Art and culture worth discovering in the Valdinievole

From churches to books or beans

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July 15, 2016 - 17:00

Montecatini Terme and the Valdinievole are well worth a visit… And more! The area offers so much for all those who decide to discover it in all its depth and breadth. The varied scenery in terms of landforms and features, a land of art, history and nature, rich in medieval castles and villages that rise up like old gems amid verdant hills. Scenery that can be discovered on foot or by bike, enjoying the breath-taking views, breathing in the aromas of nature and tasting traditional flavours.

 

But there’s more, much more, as in the words of Nori Andreini Galli, there’s “a sort of suspended wonder, elicited from the scenery, where life, art and history seem not to have stopped but placated, enchanted in an almost contemplative vision…". Here are a few ideas to visit Tuscany "from Leonardo to Pinocchio." Our advice: remember that “in the Valdinievole the pace is slow: it’s the journey that matters.”

 

PESCIA: CHAPTER LIBRARY AND BERLINGHIERI

 

Biblioteca Capitolare Biblioteca Capitolare

 

Art and culture feel at home in Pescia thanks to the town’s enviable position between Pistoia and Lucca, which has enabled it to be a place of exchange, trade and conflict for centuries. Striking buildings have been built in this part of Tuscany from Leonardo to Pinocchio, bricks and mortar representatives of the region’s skill and genius.

 

A visit to Pescia would not be complete without a walk around the Chapter Library (Biblioteca Capitolare), whose origins date to the last will and testament of Cardinal Romualdo Cecchi, who bequeathed his books to the cathedral chapter house in 1648. The title block on the door that leads into the monumental hall displays an excerpt of the Alexandrine Bull of July 1666 “Extrahentes Libros Excommunicantur”, reminding visitors with bad intentions that those who “steal” a book from Pescia’s Chapter Library will be “struck” down by excommunication.

 

One more thing. Before leaving Pescia make sure you stop by the sublime altarpiece with Saint Francis and the story of his life, housed in the church of San Francesco by famous painter Bonaventura Berlinghieri. The altarpiece has a long, peculiar history, rich in traditions, myth and holiness – it’s the only work signed and dated by the artist from Lucca, the member of a prolific family of painters. Local reports, however vague, claim that Berlinghieri painted the portrait when the saint visited Pescia.

 

VINCI: LEONARDO MUSEUM

 

Genius. One word sums up the person we’re talking about: Leonardo da Vinci, universal symbol of science and knowledge.

 

In Vinci, where Leonardo was born and gained the earliest inspiration for his research and art, the Leonardo Museum (Museo Leonardiano), spread across two locations, Palazzina Uzielli and Conti Guidi Castle, contains one of the largest and most original collections to focus on Leonardo’s multitude of interests: technology, architecture, science and technique in the Renaissance.

 

Palazzina Uzielli documents Leonardo reworkings based on plans by Brunelleschi for the construction of the cupola of Florence Cathedral. The war and flight machines of Conti Guidi Castle can also be visited, whereas the panoramic terrace on the tower allows 360° views of the surrounding scenery. The museum ends with a video room set within the striking castle walls, where solid geometric models are on display based on designs that Leonardo made for the De Divina Proportione treatise by mathematician Luca Pacioli.

 

Until September 26, 2016, the museum is hosting the Fabrizio Fabrini collection. The original exhibition of stamps and postal material gives us unique insight into Leonardo’s life and intelligence.

 

MONTECATINI: THE THERMAL BATHS

 

Montecatini Terme Montecatini Terme

 

Breathe in the Belle Epoque at Montecatini Terme:  the tour offered by the town will leave you seriously wowed. We begin our walk in piazza del Popolo, before heading down the elegant viale Verdi, which, between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, became a stomping ground for local celebrities with the likes of Giuseppe Verdi. Admire Locanda Maggiore, that is the Gambrinus porticoes designed by architect Giulio Bernardini; the former Politeama Theatre, now Cinema Teatro Imperiale; the town hall, which is home to decorations and artistic glassworks by Galileo Chini and Luigi Arcangeli; Cinema Excelsior by Ugo Giovannozzi; and Stabilimento Excelsior baths, also by Giulio Bernardini.

 

Then we plunge into the town’s park, coming across bathing establishments Terme Leopoldine and Terme Tamerici, with interiors by Galileo Chini, as well as Terme Torretta. At the end of viale Verdi, with the outline of Montecatini Alto in the background you will be captivated by the impressive façade of Terme Tettuccio, in the running as a future UNESCO World Heritage site and a bona fide spa establishment in the town. Last but not least, check out Teatro Casinò Kursaal and the prestigious Grand Hotel La Pace.

 

ROMANESQUE from Castelvecchio to Pistoia

 

Castelvecchio Castelvecchio

 

Important testimonies of the Romanesque of Tuscany from Leonardo to Pinocchio can be found in the “Little Switzerland” of Pescia. The church of S. Ansano, in the village of Castelvecchio, one of the 10 castle towns of the Valleriana, is one of the oldest and loveliest religious buildings in the area. Tradition has it that it was one of the seven churches founded by bishop saint Frediano of Lucca in the sixth century.

 

The tenth-century church is a national monument. The building stands in the town and is named after saints Ansano and Tommaso. Experts will recognise the Lombard Romanesque façade, but it should be remembered that the nineteenth-century fall destroyed part of the original layout. Outside, bas-reliefs – perhaps Lombard in provenance – display monstrous animals and a mysterious figure, maybe Christ, maybe an orans. For some it represents Templars and Godfrey of Bouillon. The interior, empty yet evocative, we find the crypt underneath the presbytery, which legend has it was built in the place where saint Ansano retreated in prayer and penitence and which is barely lit by a tiny wall opening.

 

FOOD AND WINE

Fagioli di Sorana Fagioli di Sorana

 

Montecatini Terme and the Valdinievole boast countless high-quality foods that bear witness to the excellence of the land where they were made. These ingredients are fruit of the profound connection between humans and the environment, which has resulted in typical produce scaling the heights of excellence and becoming known outside of Tuscany and Italy.

 

Try the thin-skinned and delicately flavoured Sorana beans, which are grown on the banks of the Pescia Maggiore. Those with a sweet tooth will love the Cialda di Montecatini, wafer cookies whose recipe has been passed down from generation to generation. Another renowned sweet speciality of Tuscany from Leonardo to Pinocchio is the Brigidino di Lamporecchio, a very thin golden crispy wafer made from eggs, flour, sugar and aniseed. Lovers of really good olive oil and relaxation should head for the Oil Road – Villages and Castles of the Valdinievole (Strada dell’Olio – Borghi e Castelli della Valdinievole, which runs in the hills from Uzzano to the medieval villages of Massa, Cozzile, Uzzano and Borgo Buggiano.

 

For more information about this area please see www.tomontecatini.com

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