Sightseeing at 1 hour’s drive
Short trips and a lot of culture: in less than one hour drive from Montaione you can enjoy interesting excursions in the most famous Tuscan cities of art such as Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Siena as well as San Gimignano and Volterra.
One of the most appreciated activities by thousands of visitors that each year are on holidays in Montaione is to spend one or more days visiting villages and small hamlets on the nearby.
We are talking about the beautiful villages of San Gimignano, Volterra, Vinci, Monteriggioni and Certaldo, where a tour of a couple of hours is enough to breathe the atmosphere and appreciate the old charm.
Let yourself be fascinated by these places that you can visit by walking along the narrow streets enclosed by the walls, entering the artisan shops and taking a coffee or ice cream in the main squares.
Here are some villages to visit in about an hour’s drive:
Located on the top of a hill overlooking the valley of the Elsa River, Certaldo is the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio, a famous Italian poet and writer of the 14th century.
This characteristic medieval village, built between the 12th and 15th centuries, still preserve today its walls, alleyways and terracotta buildings whose reddish color creates a unique and evocative atmosphere.
Walking around the historical center of Certaldo. besides the various artisan and wine shops, it is worth a visit the Palazzo Pretorio, the Church of San Tommaso and San Prospero, where there are some frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo where inside the remains of Beata Giulia are preserved and the Museum of Sacred Art.
Do not miss the funicular that will take you to the hamlet of Certaldo in a few minutes, offering you a wonderful panoramic view on the lower part of the village and the surrounding hills.
Halfway between Florence and Pisa, on the top of a hill lies San Miniato, with its characteristic “Rocca”, an ancient fortified tower built by Federico II in the early 13th century, which stands out over the roofs of the houses.
Founded by the Longobards in the 8th century, San Miniato met with great economic expansion thanks to its strategic location near the Arno River and the Via Francigena.
Walking in this picturesque Tuscan town you can visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Genesio, the convent of San Francesco, the Church of Santo Stefano and San Michele, and the Bishop’s Seminary (Piazza della Repubblica) with its characteristic curved façade and decorated with frescoes.
San Miniato is also famous for its White Truffle at whom is dedicated every year in November an event that recall from all around the world thousands of lovers of this precious tuber.
If there is a medieval village more known and photographed in the world, it is without doubt the one of San Gimignano which with its 14 towers, from the top of a hill at 324 m above sea level, dominates the territory between the Senese Val d’Elsa and the Florentine Val d’Elsa.
Originally, in the place where the medieval village of San Gimignano rises, there was a small Etruscan village (around 200/300 years BC), but it was between the X and the XIV century that the village began to expand thanks to the proximity of the Via Francigena, becoming one of the major transit and commuting area.
This fervid economy led to the noble families who demonstrated their wealth and power building the towers, to the point that in the medieval period there were 72!
The name of the village is attributed to the Bishop of Modena “Gimignano”, who miraculously appeared on the walls and saved the village several times from the attacks of the barbarians.
It is worth a visit to the “Piazza della Cisterna” with its octagonal well and the beautiful “Duomo di San Gimignano” or “Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta” which contains some masterpieces of art including “The Martyrdom of San Sebastiano” by Benozzo Gozzoli and the “Universal Judgement” by Taddeo di Bartolo. Worth a visit to the Civic Museum of San Gimignano and, if you are not easily impressed, the Museum of Torture, while if you want to admire a breathtaking view you can’t miss the climb on the “Torre Grossa”.
Situated on a high hill between the valleys of river Cecina and Era, Volterra is an ancient city where history has left its mark.
Founded by the Etruscans in the 7th century BC it had a rapid expansion until the 3rd century BC when it was forced to submit to the growing Roman empire. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Volterra became an important fortified center and Bishop palace that controlled a vast territory.
In the historical center, still surrounded by its ancient walls, you can admire amongst the medieval streets the “Teatro di Vallebona”, the 13th century “Palazzo dei Priori”, the Praetorian Palace with the tower with the battlements called “del Porcellino”, and an enchanting view of the Tuscan countryside like the “Balze”, an erosion at west of Volterra that over the years destroyed the oldest Etruscan churches and Etruscan necropolis.
Volterra is also famous for the work of the Tuscan Alabaster, whose artefacts today represent precious local handicrafts.
Colle Val D’Elsa
Perched on top of a hill, Colle Val’Elsa is an ancient village that is worth visiting as it has interesting features both from an artistic and architectural point of view: in particular, the profile of the village is characterized by the presence of numerous “tower-houses” among which stands out the one of the famous Tuscan artist Arnolfo Di Cambio.
Contention since ancient times between Florence and Siena, Colle Val’Elsa has always enjoyed a not indifferent condition of economic well-being, thanks to the crossing of the Via Francigena – the ancient road that from Canterbury led to Rome and that still today you can travel on foot or by bicycle – and from the development of glass art.
It was thanks to the art of glass – today no longer widespread as in the Middle Ages -, that
Colle Val d’Elsa has always been known as the capital of the crystal, to the point of being nicknamed as the “Bohemia of Italy”. Even today, some artisans and glass masters produce glass objects exported all over the world with great mastery, while if you want to know the history of glass art just visit the beautiful Crystal Museum.
Walking through the streets of the center, it is worth visiting the “Palazzo Masson” – a building built in the late nineteenth century – and the “Baluardo” which is the most panoramic place of the city from which you can admire a beautiful landscape on the surrounding hills.
Other places to visit are the Civic and Sacred Art Museum located in the Palazzo dei Priori, the Archaeological Museum “Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli”, the Cathedral and the former Conservatory of San Pietro designed by Giorgio Vasari, nephew of the famous Tuscan painter and architect who he designed the “Uffizi” building.
Driving along the freeway from Poggibonsi to Siena, suddenly you will see on your left the majestic medieval village of Monteriggioni whose ancient walls and the 11 towers – which have been preserved until today practically intact – date back to the 13th century.
Given the peculiarity of this medieval village, Monteriggioni has been chosen to shoot several scenes of numerous films and advertisements (also featured in some video games).
Walking inside the city walls, in the narrow streets with shops of crafts and typical products and some restaurants, will be like going back in the past, revitalizing the atmosphere of the medieval age.
Of particular historical and artistic interest is worth a visit the pretty Romanesque church of “Santa Maria Assunta”, whose interior contains some of the most remarkable works of art and the “Monteriggioni in Arme” museum (museum of medieval armor), while if you want to admire the scenic landscape on the Chianti countryside do not miss a walk on the ancient walls.
Located on the slopes of “Montalbano” (a mountain range that divides the plain of Florence-Prato-Pistoia from the valley of the Arno river), Vinci is a small medieval village universally recognized as the city of Leonardo, the famous inventor, engineer, which has contributed to making Tuscany famous throughout the world thanks to its insights and inventions.
The village of Vinci dates back to the XI century and still preserves the typical Tuscan architecture of the medieval period. Inside it is possible to visit, in addition to the Conti Guidi Castle and the Church where Leonardo was baptized, the “Museo Ideale” and the Leonardian Museum where Leonardo’s history and works can be explored (also with museum paths suitable for children).
Walking for a few kilometers a road that winds through the hills has inspired and made the background to Leonardo’s many paintings, you can reach “Anchiano” where you will find the childhood home of Leonardo that we recommend to visit.