Beside the traditional artistic treasures preserved in the surroundings of Pisa, a city of international fame, its province also offers a full range of unique experiences in small locations scattered around the countryside. Near Pisa, there are charming villages that seem to belong to another time and here's a collection of places you should add to your bucket list if you like to get off the beaten path and discover the hidden gems of Tuscany.
Monteverdi Marittimo is located in the heart of the Val di Cornia, near the Metalliferous Hills, in an area surrounded by hills and fields. Its historical events are closely linked to those of the Abbey of St. Peter in Palazzuolo, founded in 754. Monteverdi is surrounded by a wall and equipped with towers built by the monks of the abbey in 1308.
Monteverdi's castle was erected before the eleventh century, and the history of the monastery and the castle is not clear. A wall surrounds Monteverdi and the towers of the abbey are still visible today. You can also visit the Church of St. Andrew, the Oratory of the Blessed Sacrament and the village of Canneto, which bears an urban elliptical shape and numerous tower houses. The surroundings of Monteverdi Marittimo are characterized by the presence of woods of oaks and cork trees, chestnut woods and Mediterranean scrub, alongside numerous streams and springs.
Montescudaio is located about 70 kilometres southwest of Florence and about 45 kilometres southeast of Pisa in an area called Val di Cecina. It was named one of the most beautiful towns in Italy (I Borghi più belli d’Italia) and, in the past, it was a fortified village of great strategic importance, given its dominant position over the area. The settlement is very old and the first historical documents date to the eleventh century, when the Della Gherardesca family owned a castle in the village. Among the monuments worth visiting in Montescudaio there's the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, the Guardian Tower and Villa Pucci. The excellent red wine Montescudaio DOC is produced in the vineyards in the surrounding hills.
Guardistallo is a well-preserved medieval village immersed in nature and perched on the top of a hill. The village has Longobard origins as the name suggests: the words “warda” ("guards") and stall ("place") probably mean "a guarded place". It fell under the dominion of the Della Gherardesca family. The village is shaped in a horseshoe and maintains the characteristics of medieval hamlets in Tuscany. It is surrounded by a luxuriant green valley that separates it from the sea, which is just 10 kilometres away. The main activity is based on the production of wine and olive oil.
The beautiful hilltop town of Lari has been inhabited since Etruscan times and has been part of the municipality of Casciana Terme Lari since 2014. The town is located in the Pisan Hills and holds the Orange Flag distinction (an eco-tourism award conferred upon small inland Italian towns by the Italian Touring Club). Lari is characterized by a castle that rises over the town centre and originally built in the medieval era, but most of the present structure dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. A defensive wall surrounds this castle, only accessible through three entrances: the Porta Fiorentina, the Porta Pisana and the Porta Volterrana. You can visit also the fifteenth-century San Leonardo and Santa Maria Assunta Church.
The medieval village of Vicopisano is located in the Pisan Mountains. Despite its small extent, Vicopisano possesses many truly remarkable medieval monuments: the most important include 12 towers (11-15th century), two medieval buildings dating to the twelfth century, a medieval fortress designed by Brunelleschi and a Romanesque church of the twelfth century. Its castle was built around the year 900 to overlook the Arno Valley, from San Miniato to the sea.
A perfect time of the year to visit Vicopisano is the first weekend of September, when usually the Medieval Festival takes place and the whole village goes back in time with costumes and local cuisine stands, as well as shows and entertainment.
Castelnuovo Val di Cecina is a well-preserved medieval village encircled by pristine countryside. It is divided into two areas physically separated from each other by two villages (Pomarance and Radicondoli) and it boasts one of the narrowest streets in the world called the “chiassino”. The upper part of the village is also the oldest and includes the castle, the church of S. Salvatore, built on the foundations of the ancient castle, and the Holy Crypt. The lower part includes the boundary wall in which the Porta Fiorentina and the Porta Romana still remain today. Between these two entrances there is the little church of S. Sebastiano.
The ancient village of Terricciola stands where the Era Valley, the Cascina Valley and the stream Sterza meet. It dates back to the Etruscan times and originally consisted of a series of defensive towers, a system that granted the village an important role in the twelfth century. Some of the most interesting monuments in the area are the Sanctuary of Madonna di Monterosso, the ancient Abbey of Camaldolese di Morrona with its annexed twelfth-century Romanesque church, villa Gherardi del Testa and villa Cempini Meazzuoli, the village of Soiano with its Baroque bell tower by Bellincioni and the parish church in Pitti.
Lajatico stands on a hill near the river Era and the earliest settlements date to Etruscan-Roman times, but the current village has twelfth-century origins. Lajatico is also home to the Teatro del Silenzio (Theatre of Silence, in the picture), an amphitheatre created out of the natural conformation of the hillside, the brainchild of worldwide famous singer Andrea Bocelli who comes from this area.