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Pistoia


The Little-Known Beauty and History of the Pistoia Area
Although it lies close to the key tourist cities of Florence, Pisa and Lucca, the province of Pistoia is surprisingly undiscovered by visitors. Like most parts of Tuscany, it has medieval cities and towns full of cultural treasures, picturesque countryside, festivals and fine cuisine. The region lies in the very north of Tuscany, just to the west of Florence.




Experience medieval spectacle

There are not many opportunities in life these days to attend bear jousting, unless you visit Pistoia during the annual festival that is held every July. It is not a real bear, fortunately, but a fake one that is used for jousting by twelve knights, in a colourful display of medieval tradition that originated in the fourteenth century. The Giostra dell’Orso, or Joust of the Bear, takes place on 25th July in the Piazze del Duomo. The joust is preceded by many hours of pageantry, starting at 9 am with a costumed parade around the city walls and continuing throughout the day. The actual jousting takes place at around 9.30 pm. The event is popular, so it is advisable to buy tickets in advance.


Enjoy the mountains of the North
About thirty minutes to the north of Pistoia lies the Apennine region of the Pistoia Mountains. Some peaks rise to nearly 2,000 metres, and this area has several ski resorts. The most well-known are Abetone and Cutigliano. Skiers can enjoy all levels of slopes, surrounded by breath-taking, pristine scenery, while there is a dense network of well-marked forest walks for hikers in the summer months. Attractions in the area include the Orto Bonanico Forestale, the beautiful alpine botanical gardens in Sestaione, near Abetone, and the Osservatorio Astronomico della Montagna Pistoiese. This Astronomical Observatory has two observation domes that can be visited both in daylight and in darkness up until 11 pm to give wonderful views of the night sky.


Visit an embroidery museum
Tuscany is filled with museums and galleries devoted to paintings and sculpture, but the beauty and history of textiles is often neglected. Pistoia was a famous centre for the production of embroidered cloth, and the Museo del Ricamo displays a whole range of well-preserved embroidered fabrics, dating back as far as the 17th century. Many of them are religious vestments that were worn during religious services. In the 19th century, Pistoia pioneered the art of ‘white embroidery’ and many fine examples are in the museum. It is located on the ground floor of the Palazzo Rospigliosi in the centre of Pistoia. This palace, which dates back to the sixteenth century, is open to the public and has many works of art on display.


Relax in hot springs
There are several spa towns in the Pistoia area that have hot springs and thermal baths, which draw visitors to relax and recuperate in their medicinal waters. In Monsummano Terme, which lies to the north of Pistoia, there are hot underground caves at Grotta Guisti. These were discovered in 1849, and Giuseppe Verdi was a regular visitor. The caves house a natural, underground sauna, surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites, where you can enjoy a detoxifying, hot, steamy vapour bath. Montecatini Terme has several historic spas and thermal baths, including the beautiful Terme Tettuccio, which is located in a large park. Like many of Montecatini’s spas it has extravagant, Art Nouveau decoration.




Take a mountain train

As well as its many spas, Montecatini is worth a visit for its funicular cable car railway. This is the oldest funicular in Europe and dates back to 1898. The funicular ascends steeply to Montecatini Alto, a medieval village on top of a hill, on a 1km journey that lasts for about ten minutes. The ride offers spectacular panoramic views from the two red, steam-driven cable cars, especially if you can get a seat on the outside balconies.


See Pinocchio’s birthplace
Many of us are familiar with the Walt Disney version of Pinocchio, but the story is far older. It was written by a Tuscan author, Carlo Lorenzini, whose family originated from the small village of Collodi, near Pistoia. Pinocchio Park was built at Collodi in 1956. The park is not a theme park and has few modern attractions, but instead features charming and nostalgic carousels, puppet shows and displays of art and sculpture related to Pinocchio, set in beautiful grounds. The entrance fee is quite high, but visitors can purchase a special ticket that also gives entry to the nearby Butterfly House and Garzoni Gardens.


See historic art treasures without the crowds
The capital of the province, Pistoia is a beautifully preserved town with medieval walls, narrow streets and historic buildings, many of them lining the central Piazza del Duomo. The crowds that flock to Florence, Lucca and Pisa are absent here, and visitors can gaze in peace at the treasures in the San Zeno Cathedral, such as the St James Dossale, a silver altarpiece that was finished by Brunelleschi, and a Madonna and Child lunette by Andrea della Robbia. Many of the city’s churches have spectacular exteriors, made from local black-and-white or green-and-white marble. The Ospedale del Ceppo, once a medieval hospital and now a museum, has a brightly coloured, sixteenth-century ceramic frieze on its outside walls.


Indulge your love of chocolate
This area of Tuscany is known as ‘the chocolate valley,’ due to its long tradition of skilled chocolate making. There are many highly-regarded artisan chocolatiers, including Roberto Catinari and Andrea Slitti. The latter has a shop in Monsummano Terme, where an annual three-day chocolate festival, Ciocco Losita, is held. Catinari has a shop in Agliana, and is famous for his chocolate-covered chestnuts and chocolates filled with grappa. Another maître chocolatier from Agliana, Luca Mannori, has a chocolate school there, Espace Mannori, which holds tastings, courses and seminars. For a less expensive chocolate treat, make sure to buy a ‘neccio’ from a Pistoia street-vendor. These are delicious crepes made of chestnut flour and filled with chocolate cream.




Parking
This helpful link will save you time when looking for parking in Pistoia
http://www.parkopedia.it/parcheggi/Pistoia/


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