Local resident Sarah Humphreys gives you the inside story on this Tuscan gem:
In the words of Cristina Taddei, local archaeologist and historian, “ Pistoia is one of the few towns in Tuscany that still belongs to the past.” Largely overlooked by tourists, Pistoia is a well-preserved medieval city brimming with artistic treasures, emitting a tranquil atmosphere, difficult to find in other more popular Tuscan destinations.
The Piazza Del Duomo: Blues Festivals and Medieval Jousting
The enormous Piazza del Duomo is one of the most impressive in Italy but despite its magnificent cathedral, cake-like Baptistry and impressive court house and town hall, remains strangely deserted. Not in July though, when it hosts The Blues Festival, which has featured artists such as Bob Dylan, BB King, Buddy Guy, Robert Plant and recently The Arctic Monkeys. Pistoia also wakes up on July 25th when the Giostra dell’Orso, a medieval joust to celebrate San Jacopo, the patron of Pistoia, takes place and processions featuring medieval lords and ladies crowd the streets.
The town is overflowing with “standard” Tuscan features such as striped churches, impressive pulpits and ancient walls. One of the most notable churches is Sant’ Andrea, dating back to the 8th century, where a stunning marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, with carved scenes from the life of St Andrew, can be found. The Basilica of La Madonna dell’ Umilità has a 59 metre-high cupola which is the third largest in Italy after St Peter’s in Rome and The Duomo in Florence and can easily be spotted when approaching Pistoia. The energetic can climb the 200 steps of the 67m bell tower for breathtaking views over the Tuscan rooftops.
12th century pizzerias, a 7ft Boboli statue and a Roman Ossuary
However, it is easy to miss some of the more ancient buildings, such as Santa Maria Presbiteri, a deconsecrated church dating back from 1123, which has now been converted into a pizzeria, as has “Apicio” a highly vaulted 12th century building, which according to the owner, Simone Corrieri, was Pistoia’s first bank, and one of the first in Europe. Simone has a personal collection of treasures next door, including a 7ft statue of a Faun from the Boboli gardens and a Roman ossuary, which, if asked very nicely, he allows patrons to visit after hours.
Entering the old hospital, which is decorated with an impressive 16th century terracotta frieze by Giovanni della Robbia, you can take a one-hour tour of Pistoia’s Sotterranea (Underground). This winds underneath the hospital itself and culminates in a visit to the 18th century anatomical theatre, the smallest in Europe, and the Museum of Surgical Instruments, a collection of rather macabre implements.
Piazza della Sala – a market square since medieval times, now with nightlife!
Piazza della Sala is perhaps Pistoia’s most precious gem. A market square since medieval times, stalls here sell fresh local produce daily and olive oil, wine, cheeses and you can buy other Tuscan specialities in tiny shops surrounding the square. La Sala has recently become the focus of Pistoia’s surprisingly lively nightlife, and is packed out with young people gathering around the characteristic well, “Il Pozzo del Leoncino” and bar hopping until the early hours. Gastronomic specialities are on offer all around town and the delightful lack of tourists means Pistoia’s prices remain reasonable. You would be lucky to find other Tuscan towns where you can have a three-course meal and wine for €25-30 a head.
An ideal base for a Tuscan holiday
Situated on the train line between Florence and the coast, Pistoia is an ideal base for a Tuscan holiday. Florence, Lucca and Pisa are all reachable by public transport. The nearby Apennine mountains offer nature lovers a chance for rest and relaxation immersed in natural splendour, and the possibility to explore the area’s traditions and cultures through local festivals, known as “sagra”, dedicated to everything from mushrooms to blueberries. Both the Tuscan coast and the Chianti area are easily accessible by car.
Something for everyone – a place for all seasonsPistoia really has something for everyone: Sports enthusiasts can ski at the mountain resort of Abetone, enjoy trekking and cycling in the area and follow the highly successful local basketball team. Those interested in contemporary art should not miss Fattoria di Celle, tucked away in the hills about 5km from Pistoia, a unique private collection of 75 site-specific installations by celebrated contemporary artists such as Sol Lewitt, Daniel Buran, Hidetoshi Nagasawa and Alice Aycock .In addition, Marino Marini, Pistoia’s most famous modern artist, has a museum dedicated to his works and a pleasant garden café where you can find refreshment. Children will surely enjoy a day-trip to the well-kept zoo or visiting the park dedicated to Pinocchio at nearby Collodi. Relaxation and health treatments can be found at the nearby spas of Montecatini Terme and Monsummano Terme.
Wandering around the unspoiled streets or enjoying a glass of vino on La Sala, you are unlikely to hear a word of English. You can easily see the main sights of Pistoia in a day, but the city has an irresistible attraction for those looking for an authentic Italian experience and you may just find that you don’t want to leave…
How to get to Pistoia
The nearest airports are Amerigo Vespucci Airport, Florence and Galileo Galilei, Pisa.
Pistoia is on the Florence-Lucca-Viareggio line. The journey from Florence is about 40minutes. For more information see:
Buses from Pistoia to Florence leave from outside the main stations and are run by BluBus.
Pistoia is on the A11 “Firenze-Mare” Highway.
Where to stay:
Canto Alla Porta Vecchia
Via Curtatone e Montanara, 2
+39 0573 27692
This delightful B&B is located in an 18th century building in the historical centre and has stunning views of the 3rd largest dome in Italy. Doubles €60-70
Il Fienile della Farnia
Via Gora e Barbatole 321,
Attractive self-catering apartments are located in a converted barn. Just 10 minutes from the centre by car or bus, hospitable Silvia provides guests with bicycles.
Apartments from €79 per night.
Via F.Crispi, 8
This recently renovated 4-star hotel is situated in the historical centre.
Doubles from €100.
Where to eat and drink:
Piazza della Sala
+39 0573 31155
Open from lunch time until late, this bar is on the corner of Pistoia’s historic market square. An ideal spot for a reasonably-priced drink, snack or substantial sandwich .
Via del Lastrone, 17
Specialising in slow food, La Bottegia offers typical Tuscan delicacies and a splendid range of fine wines.
La Sala Da Ale
Via Sant’ Anastasio, 4
+39 0573 24108
Just off the market square, without a doubt, Ale makes the best pizza in town.
Via del Duca, 8
This impressive 12th century building was Pistoia’s first bank. Serves pizza, salads and rice dishes and had an interesting range of wine and beers.
Caffe’ La Corte
Via Del Ceppo, 2
+39 0573 22002
A lovely spot for coffee, drinks or light meals, La Corte has a hidden courtyard and regularly hosts djs and cultural events.
Caffetteria Museo Marino Marini
Corso Silvano Fedi, 30
The pretty garden is an ideal spot for a glass of wine, coffee or a cheap but tasty lunch.
Via Niccolò Puccini, 49
+39 0573 368546
On the edge of the historical centre, La Coppiola specializes in game. Wild boar, venison, duck and rabbit are on offer at incredible prices. Pizzas are also available.