Near Pisa, there are charming villages that feel like they belong to another time. Here is an itinerary to get off the beaten path and see the hidden gems dotted around the Pisan countryside.
1. Monteverdi Marittimo
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 history is closely linked to the foundation of the monastery of St. Peter in Palazzuolo, which occurred in medieval times around the year 754 AD; by the Lombard noble family which would later become known as Della Gherardesca.
Monteverdi Castle was erected before the eleventh century, but certainly after the abbey was built, and the history of the monastery and the castle has not always gone hand in hand. 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 still bears an urban elliptical shape, an old medieval wall that surrounds the town 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 The settlement is very old and the first historical documents date to the eleventh century, when the Della Gherardesca family owned a castle in the village. This is an area susceptible to earthquakes and many of the older buildings have been lost because of this. Among the monuments worth visiting in Montescudaio particular mention should be made of 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"), which later 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 is a proud Orange Flag holder, an eco-tourism and environment award conferred upon small Italian inland towns by the Italian Touring Club. Lari is characterized by a castle that rises over the town centre and originally dates back to the medieval era, but most of the present structure dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. A defensive wall surrounds the castle, 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 size, 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. Worth visiting is the castle, which was built in the decades following the year 900 to better exploit the position of absolute dominion over 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 the Medieval Festival takes place, and the whole village goes back in time with costumes and local cuisine, as well as shows and entertainment.
6. Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina
Castelnuovo Val di Cecina is a well-preserved medieval village encircled by pristine countryside. Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina is composed by two areas physically separated from each other by two villages (Pomarance and Radicondoli), plus 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 that was built at a later date, of which the Porta Fiorentina and the Porta Romana stil 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 Etruscan times and originally consisted of a series of defensive towers, a defence 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 to the left of 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), an amphitheatre created out of the natural conformation of the hillside, the brainchild of worldwide famous singer Andrea Bocelli who comes from this area.