Tuscany has been popular for many years and is visited daily by a mass of tourists who explore its entire length and breadth; from Pisa and Lucca to Florence, Siena, and San Gimignano, and all places in a between, but it is still possible to find a few places in Tuscany that have been overlooked or even missed completely. Pistoia is one such town, this hidden jewel, located in the north of Tuscany.
Pistoia is everything Italian and is truly Tuscan; it can be busy, bustling and sometimes even has traffic congestion and yet at other times it is sleepy, peaceful and reverts to a previous era of Italian life.
Well what has Pistoia got that makes it such a jewel? In the Basilica Madonna Dell’Umiltà, Pistoia boasts the 3rd largest cupola in Italy after Rome and Florence. The historical town centre with its concentration of buildings and monuments has a lovely medieval Piazza del Duomo Square surrounded by ancient streets most of which are traffic free. It has a twice weekly market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, a haven for genuine bargains and it is a market truly geared for the locals. Pistoia also boasts some very chic clothes and shoe shops with all the latest designs and colours and not at the lavish prices found in most other Italian cities. But be warned, this town shuts completely between 1pm and 3pm every day; a good excuse to search out and sample some of the great cafes, bars and restaurants.
Most evenings from 7pm the locals visit their favourite bar or cafe to take an aperitif, sadly this is now being referred to more and more as a ”happy hour”, snacks and canapés are served free and people relax and catch up with friends and all the latest news and gossip over a cocktail or glass of “prosecco”.
The best bars in town are the centrally located “Caffe Cavour” and the ultra trendy “Santopalato” (the holy one). The restaurant of Santa Maria del Giglio is housed in a converted chapel and is truly stunning, while traditional Tuscan dishes are served daily in Pistoia’s oldest eatery “Lo Storno”. Further a field, but well worth the extra effort, is “Il Frantoio” in Via Valdibrana where they serve the best food in the entire area.
The “passeggiata” is still a highlight of this town’s week and on Saturday evenings from 5pm the youngest “Pistoiese” parade their fashion around the town centre. At 6pm they are joined by the older inhabitants who are certainly the most stylish and sophisticated. Afterwards everyone heads back home or on to a bar or restaurant. An informal “passeggiata” also takes place each Sunday in the late afternoon.
If you want to explore Pistoia’s culture then the silver alter of San Jacopo housed in the main cathedral of San Zeno (what a great name for a saint) is located in Piazza del Duomo along with the Bell Tower and the octagonal baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte and Pistoia’s main museum (Museo Civico). The church facade of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Via Cavour and the Basilica Madonna Dell’Umiltà with its magnificent dome, planned by Vasari, is located in Via Della Madonna. The Ospedale del Ceppo with its frieze by Della Robbia is magnificent and the many churches in the town have great examples of ornate pulpits and splendid musical organs, the best of which are to be found in the churches of ; San Francesco, Sant’ Andrea, Spirito Santo and San Bartolomeo in Pantano Pistoia hosts the world famous “Pistoia Blues” festival each July and past headliners include; Bob Dylan and Santana. This mammoth 3 day festival takes place in Piazza del Duomo as does “Giostra dell’Orso (the tournament of the bear) where the four ancient districts of Pistoia compete in a grand and colourful equestrian tournament on the 25th July to celebrate the feast of San Jacopo (St James), Pistoia’s patron saint.
Amongst Pistoia’s many famous sons are; Giorgio Rospilgoisi who became Pope Clemente 1X (1660-69), the artist and sculptor, Marino Marini (1901-1980) whose works are displayed in the Palazzo del Tau, and the architect Giovanni Mechullucci (1891- 1990) whose documents and plans are housed in the mezzanine of the town hall.
For children, Pistoia boasts a small but well maintained zoo and Collodi, 20 minutes away, is the birthplace of Carlo Lorenzini the author of the world famous story of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet who dreams of being a real boy. The author’s restored house and gardens are set in a themed park based on the puppet’s adventures. While, Vinci, Siena and the lovely national park area of Garfagnana are all within easy reach of Pistoia by car.
The train and bus links from Pistoia make it a fantastic base from which to explore other parts of northern Tuscany. The train-line runs west to the coast with stops at the chicâ€™ spa town of Montecatini, (10 minutes away), and on to; Lucca, Pisa and Viareggio. Florence to the east is only 30 minutes away.
If you take the time to search out this hidden jewel in Tuscany’s crown you will not be disappointed. And if you truly want to sample Italian life the Tuscan way then a visit to Pistoia is a must!
BY TRAIN: Daily connections from and to Florence, Bologna and Pisa (www.trenitalia.com)
Written by Titti Godi – Owner of Property 407278 in Pistoia, Italy