Since you really enjoyed our series “10 small towns near…” we decided to continue this trend and today we’re going to get to know 10 small towns near Pisa.
At just 7 kilometres from Pisa, located at the foot of Monte Pisano, between the Serchio and the Arno rivers, lies San Giuliano Terme, which in the past was known as Acquae Pisanae (as written in a document by Pliny the Elder) and then called Bagni di Pisa. Both of the names underline the close connection between this town and its thermal waters. In fact San Giuliano Terme is home to an important spa and one of the few low mineral waters flowing from the source. San Giuliano Terme is not only known for its thermal water: it also has an ancient history and an extensive network of interesting historical itineraries. You can visit some historic villas, a Medici aqueduct which remains intact today and don’t forget to take note of the many Romanesque churches, medieval chapels and monasteries.
Pontedera is located at east from Pisa and is well known for being the industrial town that hosts the headquarters of the Piaggio company. So if you love Vespas and the world of motorcycles, don’t forget to visit the large and completely accessible Piaggio Museum, which displays unique Vespa models as well as rare Gilera motorcycles, Ciao and Ape exemplars.
Besides that, several remains of ancient settlements dating back to the Neolithic period have been found around the town that along the years have been populated, in the Etruscan times and in the Middle Ages. During the last years, Pontedera has become a real open-air museum with great permanent sculptures by contemporary artists. There is one of the largest mosaics in Italy by Enrico Baj, and different installations in parks, piazzas and even in some roundabouts!
San Miniato is a medieval gem located halfway between Pisa and Florence and is the perfect stopover along the Via Francigena for indulging in delicious foods (it's the Tuscan town of the truffle!) and beautiful panoramic views. The town’s original medieval layout and structure have remained intact, with a lot of must-sees that you can find in the post "A day trip to San Miniato." The main event in San Miniato is the truffle fair that takes place every year in November, when truffle hunters, chefs, experts and journalists come to taste the local gastronomic speciality and buy truffles. Read our quick guide.
Volterra is one of the oldest towns in Tuscany, located on a hill between Pisa and Siena. Due to its ancient origins (dating back to the Etruscan period) and its excellent condition, there are many things not-to-be missed. The heart of the medieval town is Piazza dei Priori with the wonderful Palazzo dei Priori, today the city hall. In the same square you will also find Palazzo Pretorio. A few meters from this square you’ll find the Romanesque Cathedral with its Baptistery. Visit also the Roman Amphitheatre constructed in the 1st century BCE as well as the Roman baths and the remains of a Roman forum. Don’t forget to take in the sights of the Guarnacci Museum. For other main sights, take a look at this post: "Things you can’t miss in Volterra."
Vicopisano is a small medieval village on the Pisan Mountains preserving architectural treasures of great value. Just think that there is a medieval fortress designed by Brunelleschi, two medieval buildings dating to the twelfth century, a castle and 12 towers dating between the 11th and 15th century. A perfect time of the year to visit Vicopisano is the first weekend of September, when the Medieval Festival takes place, and the whole village goes back in time with costumes and local cuisine, as well as shows and entertainment.
Not far from Vicopisano, at the foot of Monte Pisano, there is the small charming village of Calci, in a beautiful natural setting dotted with olive trees and chestnut woods. Calci is a collection of villages with an ancient history, but the main attraction is certainly the monumental complex of the Certosa of Calci, one of the most important monasteries of the Certosine order in Italy. Founded in 1366, the Certosa of Calci was deeply renovated in the seventeenth century and transformed with frescoes, marbles, etc. There's also a large courtyard where a Baroque church façade stands, along with many other rooms used as a sacristy, chapels, the prior’s apartment, the library, a pharmacy and more. Today a wing of the chartreuse houses the Museum of Natural History of the University of Pisa. Read about this wonderful place.
Castelfranco di Sotto is an ancient medieval village created as a castle in 1255, located about 40 kilometres west of Florence and about 30 kilometres east of Pisa. Castelfranco was born in the period of the continuous struggles between Guelfi and Ghibellines and among the cities of Pisa, Lucca and Florence as a fortified and safe place with lower taxes for those who went to live there. The village still preserves its ancient town plan with two main roads that cross in the middle and lead to the four gates, marking four equal-sized quarters.
Montescudaio was chosen as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy (I Borghi più belli d’Italia), located about 45 kilometres southeast of Pisa in an area called Val di Cecina. It was a fortified village of great strategic importance and an ancient Benedictine monastic seat, capital of the Volterra Diocese and castle of Della Gherardesca counts. The settlement is very old and the first historical documents date to the eleventh century. Many of the older buildings were destroyed by strong earthquakes, but there are still monuments that are worth visiting: the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, the Guardian Tower and Villa Pucci.
Try the excellent Montescudaio DOC red wine!
Lajatico’s earliest settlements date to the Etruscan-Roman times, but the current village has twelfth-century origins. It stands on a hill overlooking the Era valley and is surrounded by lush nature. It is also home to the Teatro del Silenzio (Theatre of Silence), an amphitheatre created out of the natural conformation of the hillside, the brainchild of worldwide famous singer Andrea Bocelli who comes from this area.
Santa Luce is a medieval village located about 30 kilometres southeast of Pisa. Santa Luce still preserves the remains of the medieval fortress as well as the layout of the ancient feudal village. Among the most important attractions there are the Romanesque church of Pieve Santa Luce, the wildlife oasis of Lake Santa Luce, the alabaster eco-museum and the abandoned village of Monteforti, with the remains of the Sanctuary of the Madonna.
In the small village of Pomaia you’ll find one of the most important centres of Buddhist culture in Europe: the Lama Tzong Khapa institute.