Our itinerary continues to San Giovanni Valdarno, a classic example of the so-called “new towns,” with a central piazza and porticoed streets. Art and culture can be found around every corner in this medieval town, from the magnificent churches to government palazzi and impressive museums. Our first stop of the day is Palazzo d’Arnolfo. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, this building originally housed the civic council and representatives of Florence, which controlled the town. Indeed, it was centre of Florence’s power in the Valdarno, controlled by an appointed vicar: still today, the façade of the building is covered in the vicars’ coats of arms (there are over 250 of them!). For geography buffs, make sure to visit the Museum of the “New Towns,” which narrates the history of the foundation of the new towns in the late Middle Ages, a period of growth in the population and commercial trade.
Contemporary art can be found at Casa Masaccio, which, contrary to its name, does not conserve artworks by the early Renaissance master, but rather, is housed in the building where it is believed he spent his childhood. The museum contains the permanent collection of the Municipality of San Giovanni Valdarno, and includes pieces by Italian artists like Alighiero Boetti, Giovanni Anselmo, Venturino Venturi and Massimo Bartolini.
Our last cultural stop for the day is Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built following a miracle in 1484 when a grandmother prayed for and received food to feed her grandson, whose parents had died from the plague. A portico and arched windows decorate the façade, which is topped with a triangular gable and bell tower. Below, in the centre, is a large polychrome terracotta by Giovanni della Robbia (1513) depicting the Assumption. Inside, we can find late-17th-cenutry frescoes by Giuseppe Nasini and Vincenzo Ferrati in the vaults and others painted to the left of the altar portraying the Miracle of Monna Tanci, presumably by a student of Perugino.
For more artistic treasures, head to the related museum next door. Here, you’ll find a wonderful collection of 15th-century paintings by artists such as Masaccio’s brother, Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, known as Lo Scheggia, Giovanni di Piamonte, Piero della Francesca’s student, and Fra Angelico, whose masterpiece The Annunciation is housed in the museum. The collection also includes a few 17th-cenutry pieces, vestments and historic documents.
If you happen to visit in January, don’t miss the Palio dello Stufato alla Sangiovannese, dedicated to the town’s most famous dish, San Giovannese stew, made with veal and chopped vegetables. The Palio was created to make sure the culture of this local delicacy doesn’t die out, and anyone can participate, adding their special takes to the recipe to the competition. A jury of experts and a “popular vote” decide the winners! For famous wines any time of the year, you can also pop over to the lovely Tenuta San Jacopo, a 15-minute car ride from the historic centre. Surrounded by vineyards and stunnig views of the Montevarchi countryside, you can try their seven different wines, two kinds of grappa and an extra-virgin olive oil.