Photo ©Anna Galetta

What to see around Pisa: Calci and Valgraziosa valley

At the foot of the Monti Pisani, among a small range of mountains that divides Pisa from Lucca, lies a surprising place

If you are spending some time visiting the city of the Leaning Tower we suggest you explore what's near. Pisa is worth much more than 2 meager hours meandering in Piazza dei Miracoli. As an instance, have you ever heard of Calci or the Valgraziosa area?

Write down on your bucket list these two places because you'll want to add them in your "what to see around Pisa" wishlist.

[Photo Credits: Michele Bartalini - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]
[Photo Credits: Michele Bartalini - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]

Calci is a few kilometers from Pisa. It's the center of Valgraziosa valley and lies at the foot of the Monti Pisani, a small range of mountains that divides Pisa from Lucca. The Valgraziosa valley looks like an amphitheater and villages dot its slopes. Calci has always been involved in the bloody medieval wars between Pisa and Florence because of its strategic location and the presence of the nearby Verruca fortress, dating back to 780 CE and built to protect Pisa and the surrounding area. From the sixteenth century, Calci began to develop around the course of two creeks and more than a hundred watermills were built.

[Photo Credits: Fabio Fagiolini - courtesy of Comune di Calci]
[Photo Credits: Fabio Fagiolini - courtesy of Comune di Calci]

Nowadays, Calci is a farming town gathered around the Parish Church of SS. Giovanni and Ermolao, surrounded by terraced olive groves and dominated by the Monte Serra peak, covered with pine and chestnut trees. From the top, on a clear day, you can enjoy beautiful views and spot Pisa or even the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago.

[Photo Credits: Stefano Brigiotti - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]
[Photo Credits: Stefano Brigiotti - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]

The area of "Calci" includes different villages and hamlets:

  • La Pieve (main center and where the town hall is located)
  • Il Colle
  • Villa S.Andrea
  • Castel Maggiore
  • Tre Colli
  • S. Lucia
  • Rezzano
  • S.Lorenzo
  • Montemagno
  • La Corte
  • La Gabella

There are two important attractions of cultural significance that must be included in what to see around Pisa: the Calci Charterhouse and the Museum of Natural History of the University of Pisa. But there are also hiking paths and food spots.

What to see around Pisa:

Calci Charterhouse

This charterhouse, built in 1366, is one of the largest monasteries in Tuscany. The Calci Charterhouse (also known as "Certosa di Pisa", Pisa Charterhouse) is a monumental Baroque style building. This monastery was founded in the 15th century thanks to the legacy of an Armenian merchant. The complex features a large courtyard (dedicated to the community life and contacts with the outside world), a series of buildings hosting the monks' cells, cloisters and gardens. Moreover in the monastery there was the apartment of the prior, a library, an archive and a pharmacy. The Carthusian monks lived until the seventies, but now the Calci Charterhouse is open to visitors. You can visit it on your own or you can book a guided tour.

[Photo Credits: Gaetano Ariti - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]
[Photo Credits: Gaetano Ariti - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]

Museum of Natural History

One wing of the Calci Charterhouse hosts the Museum of Natural History of the University of Pisa. The exhibition includes palaeontological, mineralogical and zoological collections, there are also some new sections dedicated to dinosaurs but the highlight is an impressive gallery of cetacean skeletons, which is one of the largest in Europe.

[Photo Credits: Giuliano Fabbrini - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]
[Photo Credits: Giuliano Fabbrini - Courtesy of Comune di Calci]

Valgraziosa valley and Monti Pisani

The landscape of the Monte Pisani is an alternation of plains, hills and mountains with creeks and caves carved into the limestone. This mountain is dotted with villages and medieval castles and Romanesque churches and it's characterized by terraced olive groves. The Valgraziosa valley, on the slopes of Monti Pisani, on the side that faces Pisa and the sea, is full of walking paths offering spectacular views and interesting natural, historical and artistic sights.
Generally, the starting point is the town square of Calci. Signs on the ground mark the paths and trails. Thanks to the mild climate, you can go hiking all year round. 

What to taste around Pisa:

the flavors of the Monti Pisani

  • The Monti Pisani are well known for their high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Read more about the olive oil trail.
  • Chestnut cake: in October the Chestnut Festival takes place. It’s the perfect opportunity to taste this typical cake and many other local delicacies.
  • In this area many trattorie are popular among locals and in Montemagno there's the "Agriturismo Il Colibrì", a small and picturesque vegan restaurant, one of the few vegetarian spots in Pisa and beyond. It happens to be super delicious, so be sure to make a reservation!

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