Day Trip to Montecatini Terme

Using Lucca as a base for three weeks has allowed us to slow down the pace and get immersed in the clam Tuscan way of life. Mornings are long and relaxed drinking coffee and strolling around the city discovering hidden bastions and kiddy parks. Afternoons are spent perusing the local grocer’s fresh ingredients for homecooked dishes or sampling famed gelato.

Recharged and ready for adventure we’ve plotted an itinerary for day trips to nearby towns. Lucca is centrally located with great train connections throughout Tuscany providing plenty of exploration options.

This morning we had grand plans to visit Cinque Terre located only 1.5 hours from Lucca on the 8am train. However, our naughty night monster, Eleanor had other ideas waking us up every 90 minutes through the night so we opted for an adventure closer to home and headed to Montecatini Terme instead.

Montecatini Terme is just over 30 mins by a train from Lucca, best known for its thermal spas and the Funicular (train). Montecatini is made up of two main areas, Montecatini Terme where the thermal spa is located at the foot of the hill and the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto. The regular train will bring you as far as Montecatini Terme and the Funicular railway, located 15 minutes by foot will take you up to explore the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto. Or, if you’re fit and brave you can choose to hike to the top. But be warned it’s steep and not at all baby friendly.

Once at the top, Montecatini Alto is a nice stroll around. The ancient city is perched on two hills, joined in the middle by the town square where you can find some nice restaurants and shops. In between the old city walls, fortress, churches and towers you’ll see views for days over the “new” town and beyond. If you choose to bring a stroller be prepared to push it on rough terrain up steep hills (babycarrier FTW). Our trusty Ergobaby 360 carrier is worth its weight in gold for these types of towns, we don’t even bother with the pram anymore.

After our walk around the old city we stopped off for a quick Espresso before heading back down on the Funicular. It’s a pretty view of Tuscany from the top but we there wasn’t all that much to see or do in Montecatini Alto.

Montectini at the foot of the hill seemed to be a more happening city, filled with designer shops, restaurants and cafes.

We bee-lined straight for ‘the must’ see attraction, the Montecatini thermal Spa to sip on ‘healing thermal water’. The grounds of Termi di Montecatini originally built the 15th century (and later updated 1777 and again in 1919) are worth the visit if the healing properties in the water aren’t enough to lure you in.

The grand buildings surrounded by parkland are decorated with elaborate architectural columns and travertine courtyards with stunning fountains and pristine gardens. The interior of the spa was decorated by artists of the early twentieth such as Galileo Chini, Basilio Cascella, Giuseppe Moroni and Sirio Tofanari. The most photographed feature of the Termi is the large open air fountain by the entrance.

The thermal spa is great for people watching. The number of elderly people drinking from ‘the fountain of youth’ was astounding. We couldn’t believe how many busloads of beautiful old Nonnos and Nonnas funneled through the doors. At one point we thought there must be an aged convention going on at the spa.

Eleanor once again stole the show, waving and smiling at the crowds before being passed around the Nonna’s while we tried to understand what they were asking us in Italian. No matter how many times we said “Inglese” (English), they just spoke in slower Italian.

 

Our favourite hilltop towns in Tuscany

There is something so liberating about jumping in the car and exploring; and regional Tuscany is the perfect place for it. Vineyards, olive groves and sunflowers for miles, you feel like you’re driving into a postcard. Not even driving manual on the wrong side of the road could put a damper on the freedom we felt cruising around.

Every day we ventured somewhere new but these hilltop towns deserve special mention (don’t bother visiting the lake though, it looks pretty from a distance but radioactive up close).

Cortona

Perched high in the hills of Chiana this charming town invites you to linger. Cortona, the cultural and artistic centre of the Val Di Chiana region should be more showy than it is. It lacks the dirty ‘tourist trap’ vibe we’ve experienced in neighbouring towns; it felt authentic and calm.

If you’ve been following along you’ve probably come to expect us to feature food in some shape or form at each location we visit, so here it is. We started our tour of Cortona with Pecorino Pesto pasta (they had GF pasta and it was amazing), followed by coffee and a custard filled pastry.

We strolled the streets and stumbled across the most beautiful church with a timber raked ceiling. A refreshing contrast to the ornate, embellished churches we’ve come to expect in Italy.  Like the rest of Cortona it seemed paired back and modestly beautiful, which drew us in even more.

Art lovers can explore the free art exhibits on display from local artists and admire the sculptures that are scattered around town.

The drive down from Cortona offers stunning views of Tuscany. Just hope you don’t meet a car coming the opposite direction, the road has a sheer drop off a steep cliff.

Sarteano

Oh Sarteano you gem. We loved this sleepy little town. Boasting a medieval castle, charming streets and amazing restaurants you would expect it to be filled with hoards of tourists but when we arrived at lunchtime it was empty. It felt like we had stumbled on a deserted village, so we explored and sticky-beaked around, we could have been in the town completely alone except for the wafts of pasta sauce we could smell drifting out terrace windows.

As we made our way out of the town walls we heard the revving of a car, we turned the corner to see an old Italian man reversing out of the smallest garage we’ve ever seen. He jumped out of the car at started screaming at the wall behind him. Such an angry little man, it was hilarious; how dare that fucking wall get in his way.  Ah the Italians, never change.

Pienza

The home of Pecorino Cheese and UNESCO World Cultural site is the reason we came to explore Tuscany after we saw the town feature in Master of None. The town is gorgeous but either we built it up too much in our minds or the number of tourists turned us off but it didn’t meet our high expectations.

Pienza is beautiful, the views from the town are stunning but it’s filled with foreigners carrying big cameras standing in the way of every cool photo you want to snap.

We gave up being tourists and defaulted to what we’re good at – eating. We ordered an antipasto platter from Salumeria Bernardini Laura and tried four varieties of Pecorino and I’ll give Pienza this much, they make damn good cheese!

I know I’ve said this before BUT we had the best gelato ever at Buon Gusto sure I may be fickle but mate this creamy goodness way to die for and I would go back to Pienza purely for another scoop.

Montepulciano

Pretty, yes. Overrun with tourists, you bet! Montepulciano was the first hilltop town we visited so we thought it was amazing…Charming, great food, good photo opportunities. It had the lot. Until we explored more of the region and discovered there’s better. Kind of like my relationship with gelato.

We will be back in Tuscany tomorrow, so if you have any suggestions on amazing hilltop towns let us know.