulus”. Pons refers to the ancient bridge that crossed the stream Verde (so-called because of the green color of its water). Then, Tremulus may refer to an old name of the poplar wood, the material used to build the bridge, or to the fact that the bridge was a little trembling.

Pontremoli was one of the eighty stages of the Via Francigena, the ancient medieval route connecting Canterbury to Rome, traveled by Sigeric the Serious (Archbishop of Canterbury) on 990, as a penitential pilgrimage to ask forgiveness for his sins, and to receive the pallium from the Pope.

Magra River Pontremoli Tuscany
Riverbed of Magra River

Because of its strategic position along the Cisa Pass, Pontremoli was also called “the key and the gate of the Apennines” by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

Strolling around, you could see Middle Ages pieces of evidence everywhere, from the many severe Case Torri (tower houses), built in Pietra Arenaria (sandstone), to the bridges and the fortifications.

During the Modern Era, the government of Pontremoli changed family many times: from the Lords of Verona to the Visconti Family of Milan, from the Reign of Spain (under the Emperor Charles V) to the Republic of Genoa, from the Medici of Florence to the Dukedom of Parma just before the Unification of Italy on 1870.

Moreover, Pontremoli had a significant economic development especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, as proven by the beautiful mansions designed by popular architects and artists.

Street of Pontremoli Tuscany
Little shops and art in street

During the Modern Era, the government of Pontremoli changed family many times: from the Lords of Verona to the Visconti Family of Milan, from the Reign of Spain (under the Emperor Charles V) to the Republic of Genoa, from the Medici of Florence to the Dukedom of Parma just before the Unification of Italy on 1870.

Moreover, Pontremoli had a significant economic development especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, as proven by the beautiful mansions designed by popular architects and artists.

The town of Pontremoli and its surroundings has also a fascinating and unique tradition that deserves a mention. Generations of itinerant booksellers departed from this area to sell books in the squares of the northern Italy and of the countryside. Many of the libraries that you still find in those places were opened by Pontremolesi families that left the mountains of Lunigiana looking for fortune elsewhere. Nowadays, every summer, the ceremony of an Italian book award called “Bancarella” takes place in town and a jury of booksellers comes from all parts of Italy to reward the bestseller books.

Pottering around Pontremoli. A self-guided itinerary of the village

The oldest part of Pontremoli is set at the bottom of Piagnaro hill between the confluence of the stream Verde and the river Magra, which were the natural defenses of the town. On top of the hill the medieval castle, today converted into a museum, still dominates the burg.

Via Garibaldi Pontremoli Tuscany
An empty Via Garibaldi

Porta Parma, the Sommo Borgo, and the Castle

One of the starting points of a visit could be the northern entrance called Porta Parma (Parma’s gate) which faces the Apennines pass. It dates back to the 17th century, as written on the marble inscription upon the arch on which also the name of Philip II King of Spain is engraved.

Passing through the gate, the main Via Garibaldi departs crossing the highest borough called “Sommo Borgo” up to the Piazza del Duomo. Into the Sommo Borgo, there are the two oldest churches of the Pontremoli: the church of San Geminiano and of San Nicolò, where you can admire a precious black crucifix dated 15th – 16th century.

San Nicolo church in Pontremoli Tuscany
The church of San Nicolò

Walking along the street, take one of the steep lanes that lead to the Piagnaro Castle. The old fortification has been converted into the interesting Museum of Statue Stele, that houses prehistoric and proto-historic stone artworks representing stylized human figures, dated back to the III millennium B.C. and the VI century B.C. From the top of the hill, you get also a nice view of the historical center enclosed between the river and the stream.

Path to the Castle Pontremoli Tuscany
One of the steep lanes that bring to the castle
Steps to the Castle in Pontremoli Tuscany
Walking to the castle
The Statue Stele Museum in Pontremoli
The mysterious Statue Stele

Porta Della Cresa and the Bridge of San Francesco di Sopra

On the way down from the hill to the center, reach the old gate “Della Cresa” and the bridge of San Francesco di Sopra. This bridge of Romanesque Era has an ancient origin and once connected Pontremoli with the nearby villages. Even if it has been restored several times due to river floods, it maintains the same structure and charm of the original construction of the 14th century. Close to the bridge, there are two spacious car parks, so this could be a good point where to start the visit. From here you can easily walk in town following a tiny alley that passes under some old arches.

The Bridge of San Francesco di Sopra

The Duomo and the Bell Tower

Coming back downtown, deserve a visit the precious works inside the Cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo, and the bell tower in the Piazza Della Repubblica, that represents the administrative power. The Campanone, as the bell tower is called, was part of a defensive wall called “Cacciaguerra, wanted by Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli on 1332, that ran from the bank of the stream Verde to the river Magra dividing the town into two parts, the upper occupied by the Guelphs, and the lower inhabited by the Ghibellines.

The arches in Pontremoli Tuscany
Little Alley in the historical center
The Bell Tower of Pontremoli Tuscany
The Campanone, the bell tower of the town

The Immo Borgo and the Park of the Tower

Keep walking along the lane you reach the medieval lower part, also known as “Immoborgo“. The most scenic things to see in the suburb are the tower called “Torre del Casotto, dated back to the 14th century, and the ancient bridge called “Ponte dello Stemma (bridge of the coat of arms), built in the 13th – 14th centuries. Underneath the bridge, there is the lovely quiet Park of the Tower where to rest under the shadow of the trees, especially during the summer when the weather is hot.

From the park, you can choose to walk the “passeggiata verde” along the stream and go back to the starting point of Porta Della Cresa or go back to the main street, take the Jubilee bridge on your right and go exploring the suburb on the left bank of the Magra River.

Pontremoli Tuscany Parco della Torre
The Parco Della Torre into the Immoborgo

The left bank of the Magra River

On the left side of the river Magra, Pontremoli is plenty of charming places evidence of the medieval splendor, such as Castelnuovo tower, which was part of the defensive system, and once used as entrance gate of the village. If you love Rococo architecture then save some time for a visit to the small church of Nostra Donna (Our Lady) built on the ruins of the Oratory of the Madonna del Ponte destroyed by a tragic flood. Close by, you also find there is also Teatro Della Rosa (Theatre of the Rose), dated back to 1739 and considered the oldest of the province. A tour of the theatre is available on request.

Keep walking on the left side of the river, you can have look inside the church of Santa Cristina to admire its paintings, or reach the mansion of the Petrucci and Damiani Families, both decorated with astonishing frescoes.

At the far end of the hamlet, there is the garden of Porta Fiorentina (Florentine’s Gate) that once was surrounded by walls and fortifications that are still visible, and the church of San Pietro that houses a little treasure that you cannot miss. Ask the gentle lady, who is the janitor of the church, to see to open the doors of the sacristy to let you discover the labyrinth carved on sandstone, a unique artwork dated back to the eleventh-twelfth century, and symbol of the spiritual journey made by pilgrims.

Labyrinth carved into sandstone
The Labyrinth carved into sandstone
Pontremoli View from the Window of the Piagnaro Castle
Panoramic of Pontremoli from a window of the castle

Insider tips about Pontremoli

Take a visit at the Antica Pasticceria degli Svizzeri, a pastry shop founded on 1842 by a Swiss family that conquered the heart of the locals with their pastries, cakes, and spirits. The interiors of the shop are wonderful, all decorated in liberty style. It’s here that they make titbits following recipes taken from ancient books. Taste the Spongata, which is a cake made of puff pastry, a mixture of honey, cocoa, spices, mixed nuts, dried fruit and candied fruit, or the Amor, two wafers filled with a mouthwatering Chantilly cream that, once in your mouth, you will feel like you are making love. Indeed the word Amor means exactly love.

Another “must” for locals is the aperitif at Bar Luciano in the Piazza del Duomo. Let Roberto, the grouchy owner (but just for the show, so do not be afraid of him) of this old-fashioned bar, serve you a glass of Bianco Oro, a patented cocktail with a secret recipe that will never be revealed. And enjoy reading all the billboards warning the incautious customers asking for normal requests! But as I said, it’s only humorous sarcasm.

Antica Pasticceria degli Svizzeri Pontremoli Tuscany
The ancient Pasticceria degli Svizzeri in Pontremoli

Keep talking about food, do not miss to taste Sgabei, the famous Testaroli with pesto sauce (here is our recipe), the salty herb pies, and buy local DOP Honey and Chestnut flour to bake your homemade bread or to prepare desserts like Castagnaccio (which is not typical of Pontremoli but still so delicious, here is our recipe).

In October you have the opportunity to visit the town and taste the traditional food at the same time in occasion of the Tour Day, the funniest and craziest food tour of Italy. For more info, here is the official website of the event (in Italian only).

Finally, If you happen to be in Lunigiana in January, you could have the luck to attend to the nights of the bonfires. In Pontremoli, the nights of the Patron Saints, the two Contrada of San Nicolò and San Geminiamo face each other (respectively on 17th and 31st January) trying to build the biggest and long-lasting bonfire.

Did I intrigue you enough? What do you think about a visit to Pontremoli in Tuscany? If you need any additional information feel free to leave a comment below or send an email.

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Pontremoli, a hidden gem of Northern Tuscany

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The Corchia Underground in Tuscany https://mytravelintuscany.com/corchia-underground-in-tuscany/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/corchia-underground-in-tuscany/#respond Tue, 12 Sep 2017 07:01:30 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25181 The post The Corchia Underground in Tuscany appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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Have you ever dreamed to be a speleologist wearing boots, pith helmet, headlight, and take an exciting journey to the centre of the earth? I guess every curious traveler would love to do it. At the Corchia Underground, you only need a pair of comfortable walking shoes and a jacket to do it!

Descend, bold traveler, into the crater of the jokull of Snaefell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm

We are not in Iceland, we are not descending any volcano crater, and we are not the Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm nor the German Professor Lidenbrock, characters of the science fiction novel by the French novelist Jules Verne. Instead, we are in Tuscany, and we did our little “Journey to the centre of the earthexploring the karst caves of the Corchia Underground.

We are in the coastal Versilia, in northern Tuscany, an area known especially for its long beach, but that also hosts high green fascinating mountains, the Apuan Alps. It is not common to have the opportunity to admire high mountains while swimming and in Versilia, you can do it. To me that I am not native to this area, this is definitely one of the things I prefer.

A gallery inside the mount Corchia

A bit of history of the Antro del Corchia Underground

In origin, the water covered this part of the globe. As time went on, the accumulation of sediments gave rise to the mountains. Then, only 5 millions of years ago, due to a fracture in the rocks, the water came in and shaped the heart of the mountain creating these caves that measure approx. 53 km, but it seems they could reach 70 km.

On 1840, an explorer who was looking for a good marble to extract discovered the caves. He noticed a breeze coming from a hole in the mountain and descending he discovered the very first entrance to the mountain.

Guess how amazing should have been being one of the people that explored for the first time the inside of the mountain with no lights or comfortable paths as we do today.

After more than hundred years, on 1970, a second entrance was discovered thanks to the wind and to a bat flying out from another hole.

Colored formations at the Antro del Corchia Underground

The tourist and cultural system of the Corchia Underground in Tuscany

It is around the village of Levigliani, on the slope of these very ancient mountains declared UNESCO global geopark on 2016, that you find the Corchia Underground.

The “mountain by the sea” is the appellative that locals gave to the Corchia Mountain. No better saying could be used to define this place located only half an hour away from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Being like a natural terrace overlooking the flatland and the sea below, it donates wonderful views and, on very bright days, visitors can even glimpse the French island of Corsica.

The tourist and cultural system of the Corchia Underground includes four interesting attractions to visit such as the Antro Del Corchia karst caves, the quicksilver mines, and two museums.

I experienced a day in the shoes of a speleologist taking part of a guided tour to the Antro del Corchia caves.

Descending the galleries of the Corchia Underground

What you will experience inside the Antro del Corchia Underground in Tuscany

The Corchia Underground is a fragile ecosystem that needs to be protected, and visitors MUST respect some simple rules. No pictures with flash allowed because the light causes the formation of algae and other microorganisms on the rocks made mainly of calcium carbonate. Even touching rocks is forbidden because the grease on our hands could alter their composition.

Before to descend into the heart of the hollow mountain, there is a long tunnel to walk and three gates that keep the caves protected by the open air to pass. Once inside, the temperature is about 7,5 °C (45,50 °F) with 100% humidity and you won’t smell any scents. The tour is not difficult but if are claustrophobic or too lazy to walk, this is not the place for you.

The tunnel at the entrance of the Antro del Corchia Underground
The entrance of the caves

The path twists and turns for about 2 km along steel boardwalks, natural stones, and approximately 1800 steps to climb and descend. As long as the ground is flat or you have to descend, the walk is easy. The tour guide stops many times to show rocks of different colors, stalactites and stalagmites, holes, cascades, lakes, and tell the adventures of the first “conquerors” of the heart of the mountain.

One of the fascinating places inside the Corchia Underground is, with no doubt, the swan room. Inside the grotto, a huge formation looks like a big resting swan with the wings closed around its body. The room is lack of oxygen, and there is a high concentration of carbon dioxide that you will yawn. By the way, the air is clean and there is no danger for the health.

The Swan Room Corchia Underground
The huge swan rock

After a series of curves that will make you loose orientation we reached the so-called “lake of the Friday”, a marshland of crystal clear radioactive water discovered on 1967, where expeditions stopped, and used to leave writings on the wall as proof of their passage.

Lake of Friday Corchia Underground
The Lake of the Friday

Another fascinating room we walked across was full of stunning stalactites and stalagmites, which seem made by millions of small popcorns, and that almost touched each other creating a unique column.

Antro del Corchia Gallery
Stalactites and stalagmites

The hardest part comes at the end of the walk when we had to climb the last steep steps on the way back to the exit. After a little rest,  passing through the three doors, we finally emerged from the cave to breathe again the scent of the marble, the fresh air of the nature and the sea breeze, enjoying the wonderful view of the Versilia and the Mediterranean Sea.

Landscape from Mount Corchia
The Mediterranean Sea in the distance

How to reach the Corchia Underground in Tuscany

The village of Levigliani is located into the regional park of the Apuan Alps, under the municipality of Stazzema, one of the four Comuni of the historical area of Versilia. You can easily reach Corchia Underground in 30 minutes by car from Forte dei Marmi or Pietrasanta, and in approx. one hour from Lucca. If you take the coastal A12 highway, get out at “Versilia” exit and then follow indications to Seravezza and Antro del Corchia. For more info and tickets visit the official website of Corchia Underground.

We really enjoyed the Corchia Underground that we included it in our 15 things to do in Versilia. It was very interesting to discover a new place set in a beautiful montainous scenery, and stories from the past that local communities try to keep alive with passion and dedication for the new generations and visitors. What do you think about it?

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The 7 best things to do in Pistoia https://mytravelintuscany.com/best-things-to-do-in-pistoia/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/best-things-to-do-in-pistoia/#respond Mon, 28 Aug 2017 10:02:39 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25149 The post The 7 best things to do in Pistoia appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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Enclosed into the perimeter of its wall, protected by the natural frame of the Apennines and the Tuscan hills, Pistoia is a town of Roman origin halfway between the more famous Florence and Lucca. Out of the classic itineraries of Tuscany, Pistoia holds a remarkable artistic and architectural heritage to reveal that has been designated Italian Capital of Culture for 2017. What a better reason to discover the best things to do in Pistoia?

The beauty of Pistoia is also to be quite a small, friendly, and provincial town. The quality of life is good, and residents know they are living in such a uniquely pleasant place that seems they want to keep it secret, as a precious gem, from the rest of the world and the mass tourism. The old buildings reveal the stories and the artistic soul of Pistoia, influenced by two different art movements as the Pisan Romanesque style of the 12th century, and the Florentine Renaissance of the 15th century.

Piazza Duomo Pistoia
 Things to do in Pistoia: The Piazza Duomo

A brief history of Pistoia

Founded during the Roman Age, on the rests of an Etruscan settlement, Pistoia was a stronghold to defend the empire against the attacks of the Liguri people living on the Apennines and in northern Tuscany.

During the eleventh century, it becomes an independent Comune but only during the twelfth century, Pistoia lived the best period of its history. Thanks to its strategic position, it was a crossroad of the greatest commercial routes of that time. It was also situated in the middle of the pilgrim routes that connected the Holy Land with Rome and Compostela. Pistoia was crowded by artisans, merchants, artists, and pilgrims from all Europe. It is during these years of splendor that the Romanic and the Gothic styles come together as we can see for example in the architecture of door of the Baptistery.

The thirteenth century was a time of crisis and recession. Then, as happened to many other Tuscan cities, after these dark times, it is under the Medici Dynasty and with the Granducato di Toscana that Pistoia rose again becoming an important political and cultural center during the Renaissance.

From the second half of 1700, Pistoia benefits of the innovative ideas of the Grand Duke Leopoldo di Lorena, and begin its industrial development, especially with the construction of the railways.

Thanks to its micro climate, and its geographical position, on an alluvial plain with an abundance of water, which is protected by the mountains from the cold northern winds, Pistoia has an important role in plant nurseries since 1800. This tradition begins 150 years ago when fruit trees grew in the gardens between the walls to satisfy the always more needs of the inhabitants. Today the industry has been developing with the creation of new farming techniques and new varieties of plantations than Pistoia is one of the European city leaders in plants nurseries.

Palazzo dei Vescovi Pistoia
 The Bishop Palace in the Piazza Duomo

Things to do in Pistoia: our itinerary

We visited Pistoia on a gloomy Sunday morning with the sun behind the thick covering of clouds. Although the role of Capital of the Culture, the atmosphere was quiet. Most of the shops were closed, only locals in the street enjoying the day off pottering around, going to the church, chatting in front of an espresso or seated on benches.

1. Fortress of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Fortress thing to do in Pistoia

Our tour of the best things to do in Pistoia started with a walk on top of the walls of the Medicean Fortress of Santa Barbara, one of the four bastions of the city walls, built during the sixteenth century at the time of the Granducato di Toscana. The Medici coat of arms above the gate welcome visitors in the fort. Some steps take you up on the path that brings on the perimeter of the walls, where guards defended the castle with bows and arrows from the invaders. The construction is well preserved but, to be honest, seems a bit neglected and not properly promoted. It is open only in the morning from 8.15 am to 1.30 pm from Tuesday to Sunday, and at the time of the visit, despite Pistoia is the Italian capital of culture, there was no events or exhibit inside (some musical events take place during summer). That’s a pity because it is one of the things to do in Pistoia we loved the most. Instead, we were lucky enough to have found a tournament of archery in costumes in the Piazza d’Armi just in front of the fortress.

Archers in Pistoia
Archers in costumes in front of the Fortress

2. The church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas

San Giovanni Fuoricivitas pistoia

The huge stripe wall of the church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas appears to us just after having entered the pedestrian area of Pistoia. The church is one of the examples of Pistoian Romanesque architecture and one of the many zebra stripes buildings in town. Take note of the number of them you would have counted at the end of the day. Two facts of this church particularly intrigued me. The first is that in origin was out of the city walls (this is the reason of the adjective “Fuori-civitas” which, in a mix of Italian and Latin, means out of the city). The second is that the original main façade was on the western side of the church. But due to the bad decision of erect buildings too much closer to it, that side has never been used as the main entrance that nowadays you can find along the northern wall decorated in white and green marble.

3. Via degli Orafi

Keep walking along the pedestrian area discovering the best things to do in Pistoia, we reached the tiny little alley Via Degli Orafi that is of most ancient streets in town. In the past, it was a lively street plenty of studios and botteghe where artisans made and sold their precious handmade artworks. Along this way, the façade of the ex-theatre Eden in Liberty style caught my attention. I suggest taking a quick look before to go ahead to the Piazza Duomo.

4. Piazza Duomo

San Zeno Cathedral Pistoia

As in the past, the Piazza del Duomo is still the heart of Pistoia, the most suggestive place in town with a considerable historical heritage. It houses the most important buildings in town, symbols of the main authorities of a city:

  • Judicial with Palazzo Pretorio (the courthouse) where you can enter to admire frescoes and the coat of arms of the magistrate families on the walls of the cloister.
  • Political with the Town Hall that today houses the Civic Museum with canvas, panels, sculptures and other artworks that retrace the entire artistic history of Pistoia from 13th to 20th Century.
  • Religious with the Cathedral and the bell tower, the ancient Bishop Palace, and the gothic Baptistry of San Giovanni in Corte. The Cathedral dedicated to San Zeno has a façade in Romanesque style and inside it hosts the silver altar, a wonderful artwork completely made in silver by the hands of local artists. If you like to admire Pistoia from a higher point, I suggest taking the tour of the bell tower that runs every day (for more info ask for it to the tourist office inside the Baptistry). The episcopal palace where once the Bishop and his canons lived, today hosts the archaeological museum.

5. Ospedale del Ceppo

Ospedale del Ceppo Pistoia

Walking out of the Piazza Duomo from the street next to the town hall, we reached the old Ospedale del Ceppo founded on 1277 and opened to the patients until a few years ago.

The façade of the hospital is decorated with the interesting colored sixteenth-century terracotta frieze, covered by a layer of bright polychrome ceramic, depicting the Seven Works of Mercy and realized by the artists Santi Buglioni and Filippo Paladini. Underneath the frieze, between the arches of the loggia, there are some terracotta medallions made by Giovanni Della Robbia representing scenes of the life of the Virgin Mary, the coat of arms of the Medici Family, the symbols of Pistoia and of its two hospitals.

6. Pistoia underground

Underground Pistoia

The hospital is also the starting point of the brand-new guided tour to the underground of Pistoia, the longest hypogeous path in Tuscany with more than 650 meters (0,4 miles) of length. The hospital was built above a stream called Brana that crossed the historical center of the town. During the tour we had the chance to enter into the world smallest anatomical amphitheater, to walk underneath the hospital where once the creek was flowing in the sun, passing under the different wards and see how the project of the hospital changed the cityscape englobing bridges, towers, and even the city walls.

7. Piazza della Sala e Piazza degli Ortaggi

Piazza Della Sala Pistoia

We ended our day discovering the best things to do in Pistoia in the charming Piazza Della Sala. At the time when Pistoia was under the reign of Lombards, it was the center of Pistoia. Later it became a trade center and this feature still survives. In fact, Piazza della Sala and the adjoined Piazza degli Ortaggi everyday host the colored stalls of the farmer’s market where to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. At night, the two piazze turn into the most lively places in town for an aperitivo, dinner, or a drink in one of many nice little bars.

Other things to do in Pistoia

Our stay of Pistoia lasted only half a day. Right after lunch, a heavy shower interrupted our visit. We had the time to experience the best things to do in Pistoia, but you can easily spend an entire day in town adding a stop to one or more of these places:

    • Palazzo Fabroni: an old medieval tower-house, renewed during the eighteenth century that today hosts the center of modern and contemporary visual arts.
    • Church of Sant’Andrea: in front of Fabroni Palace, the Romanesque parish church houses the gothic style pulpit of Giovanni Pisano, a masterpiece of the son of that Niccola Pisano that was one of the masters of the gothic art in Europe.
    • Basilica of Santa Maria dell’Umiltà: a splendid example of religious Renaissance architecture of which you can admire the sixteenth-century dome, built by Giorgio Vasari that took inspiration from the more famous Brunelleschi Dome in Florence.
    • Church of Sant’Antonio Abate: the church, in the past dedicated to the Tau cross, today consecrated to Saint Anthony the Great, holds the greatest late gothic frescoes of Pistoia.
    • Zoological Garden: Pistoia has one of the biggest zoos of all Italy. Every Tuscan child went at least once in his life here. Now that I am older I am not too much into zoo because I prefer to see animals in their own habitat, but the aims of the park are also to protect and preserve local habitat and its inhabitants (animals and vegetation), and to educate people to safeguard the Earth being more eco-friendly.

Did you know that…

  • One of the traditional candy of Pistoia is a kind of confit named Birignoccoluto. In Italian, this word is a bit weird and it reminds us of something with an irregular shape. In fact, they look like big hailstones made coating anise or coriander seeds with layers of sugar syrup. Let melt the sugar in your mouth and then enjoy the explosion of the taste of anise and cilantro.
  • The 25th July, Pistoia celebrates its Patron Saint, St Jacob the with the dressing ceremony of the statue dedicated to him over the Cathedral, and with the medieval Bear Jousting tournament in the main Piazza Duomo.
  • Out of Pistoia, in the village of Collodi, there is a theme park dedicated to Pinocchio, the naughty wooden puppet famous all over the world, invented by the fantasy of the journalist Carlo Lorenzini also known as Carlo Collodi.
  • Every summer the Piazza Duomo hosts the music festival Pistoia Blues, one of the biggest summer festival in Italy where is possible to listen to the concerts of International stars of the music system.
  • During the winter, in just over an hour from Pistoia, you can spend a day skiing at the Abetone and Monte Cimone area, two of the main ski resorts of Tuscany and of all the Italian Apennines.

How to reach Pistoia

  • By car: Take Pistoia exit on the A11 highway that connects Florence to Lucca, Pisa and the coastal Versilia. Both from Florence and Lucca you reach Pistoia in approx 40 minutes. We left our car at the Cavallotti Parking close by the Santa Barbara Fortress (it was free of charge being Sunday), otherwise, you can park at the Cellini parking which is always free of charge, and reach the center by walk or by paying shuttle.
  • By train: You find Pistoia rail station on the line that connects Florence and Lucca. From Florence regional trains take about 30 – 50 minutes; from Lucca, they take about 40 minutes – 1 hour depending on the number of train stops. Read also how to travel in Tuscany by train.

Have you got other suggestions to add to this list of the best things to do in Pistoia? Leave a comment below.

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The walls of Lucca seen from above and below https://mytravelintuscany.com/walls-of-lucca/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/walls-of-lucca/#comments Wed, 05 Jul 2017 10:50:20 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25095 The post The walls of Lucca seen from above and below appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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I guess that the most of the people think that the city walls that make Lucca famous all over the world were of medieval origin, but I recently discovered, during a guided tour exploring the walls of Lucca and its underground, that this belief is partially wrong.

I have to thanks a friend of mine that suggested me to get this unusual tour created by Turislucca, a group of experienced authorized tour guides with a great knowledge of the town, that told me tons of interesting facts about the history of their birthplace. If a “must to do” in town is a bike ride along the wide and shady path of the fortification that surrounds the historical center, the majority of tourists don’t know that the main bastions hide ancient underground to discover.

people running a bike along the walls of Lucca

Stories of castles, fortress, and knights always fascinated me that the idea to explore the underground of the walls of Lucca made me very excited.

We booked few days in advance because there are only two or three walking tours of the underground every month and so far, they are having a huge success. Anyway, we saw people buying the ticket on site the day of the visit, so have a try even if you decide at the very last minute. Mostly of the partecipants were Italians but the tour is available even in english.

The meeting point of the tour is at the tourist office of Piazzale Verdi. Before the walk departs, they make small groups to make the visit more enjoyable and provide to all the visitors a useful map of the town showing how the town (and the walls with it) changed with the time. After that, the tour into the history of Lucca and its wall begins.

overview of the town from the walls of lucca
Overview from the walls of Lucca

The walls of Lucca in brief

Without the city walls, and other reasons I tell you later, Lucca would not exist as we see it today.

The walls of Lucca are the second in Europe for length with its 4,2 km (2,60 miles), just behind the walls of Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus. Lucca’s city walls have eleven bastions, six main entrance gates, other three more ancient gates, and some secondary doors to get out the historical center.

Throughout its history, four different walls were built in Lucca. The Romans founded Lucca 2000 years ago, in the 180 BC, and they built the first fortification. It lasted until 1118 when Lucca became a Comune and a second set of walls was built integrating the Roman old ones. During 1300, Lucca became bigger and they needed to better enclose and defend the city from the enemies with the third set of walls. Instead, the wonderful fascinating huge walls we see today are of Renaissance origin. The construction began on 1504 after more than hundred years.

under the shadow over the walls of Lucca
Resting in the shadow on the bastions of the walls of Lucca

It was very interesting to listen to the differences between the Medieval and Renaissance walls. I have never thought that could be a difference between them. The way of making war changed at the end of 1400 beginning of 1500, with the invention of the gunpowder. Earlier, walls needed to be very high (and not too much wide) to prevent any attempt of climbing and to neutralize the use of bows and arrows. If you are a fan of Game of Thrones, imagine the Wall of Winterfell that, instead of being made of ice, was made of stones. Differently, with the use of cannons in war, castles and cities needed larger but not very high walls, made in bricks and filled with soil, to resist against the cannon shots.

Lucca’s defensive walls had also another oddity I discovered thanks to this guided tour. Generally, the fortified cities had four main entrances, one for each cardinal point. Instead, in Lucca, there were only three gates: northern, western, and southern. Can you guess why? Because at East there was Florence, Lucca’s enemy no. 1. that tried to conquer it for centuries with no success. This action had a symbolic and challenging meaning; Lucca was proudly an indipendent city and its people would have defended the city with all its strength from the attacks of Firenze and of the Medici Family.

Tunnel under the walls of lucca
Gallery under the walls of Lucca

You have to know that Lucca was one of the most famous producers of silk of the Western world from the end of 12th century. Vendors from all over the world came to Lucca to sell their products and buy precious textiles as lampas, fabrics decorated with birds and animals patterns, and brocades with golden and silver thread enrichments. Thanks to this trade Lucca became a rich city. Moreover, its good diplomacy established profitable relationships with the Pope and the most powerful European Families, to stay out of any war.

Therefore, Lucca was an independent city for more than 700 years, and the only person able to conquer it was Napoleon during the French First Empire. It is during its control that the fourth, eastern gate of the walls was built, and it was called “Porta Elisa” in honor of Elisa, sister of Napoleon, and Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Princess of Lucca and Piombino, Duchess of Massa and Princess of Carrara. Later, they also built other minor gates to ease the access and the exit from/to the old center.

The city walls, the important role in the silk market, its wealth, a highly capable diplomacy, and last, the luck of not having been bombed during the big wars of 1900, are the key factors which allowed to the city of Lucca to preserve the splendor that we still admire.

The tour of the Walls of Lucca and its underground

First of all, we have to clarify that only bastions have undergrounds, while the straight walls are full because they needed to resist to the cannon shots. So, the walking tour of the underground brought us along an itinerary passing on top of the walls and inside the bastions of San Paolino, Santa Croce, and San Martino.

Walls of Lucca underground vault
Under the walls of Lucca

The bastion of San Paolino

The first stop of the tour was in front of the old building of the Ex Manifattura Tabacchi, an old factory of tobacco operating from the middle of 19th century that now moved out of the city. Then we proceeded to the first bastion of San Paolino that was recently renovated preserving the original structure. Today the underground houses special events and exhibits (if the humidity level is not too high), and there is also an exit path to get out from the walls. Along the corridor, it was still possible (at the time of the visit) to admire two artworks made on paper and wood from the last event called Cartasia that every two years takes place in town.

the wooden sculpture in the underground of the walls of lucca
Artwork under Bastion of san Donato

The bastion of San Donato

Differently from the others, the bastion of San Donato has not underground. It is situated between the Porta Sant Anna and Porta San Donato where we stopped listening to the tour guide that told us that this bastion has always been unsafe because built over a patch of swampy ground. Adjoined to the bastion there is an old barrack, the old horse stables and the ruins of the old walls further in.

opening the bastion of Santa Croce
Opening the heavy door of the bastion

The bastion of Santa Croce

The next underground we explored was the bastion of Santa Croce. The bastion of Santa Croce is dedicated to the Holy Face, the venerated wooden crucifix hosted in the cathedral of San Martino that is also one of the patrons of Lucca. On the outside, the bastion is wide, very green and bright, and give some nice panoramic glimpses of the towers and roofs of the town. It is well preserved and we can still see the ruins of the medieval walls and the old soldier barrack. It was interesting to go under and visit the undergrounds that are open to public only during special events. During the Second World War, this space was used as a shelter for the civilians, and we can still see the rest of the foundations of the old medieval fortifications that during the Renaissance were merged with the modern city walls. Santa Croce Bastion is definitely my favorite, and I came back a few days later to enjoy the view and a rest on the grass under the shadow of its trees. I discovered that the old barrack of the bastion years ago was an office of the Carabinieri Corps, and today it hosts a studio of painting. This is a good example of requalification which also allows local people to live an important old building of the history of the town.

window with view on the walls of Lucca
Studio with view

The Bastion of San Martino

The last stop of the tour of the walls of Lucca and its underground was the Bastion of San Martino along the northern side of the fortification. Walking along the walls we passed next to the current city prison and there is a touching story to tell.

On 1960, one of the world greatest jazz trumpeter Chet Baker was imprisoned here for sixteenth. Baker was considered a poète maudit that was playing and singing as an angel without knowing music, a talented autodidact. He was very close to the town of Lucca, where he had good friends, and to the Versilia, where he was playing that summer when was arrested for drug trafficking. During his imprisonment, he got the permission to play his trumpet, so every day a crowd met up in front of the prison listening to his wonderful melodies. Also on December of the same year, another great jazz clarinetist, Henghel Gualdi faced the law organizing, along this part of walls, an improvised and moving concert as Christmas gift for Chet.

On the way to the Bastion of San Martino,  taking a little shortcut, we passed in front of the wonderful Italian gardens of Palazzo Pfanner, and to the church of San Frediano where we discovered it has an unusual façade oriented to Jerusalem (while most of the church has the altar pointed towards the west).

palazzo pfanner and San Frediano church
The tower of San Frediano and the gardens of Palazzo Pfanner

The entrance at the bastion of San Martino is free, and it is another of the secondary gates to get out the town center. The restoration works dug up the rests of the octagonal tower dated back to 1300. At the gate, a huge robot statue made on paper, welcome visitors. Inside we still find the old arches made in bricks that light games make them even more fascinating, and the embrasures used for defending the walls with cannons. The most powerful cannons (that could shoot up to 4 km away) were on top of the walls while from these windows cannons shot stones, nails and iron scraps.

Game of lights under San Martino
Underneath the bastion of San Martino

The two hours tour ended up in San Martino that passed very quickly. You can walk most of this itinerary of the walls of Lucca by yourself, but if you wish to enrich your experience with interesting information and anecdotes about the history of the town, as I personally do, I highly recommend you to join this special underground tour by created by the authorized tourist guides of TurisLucca.

If you liked our experience above and below the walls of Lucca, please share it with your friends and relatives and do not miss to pin this pic on your Pinterest dashboard!

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Calcio storico, a rough pitch for “Lost in Florence” https://mytravelintuscany.com/calcio-storico-lost-florence/ https://mytravelintuscany.com/calcio-storico-lost-florence/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:40:16 +0000 http://mytravelintuscany.com/?p=25049 The post Calcio storico, a rough pitch for “Lost in Florence” appeared first on My Travel in Tuscany.

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new movie set in Florence has been launched and this time with the Calcio Storico as background. I am talking about Lost in Florence, a romantic drama film directed and written by Evan Oppenheimer, well known for previous movies such as “A Little Game”, “The Speed of Thought”, “Alchemy”, “Justice” and “The Auteur Theory”.

The movie has as scenery the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce where the matches of the historical Florentine soccer called Calcio Fiorentino are played since the Renaissance. In this movie, we can discover the interesting aspect of the brotherhood in an ancient sport, which is really beloved by the Florentines and that still express the competition between the four Contrada of Florence.

Calcio-storico-florence-parade

Lost in Florence the movie

Eric is a former professional American football player, who is facing the refusal of the proposal by his fiancée Coleen during their visit to Anna (Eric’s cousin) in Florence. He is at a crossroads: begin again to play his beloved sport he had to suspend, or start a new chapter of his life applying for a law school. Thanks to Marco, (Anna’s husband) Eric got involved into the Calcio Storico, which is an amalgam of rugby, American football, and street fighting, played only in Florence. Here Eric discovers to have a natural talent for this sport, and its thanks to the Calcio Fiorentino that he meets Stefania, the girlfriend of Paolo, the team captain.

Calcio-storico-lost-in-florence-dinner

Somehow, Eric experiences the lifestyle and the atmosphere of the Calcio Storico, from the marvel of pageantry of the pre-game parade, to the debauched post-game revels, and the threats of those who think that, according to the rules, Eric should not play because he is not born in Florence nor has ten years of Florentine residence.

The acquaintance with Stefania turns into a loving affair, and when Paolo discovers the cheat, he felts betrayed not only by a friend but also by a “brother” in the Calcio Storico. Just to complicate things, Coleen arrives in Florence from the USA. The unexpected arrival forces Eric to face a new question, pushing him into a deep introspective journey. What matters most in his life? I invite you to discover Eric’s choice watching the movie (available on demand on Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes and if you are an expat living in Italy the movie will be broadcasted by Sky TV in the next few months) and let yourself be seduced by this story set in the marvelous scenery of Florence.

Calcio-storico-lost-in-florence-brett-dalton-alessandra-mastronardi

The cast of Lost in Florence

The movie cast is composed by Brett Dalton (Eric Lombard,  aka Hercules or Ercole) who starred on Marvel’s “Agents of Shield” playing Agent Grant Ward, Alessandra Mastronardi (Stefania) who had been seen in the Woody Allen movie “To Rome with Love”, Stana Katic (Anna) that starred the role of Kate Beckett on “Castle”, and also played on “Quantum of Solace”, Alessandro Preziosi (Paolo) who appeared in numerous Italians films and TV shows, Emily Atack (Coleen) that performed in the British series “The Inbetweeners”, Marco Bonini (Gianni) already seen in “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “All roads leads to Rome”, and Rob Aramayo (Sal), who played the young Ned Stark on the fortunate series “The Games of Thrones”.

The Florentine Calcio Storico

The Florentine Calcio Storico is an ancient local game of the city of Florence, played during the period of Carnival. As happened in the past, even today the players, called Calciantiwear the traditional clothes with the colors of the neighborhood they represent and coat of arms of the noble families, generally used during solemn events such as royal weddings, and official visits of important figures as Popes, Grand Duchies, Cardinals or Bishops.

Calcio Storico pre-game in Florence
Open ceremony of Calcio Storico in Piazza Santa Croce – Photo Credits: Antonello Serino

If it is true that this game placed the foundations for the future game of football (or soccer), it is even true it looks more similar to rugby and American Football.

It takes origins from an ancient Greek ball game that was conveyed to the ancient Romans. Then, it spread along the Florentine streets during the Middle Age, becoming one of the favorite games of the people that they started to organize official tournaments in the city.

Calcio-storico-florence-calciante

Today attending to a match of Calcio Storico means feeling the energy of the many fans of each Contrada. They have a strong and emotional bond with their neighborhood that they recognize themselves with the colors and the Calcianti of their team.

One of the most famous games in the history was played the 17 February 1530 in the pitch of Piazza Santa Croce. The Republic of Florence was under the siege of the troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor that were trying to reconquer the city and give it back to the Medici Family (that were banished years before). The Florentines, despite the hunger and the war, decided to celebrate the Carnival organizing a huge match of Calcio Storico. They chose Piazza Santa Croce as pitch because it was well visible by the soldiers camped on the hills of the other side of Arno River. They played at the rhythm of the music, mocking the enemies that, by contrast, shot with cannons against the people, fortunately with no consequences. No one knows who won that match, but the Florentines demonstrated to the enemies to be still alive and ready to protect their city.

This episode well reflects some aspects that still distinguish the Florentines nowadays: they have a big sense of humor but even a touch of haughtiness and superiority towards the non-Florentines.

Calcio-storico-florence-match_blue-team

In the contemporary era, the Calcio Storico has been celebrating since 1930. Every June, the four neighborhood teams in their traditional clothes, Whites of Santo SpiritoReds of Santa Maria NovellaGreens of San Giovanni, and Blues of Santa Croce, challenge each other in two semi-finals (a draw establish the competitors of the matches). The two winning teams play the final every 24th June, the day of San Giovanni, the patron saint of Florence.

BIANCHI DI SANTO SPIRITO
White Team of Santo Spirito
CALCIO STORICO ROSSI
Red Team of Santa Maria Novella
Quartiere di San Giovanni VERDI
Green Team of San Giovanni
Blue Team of Santa Croce

The Calcio Storico is a muscular and masculine game, where violence is part of its history. Every Calciante should play fair and follow the rules, and the winning team can proudly celebrate the title of champion. The players are all volunteers, they don’t get any fee, except for the honor, the gratitude of their contradaioli (contradas fellows), a dinner, a symbolic white heifer of Chianina race, and an embroidered tapestry given as a prize painted by a Florentine artist. The neighborhood standard is exposed for all year in the front of the Palagio di Parte Guelfa of Florence. So, it is only the passion that pushes these guys on playing this historical game, and it represents a big gesture of love and attachment to their city, and of proud to be Florentine.

Have you even seen a match of Calcio Storico? Have you already seen the movie Lost in Florence? Let us know leaving a comment.

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