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A weekend in Prato: city and countryside

Voyage through art, Medici villas and local delights

Booked a vacation to Tuscany and still don’t know what trips to plan? One of the closest destinations near Florence with a whole range of treasures worth visiting is Prato, world famous for its textiles.

The historic center is a gem you can visit on foot: get lost in local shops, bakeries and medieval palaces and churches, while outside the city you’ll find a countryside with medieval towns, rolling hills and the spectacular Medici villas, the residences of the noble Florentine family, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It will be a weekend of art, culture and nature, all paired with a taste of local food products: wine, oil, typical meats and yummy crunchy cookies called cantuccini.

Day One

In the historic center, from the Duomo to the Textile Museum

Begin your trip in the heart of the city with the spectacular cathedral. Built in the fourteenth century, the structure is covered in the traditional dual tone alberese and green marble of Prato. Inside the cathedral, admire the frescos of Filippo Lippi, and outside, visit the pulpit made by Donatello and Michelozzo, whose original frames are now conserved in the Opera del Duomo Museum. A noteworthy relic in this Duomo is The Holy Virgin’s Girdle, which in line with an ancient ritual is displayed every September 8.

If you love modernity and want to discover the industrial side of the city, head to the Textile Museum, which houses samples and documents dating from to the fifth century to today. The building is also a masterpiece of industrial architecture known as the Cimatoria Campolmi Leopoldo and has become a symbol of textile production.

Don’t miss the Castello dell’Imperatore, the only example of Swabian architecture in northern Italy. Planned by architect Riccardo da Lentini, this impressive castle, a square structure strengthened by hefty towers, was commissioned by Frederick II of Swabia in the thirteenth century. You’ll see some fantastic imperial symbols including lions sculpted in alberese and serpentine green marble and a classic-style gable that recalls the power of the Roman Caesars.

Day Two

From Medici villas to Carmignano

Dedicate the second day of your trip to exploring Prato’s countryside, bursting with treasures unique to this region. Head to the UNESCO Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent and designed by Giuliano da Sangallo. This masterpiece houses remarkable decorations and frescoes by Filippino Lippi, Andrea del Sarto and the most famous work of the mannerist painter Jacopo Pontormo, the allegory of Vertumnus and Pomona.

The Medici Villa la Ferdinanda in Artimino (in Carmignano) is another spectacular villa tied to the one of the most famous architects in history, Bernando Buontalenti, who executed the project for Grand Duke Ferdinand I. The villa is also known as Villa dei Cento Camini (Villa of 100 Chimneys– there are actually far fewer) because of its amusing number of fireplaces that the Grand Duke built to avoid freezing during his winter hunting trips, each one built with a different shape.

The Carmignano region is also famous for its traditional food and wine: follow the Strada dei Vini di Carmignano e dei Sapori tipici pratesi (Carmignano wine and Prato ingredients road) to discover the local delicacies. Try the cantuccini di Prato, famous almond cookies, the renowned dried figs and the amaretti biscuits, all paired with fine wine such as the Carmignano DOCG or the Barco Reale DOC.

Weather permitting, a picnic is the perfect ending to your day: bozza pratese, traditional unsalted bread, paired with mortadella di Prato, a meat with a unique pinkish color from the addition of a Tuscan liqueur, alchermes, are the perfect countryside snacks to end your day.

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