Valdera in Tuscany is a green rural area in the province of Pisa, a few kilometers away from the Mediterranean Sea and from the famous Tuscan arty towns of Pisa, Lucca, and Florence. Valdera is a real “off the beaten path” destination of Tuscany, still hidden, fortunately, from the mass tourism.
This doesn’t mean there is nothing to do here; quite the opposite, Valdera has everything you expect to see when visiting Tuscany: lovely medieval hamlets, green rolling hills and cypresses, excellent red wines and traditional food.
Also, despite its name doesn’t make any noise in your head, I am pretty sure you know a very famous Tuscan singer hailing from a little village of Valdera. Can you guess who? I will tell you later.
Valdera is relatively close to where I live on the coast of Tuscany but this place never appealed to me to decide to explore it. I was wrong. Thanks to the invitation of Visit Valdera Tourist Information, I spent a weekend around the bending roads of Valdera discovering it has a lot to offer and to make visitors happy to come.
Valdera in Tuscany. Where is and how to go there
Thanks to its strategic position in the heart of Tuscany, you can easily reach Valdera from every corner of Tuscany. Pisa is 30 km away while Lucca or Florence only 60/65 km away.
Being a rural area the best way to explore Valdera is by car. But the town of Pontedera has a train station and a bus terminal where buses for the main villages depart daily.
How to reach Pontedera and Valdera
- By car
Both from Pisa (28 km/ 18 miles) and Florence (60 km/ 37 miles) take the toll-free Superstrada FI-PI-LI, exit Pontedera or Pontedera-Ponsacco. From there, reach the villages you wish to visit taking normal roads “Strada Statale SS” and following the road signals. An easier option is to set your destination on your GPS.
- By Train
The main station of Valdera is Pontedera Casciana Terme. Being located along the route between Pisa and Firenze SMN, there are many trains that daily stop in Pontedera station. Trains from Pisa take about 15 minutes. The ones from Florence take approx. 45 minutes. Check the timetable on the Trenitalia website. To get more info on how to travel in Tuscany by train, click here.
- By Plane
The closest International Airport is the “Galileo Galilei” of Pisa, 25 km/ 15 miles away. From there, rent a car or go on to Pisa Centrale Train Station to get a train direct to Florence SMN, and stop in Pontedera.
The other airport is the International Airport “Amerigo Vespucci” of Florence, 57 km /35 miles away. From there, rent a car or go on to Firenze SMN Central Rail Station and get a train direct to Pisa Centrale and stop in Pontedera.
To get more info about how to fly to Tuscany, click here.
Day trips to take from Pontedera and Valdera
Valdera is not only a place to discover but also a good base to explore the region. You can enrich your travel experience in the area with daily tours to Pisa that is only 30 km /18 miles away, or to Lucca and Florence, only 60/65 km /38 miles away. They are easy to reach both by car or using the train from Pontedera Rail Station.
Driving along panoramic roads, you can also get to the medieval towns of San Gimignano, Certaldo, and Volterra. Even Siena is not that far (1 hour and a half). From the window of your car, you will enjoy the view of the Tuscan countryside dreaming of owing, one day, a country house where living and making your own wine.
Also, the seaside of Tuscany is very close. You can reach the northern coast called Versilia, take a walk on the promenade by the sea of Viareggio, visit an art gallery in Pietrasanta, do luxury shopping in Forte Dei Marmi, and visit the marble quarries of Carrara.
Instead, the southern coast, also called Etruscan Coast, is a land of excellent wines like the Bolgheri Red and lovely hillside villages like Bibbona, Casale Marittimo, Castagneto Carducci and Suvereto. At the Gulf of Baratti, you will find one of the best and unique beaches of Tuscany and of all Italy.
Where to sleep in Valdera in Tuscany
During the weekend in Valdera, I stayed at Casale Le Torri Resort. This lovely hotel was born after the restoration of an old farmhouse surrounded only by vineyards and olive trees. This makes the Casale the right place for anyone looking for silence and quietness.
A sweet fragrance of wine envelops you as soon as you step into the Casale while Peppe and Giovanna, the two lovely cats of the house, probably won’t notice your arrival, sleeping deeply on the armchairs at the reception. Instead, the staff at the reception is well prepared to welcomes you and help you plan your trip to Tuscany.
The hotel has also a restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool to refresh yourself during the hot Tuscan summer. You can even bring your pets because they are more than welcome.
For info and special rates visit their website, Resort Casale Le Torri
Places to visit in Valdera in Tuscany
Valdera in Tuscany has always been a crossroads of farmers and shepherds thanks to fertile land cultivated with vines and olive trees. The thousand-year-old history of these places began in the times of the ancient Etruscans, but it was during the Middle Ages and the subsequent Tuscan Renaissance that the area experienced its greatest splendor.
It still preserves its rural origins, its peasant soul and most ancient culinary traditions. Today, as in the past, in the streets of its small medieval villages, nestled in the rolling hills of the Pisan inland, days pass simply and quietly. Time is still marked by the work in the fields and craft workshops.
Lari & Casciana Terme
As soon as you step into the little village of Lari you understand that life here always revolved around the Vicari Castle that rises up in the middle of the historical center. For more than 400 years the castle was the house of the Vicario, one of the highest offices during the Renaissance. He was a kind of mayor, in charge to govern the area under the influence of the Granducato of Florence.
Climb up to the top of the castle. Walk around the pathway over the defensive walls and enjoy the view of the countryside from above. Once came back down, go for a food experience. Here there are excellent shops and a few restaurants to taste local products and the artisanal Martelli pasta Lab.
Lari is also famous for cherry plantations. Every June in Lari, locals celebrate this ancient tradition with a big Sagra that you cannot miss if you are in the surroundings.
Nearby you find the town of Casciana Terme or Bagni d’Aqui as it was called in the past. It is known since the Roman Age for its thermal water coming from wild hot springs at the temperature of 35,7°c (96,26°f). A visit to the thermal bath can be a good idea in case of bad weather or if you want to relax for a few hours.
The old burg of Peccioli lays down on top of a hill surrounded by the green countryside of Valdera in Tuscany. The heart of the town is the Piazza del Popolo with the building of the town hall, the church of San Verano and the bell tower, became with the time the symbol of Peccioli. The thing that stands out Peccioli from other Tuscan villages, is the mix between the past and the present. Walking around its narrow alleys you feel the medieval soul of Peccioli together with a touch of innovation thanks to the installation of many contemporary artworks. You also find brushstrokes of modern art also in the suburb of Ghizzano where the British artist Tremlett painted the facades of old buildings with bright colors.
Both Lari and Peccioli have been rewarded with the Orange Flag of the Italian Touring Club as two of the best villages of Italy, with less than fifteen thousand inhabitants. This title goes to all places that obtain good results in terms of hospitality, quality of life and of the environment, services, and tourist attractions. To discover other Tuscan villages with the Orange Flag have a look here.
At the beginning of this post, I told you about a famous artist that the entire world loves, originating in Valdera in Tuscany. I was talking about Andrea Bocelli that was born in Lajatico. Beyond the small burg that deserves a visit, what makes Lajatico known is the “Theatre of the Silence”.
This is an open-air amphitheater created, on the initiative and with the contribution of the Master, taking advantage of the favorable natural shape of the land. Every July the theatre hosts a big show where Bocelli and other international and Italian artists together. If you have the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to listen to the great voice of Andrea in his hometown.
I mention the small village of Montefoscoli because it hosts an interesting museum of Rural Life and a unique temple dedicated to Minerva Medica, Roman Goddess of the medicine, wisdom, and poetry.
The temple has a neoclassical style. It was built in 1823 by the architect Ridolfo Castinelli according to the wish of Andrea Vaccà Berlinghieri. He was a doctor and luminary at Pisa University and during his life had a friendship with important literatus the likes of Percy Shelley, George Byron and Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein.
The temple was a meeting place for the secret fraternity of Freemasonry that was very popular in Tuscany at that time. You can visit the temple from the outside on your own. Every summer on full moon days there are guided tours too.
What to do in Valdera, Tuscany
Food Experiences in Valdera
Valdera means also food traditions handed down from one generation to another. You can still find people that, with love, keep the memory of their family alive running small laboratory and shops opened decades ago by their ancestors. Here are a few examples.
Pastificio Martelli – A family of pasta makers in the heart of Tuscany
One of the food excellences of Tuscany and of all Italy is in Valdera. An old yellow building in the village of Lari hosts the pasta lab of the Famiglia Martelli. They have been producing since 1926 one of the best pasta I have ever tasted. The way this pasta holds and enhances every sauce is unique. You can visit the Lab for free to discover the secrets of this family of artisans of the king of carbohydrate.
Handmade pasta Martelli is the result of the combination of the use of old machinery, a long process of making, and traditional techniques. Nothing compared with big companies for Mass Market Retailers that in 40 minutes do what Martelli produces in a day (about 1000 kg of pasta).
They produce only five different types of pasta: Spaghetti, Spaghettini, Maccheroni di Toscana, Penne classiche, Fusilli di Pisa. Of course, they sell it into an unmistakable yellow package that you can buy in one of the Bottega of the town.
Arcenni Tuscany – Snail Farming
Have you ever thought of visiting a snail’s farm in your life? In Valdera you can do it thanks to the Arcenni family. Mrs. Antonia will open the doors of her farmhouse in Capannoli to bring you into the amazing world of snails.
I could not believe how interesting could be. Obviously, rearing is intended for the food market, but Antonia has a deep love for those little animals. She recreated a natural habitat where raising snails respecting their cycle of life and the laws of nature. You will learn how they born, grow, and what they eat. Apparently, they are gluttonous of carrots.
At the end of the visit you can also taste some products made by Arcenni Family: snail patès, ragout, and other different sauces together with a nice glass of prosecco or red wine.
Bernardeschi the Fornaio of Lari since 1927
For four generations, every morning, the Bernardeschi Family has been making warm and crunchy bread for residents of Lari. Today, Stefano makes his different loaves of bread using local flours and his own sourdough. His specialty is a unique mixed cereal bread made using four kinds of flours (corn, spelt, white Tuscan all-purpose, Verna raw wheat).
Stefano is also a master preparing traditional biscuits, Panettone and Colomba, two of the many Italian cakes of Christmas and Easter respectively. Stefano is also teaching the ropes of baking to his son hoping he keeps the family traditions alive for the future.
During our tour, we took a quick look at his lab. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to visit, but you can still go to Bernardeschi’s Bakery to buy some bread, focaccia or cake to eat during your trip to Valdera.
Ceccotti Family, the Butcher’s
Anna and Dino opened the Macelleria Ceccotti 64 years ago. Today it’s their son Simone and his wife Barbara to run the butcher. However, you can still find busy Anna and Dino busy helping the youngest to prepare some of the best cold cuts and meats of Valdera.
As did in the past, they still work over marble tables to keep the raw meat cold, and they store products in cold and humid rooms to age. In one of those rooms in the basement, do not miss the opportunity to taste their delicacies. They organize lovely tastings with a selection of their best salami and ham together with wines from a local producer.
Macelleria Balestri and the cherry salami
Another couple, Davide Balestri and his wife Federica is keeping a family tradition alive in the town of Lari. It was 1989 when Davide decided to succeed to his father Ezio at the helm of the Macelleria Balestri, the only ones that make salami with cherries. Can you imagine that? Get inside the shop and ask to taste it to discover its unique flavor. Don’t forget to ask Ezio’s Soppressata too. You won’t regret.
Other activities to do in Valdera
Truffle Hunting at Savini Tartufi
While everyone knows about white truffles from Alba in Piedmont, even Tuscany has a perfect ecosystem where excellent truffles grow all year long. In Valdera, the Savinis turned their tradition of truffle hunters, lasting for 100 years, into a business. They also hold the Guinness World Record for the most expensive truffle in the world. In 2007, they sold a huge white truffle of 1.3 kg (2 lb. 13 oz) for the crazy amount of US$ 330,000.
They organize different truffle experiences for visitors. You can be part of a real truffle hunt expedition, following the steps of one of the Savini hunters and their loyal dogs. We had the pleasure to meet two cute dogs called Giotto, 3 years old, and the new entry Maschero of 8 months only. There is a funny saying that goes “a truffle hunter loves his dog more than his wife!”.
It was fun to see those curly little beasts sniffing around the forest, looking for those precious mushrooms to get a biscuit as a reward in case of success. The experience also includes a visit to the museum of the firm and ends with a delicious tasting: quail eggs with white truffle slices, truffle flavor chips, cheese and figs with truffle honey. Even peaches with truffle. A real bliss for lovers!
Savini truffle experiences start from € 80,00 per person (for a maximum of 10/15 persons per group) and must be booked in advance.
Hang Gliding over the sky of Tuscany
I always had the dream to fly. Sometimes I imagine being an eagle, spreading my wings and flying peacefully over high mountains and green valleys. If you have my same feelings, I would not miss the opportunity to hang gliding in Valdera.
The flight school Aviosuperficie Valdera organizes flights with ultralight aircraft and hang gliders. Taking off from Valdera, you will fly over the Tuscan countryside and you can even reach San Gimignano to admire its medieval towers from above.
Unfortunately, when I was there the weather was really bad. November rain and fog didn’t allow us to fly but I promise myself to go back with the good days. To get more info and book your experience, contact the Visit Valdera tourist information.
Museums of Valdera in Tuscany
Ceramic Museum of Calcinaia
A three hundred years old pottery kiln in the center of the town of Calcinaia hosts the small museum of the ceramic dedicated to Lodovico Coccapani and its family. They created the kiln in their own house at the end of 1700, and they ran the business for almost two hundred years. Calcinaia was a strategic point for trading because it is set along the shore of the Arno river. They could easily carry products to the close port of Livorno for the shipment to Mediterranean countries and beyond.
Inside the workshop, completely restored, visitors can admire the original kilns where artisans cooked ceramics and a few artifacts found in the surroundings. The museum is open only during the weekend. The entrance is free but I highly recommend taking a guided tour. More info here.
Villa Baciocchi, Museum of Archaeology and Zoology of Capannoli
Villa Baciocchi is a charming building of the 18th century built over the ruins of the medieval castle of Capannoli. It lies in the middle of the Botanical Gardens where you can admire more than 160 different plants and twelve monumental trees.
The ground floor of the complex of Villa Baciocchi hosts the Zoological Museum. It has five rooms showing almost four hundred different taxidermized animals. Taxidermy is a technique that consists to recreate the body of an animal starting from its real skin which is well preserved with special treatments and laid down over a mold. It was quite interesting seeing artists at work while preparing taxidermized artworks for a temporary exhibition.
On the Piano Nobile, you find the Archaeological Museums, where you can take a tour in the history of the men of Valdera through rests of pottery, pieces of evidence, and coins of different materials.
You cannot complete the tour of the complex without descending into the recently restored basement. During the 19th Century, the Villa was a farmhouse and the underneath chambers were the perfect place, thanks to its cool temperature, to store oil, wine, and wheat.
Check their website here to get more info and opening time
Piaggio Museum of Pontedera
Did you know that the Vespa Piaggio is made in Valdera in Tuscany? The production of the legendary scooter, beloved worldwide and symbol of the Made in Italy, started in 1946 in the Piaggio factories of Pontedera. To know more about its history, we wrote a blog post on the occasion of its seventieth birthday.
The museum celebrates with more 250 pieces exhibited, the myth of Vespa and also other Piaggio icons like the three- and four-wheels Ape, and famous motorcycle brands the likes of Aprilia, Gilera, and Moto Guzzi. Beyond the colored and different models of Vespa, what excited me the most was the exhibition of the entire collection of billboard ads in the history of the “bee”.
You can easily reach the Piaggio museum by walk from the close train station of Pontedera. More info here.
Where to eat in Valdera in Tuscany
La Bottega di Canfreo Restaurant in Lari
Simonetta, Lucia, and Federica, a super friendly all-female staff, run this little cozy shop/restaurant in the historical center of Lari. Every dish is made with high-quality local products, from the pasta Martelli to the meats of Macelleria Balestri. For our lunch we had a cheese and cold cuts tasting as antipasto and pasta with rabbit ragout to follow. A thousand taste sensation!
If you want to experience the real Italian and Tuscan cuisine come to the Bottega di Canfreo. To enrich your food experience, next to the restaurant you can also visit the cheese grotto carved in the stone where the dairy factory Busti stores hundreds of cheese wheel to age.
Eat Valdera Organic shop in Peccioli countryside
Eat Valdera born as a small shop where visitors find organic products coming only from local farms. At Eat Valdera you can buy fresh food but it is also a good place for an easy lunch or for a Merenda afternoon break. The owner Daniela will be happy to prepare you a lot of delicious food: simple panini with cheese and ham, different kinds of bruschetta, and other dishes of the Tuscan tradition as spelt salads or the famous bread soup Ribollita.
Ristorante Il Cavatappi Spirito Jazz
Cavatappi Spirito Jazz is not a restaurant like the others. They usually open only if someone call to reserve. The first person that book a table chooses the menu. It can be pizza (as we did) pasta, meat, or whatever they can cook with seasonal ingredients. Who comes next has to accept it or change the date! Also, they do organize evenings with jazz music.
At the Cavatappi you will find autistic people work. Three years ago, the owners launched a social initiative called Ristor-AZIONI to help them in the integration into the labor market. Surprisingly, they do very well. They learn a job and how to overcome some of their fears, like the ones of crowd and noise. Isn’t it an honorable idea?! Have a look at their Facebook page to check opening times and call them.
Hoping this guide will make you feel like visiting Valdera in Tuscany, ff you have any other questions or you need help to plan a trip to this unusual area, don’t hesitate to contact us.
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Cover Photo Credit: Francesca Mazzoni