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Palaia Terre di Pisa
Photo © Erica Braccini
Photo © Erica Braccini

Palaia, among beauty and mystery

Discovering excellence in the Valdera

The medieval village of Palaia is home to a fortress from which you can enjoy a breathtaking 360° view. Palaia also boasts Ghibelline walls and the two Romanesque churches of Santa Maria and Sant'Andrea. The latter was built on a Roman temple devoted to the god Saturn. Outside the walls, visit the imposing Romanesque parish church of San Martino with its stone facade, and otherwise brick walls. Today, it's a popular location for weddings choral concerts.

  • 1.
    Food and wine experiences surrounded by nature
  • 2.
    The hamlet of Montefoscoli
  • 3.
    Palaia's ghost villages: Villa Saletta and Toiano
  • 4.
    Curiosities and idioms

Food and wine experiences surrounded by nature

Palaia - Credit: Comune di Palaia

Every Tuesday morning in summer, the Tourist Information Office arranges a free guided walking tour (also in English) to discover the main attractions. 

The hilly surroundings are an ideal setting for trekking, biking or horseriding. A marked network of paths crosses through little known historic hamlet such as Alica, San Gervasio, Colleoli and others to be mentioned later.

Palaia is crossed not only by the Wine Route of the Pisan Hills, but it's also an important white truffle area, celebrated every year in October with a market fair taking place in the cozy village of Forcoli, once a medieval castle dominating the Valdera.


The hamlet of Montefoscoli

Temple of Minerva Medica, Montefoscoli
Temple of Minerva Medica, Montefoscoli - Credit: Piero Frassi

The area presents surprisingly mysterious places as well. For example Montefoscoli that is home to the Museum of Rural Culture, with an underground reconstruction of farm life. It is also home to the House Museum “Vaccà Berlinghieri”, what does that consist of?

The name perhaps doesn't ring a bell, but in fact Andrea Vaccà was a famous surgeon at the University of Pisa and also Paolina Bonaparte's personal doctor. His name was often linked to intriguing stories of masonry and esotericism and also visits with important figures such as Mary Shelley (author of “Frankenstein”), Lord Byron and the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. Stories are interwoven in the nearby mysterious Temple of Minerva Medica, built in Neoclassic style (1823) in a thick forest far from prying eyes. 

Palaia's ghost villages: Villa Saletta and Toiano

Villa Saletta, Palaia
Villa Saletta, Palaia - Credit: Erica Braccini

The mystery is continued with the two ghost villages of Villa Saletta and Toiano.

The former contains the ruins of an old castle with a row of abandoned buildings lined along the main street. A clock tower with the coats of arms of the noble owners faces onto a large courtyard which becomes the stage for a popular theatre festival in summer. Villa Saletta has been chosen as film setting by the Taviani Brothers and Paolo Virzì. 

The latter, very typically, lies on a rock spur surrounded by rugged gullies rsimilar to the “balze di Volterra”. 

Curiosities and idioms

Have you heard the expression "Peggio Palaia" (Worst Palaia)? The expression, once used throughout Tuscany, means “worse than ever”.

Its origin is uncertain but it seems to date back to the year 1435 when the castle of Palaia, then under the dominion of Florence, was sieged by the mercenary Niccolò Piccinino, sent by the Duke of Milan. He had easily taken castles nearby, but here he found unexpectedly strong defence. He conquered Palaia by inflicting hunger and fatigue, plundering it and leaving few people alive. So, “Worst Palaia” because the village and the population suffered more than the others.

Well, after so many years it is time to revaluate and redeem the place with a hearty wish of “Meglio Palaia” (Better Palaia), as an invitation to a visit, take a break or a stay in one of the many accommodation facilities ready to welcome you in total tranquility.

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