Follow me in this guide to discover all the things to see in Certaldo and prepare yourself for your next visit!
On your journey through the beauty of Tuscany, Certaldo, rich in history and art treasures, is definitely worth a stop. Located in the province of Florence, this medieval village is exactly halfway between the Tuscan capital and the provincial city of Siena. The valley in which it is located, formed by the Elsa river, has been home to ancient civilisations: in fact, artefacts have been found that testify to the town’s Etruscan-Roman origins.
Here, the charm of its reddish-coloured buildings meets the natural wonders of the place: the Val d’Elsa is home to enchanting landscapes, rich in olive groves, cypresses and cultivated fields. These lands create different traditions and a unique food and wine. Some examples are: the Tuscan olive oil OGI, the wines and, in particular, the red onion symbol of Certaldo, renowned for its sweet flavour.
A curious characteristic of this village is its particular urban conformation: the historical centre is, in fact, perched on a hill and is, therefore, called “Certaldo Alta” (High Certaldo); the modern part, on the other hand, has developed down the valley and the two halves are now connected by a funicular railway. Right on top of this hill, the first feudal castle was built; this allowed control of the Via Francigena below: the most important link between Northern Europe and Rome.
There are many reasons for Certaldo’s fame, appreciated by Italian and foreign tourists alike, and among these are, without a doubt, its Touring Club orange flag, the tomb of the poet Boccaccio (one of the fathers of Italian literature, who lived in the 14th century) and its medieval conformation, unchanged over the centuries.
So, are you ready? Follow me in this guide to discover what to see in and around Certaldo, starting with its reddish historic centre. I will tell you all the secrets to get the best out of this village, dedicated precisely to those who have little time and want to organise a day trip.
And for those who, on the other hand, want to stay a little longer, I will also give some tips on what to do and what to see in the surrounding area to extend your visit, which will be full of culture, outdoor sports and well-deserved relaxation; but, above all, food and wine!
Come with me along this easy and practical tourist itinerary to visit Certaldo and discover that this village has something for everyone! 👇
What to see in Certaldo
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Before starting your entirely walking tour of the things to see in Certaldo, I want to give you some practical advice.
To begin with, you can park your car in one of town’s various car parks: in the lower part there is the Piazza Boccaccio car park, the Via Costa Alberti car park and the one in Piazza dei Macelli.
Of these, the most convenient is undoubtedly the first, as it is located directly under the funicular, which we are going to use to start the visit. It costs 1 euro and runs every 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can also park in Certaldo Alta, in the car park in Via delle Mura.
1. City walls and 3 entrance gates
Once you take the typical funicular railway, you will find yourself inside Certaldo Alta passing through Porta Alberti, the first of the three gates of the village. From here, you can begin to explore this medieval fortification by walking along Via del Castello, where its historic walls, dating back to the 14th century, unfold.
Along the way you will also find Porta al Sole, the main entrance to the castle so called because of its southern exposure and, not far away, Porta Rivellino. The latter is of particular interest as it can also be reached on foot, starting from the lower part of the city and walking along the picturesque Costa Vecchia, which allows you to admire the panorama above the ancient Via Francigena. Today, where there once stood a mighty castle – the remains of which are still visible – is the “Place where kissing is mandatory”, an enchanting view point with an equally evocative name.
2. Church of Saints Thomas and Prospero
Continuing along Via Rivellino, you will reach the Church of Saints Thomas and Prospero, the oldest in the entire castle. Of Romanesque origin, it has experienced a long period of decline from the 16th century onwards, when the land behind the apse began to slide into the valley. At the time, Boccaccio’s tomb and other burials were located inside: these were moved starting from the 18th century, when the church was deconsecrated and sold.
In the following centuries, neglect and carelessness caused numerous damages to the frescoes preserved inside; today, however, they are perfectly admirable thanks to the restoration works of the last century.
3. Praetorian Palace
Next to the Church of Tommaso and Prospero is the Palazzo Pretorio, the most important building in the town and which, together with the previous one, now forms a single museum complex. Now, I want to reveal another little trick to you: the municipality of Certaldo allows you to visit two museums – Palazzo Pretorio and Casa Boccaccio – with a single €5 ticket, and a third – the museum of sacred art – with an additional €2.
But coming back to us, the Palazzo Pretorio is the undisputed symbol of Certaldo Alta, built around the end of the 12th century and home of the Counts Alberti – the feudal lords of the time -. After the town fell under the rule of Florence, the palace became the seat of the Vicar, the magistrate in charge of the legal administration of the area. This new function was the fortune of the building, which went from being a massive tower to a palace with a decorated façade: on it, the various Vicars who followed one another placed their coats of arms, made by master craftsmen in glazed terracotta, marble and Sienese stone. This aspect is its main feature today.
4. Church of Saints Jacopo and Philip
The Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo is located in Via Giovanni Boccaccio, heading down the valley. Built in Romanesque style during the 12th century, today it houses, in addition to frescoes and sculptures, two very important figures: the remains of the poet Giovanni Boccaccio and the urn of the Blessed Giulia Della Rena are preserved here.
5. Museum of Sacred Art
Inaugurated in 2001, the Museum of Sacred Art of Certaldo Alta is located inside the former Augustinian convent, perfectly restored and adjacent to the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo. It houses no less than 7 rooms, in which there is a picture gallery, rich in works on canvas dating between the 13th and 16th centuries, two rooms dedicated to goldsmith’s art and one to sacred vestments, i.e. the priests’ garments.
6. Boccaccio House
Proceeding along Via Boccaccio, you will finally come across the reason for its name: this street there is, in fact, the house where the poet was born and spent the last years of his life. The building, in the early 19th century, was bought by Marchesa Carlotta Lenzoni de’ Medici, who restored it and had a fresco depicting Boccaccio painted by a well-known painter of the time: Pietro Benvenuti.
Unfortunately, during the Second World War, the building was almost completely razed to the ground by bombing: only the frescoed wall was saved, fortunately. Nowadays, in addition to visiting the museum, it is also possible to access the tower, part of the house, from which you can admire a splendid view of the Val d’Elsa.
7. Stiozzi Ridolfi Palace
This fourteenth-century palace was – most probably – the ancient seat of the market, thanks to its particular structure. You can still visit the large inner courtyard with its loggia. The Stiozzi Ridolfi Palace is located in Via Boccaccio, in front of Piazza Santa Annunziata.
8. Giannozzi Palace
This manor house, located almost opposite Palazzo Stiozzi Ridolfi, has a façade with 14th-century and Renaissance features. And, moreover, thanks to one of its arches, it provides access to one of the most picturesque lanes of the fortification: the one connecting Piazza Santa Annunziata to Porta al Sole.
9. Nail Museum
Thanks to the work of carpenter and artist Giancarlo Masini, this museum is now a unique collection of nails, of all shapes and for all uses. Inside, it is also possible to learn all the trades in which nails are indispensable and observe various woodworking tools. The “Golden Nail” award was named after this artist, loved by the community, and is given annually to the most representative artist of the Mercantia – an event I will tell you about in a moment -.
10. Machiavelli Palace
At the end of Via Boccaccio, on the way back to the funicular, you will find Palazzo Machiavelli, the best preserved example of a historical medieval dwelling. It still has an imposing keep, a symbol of the family’s power.
Visiting Certaldo and surroundings
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And now that you have seen everything about Certaldo Alta, here are some tips on how to extend your visit by continuing to travel around Tuscany and exploring Certaldo and its surroundings. First of all, Florence is definitely an unmissable stop on your holiday. Whether you are a lover of art or architecture, between the Uffizi art gallery and Brunelleschi’s Dome (built on the Florence cathedral) your head will be spinning; but know that in this city even just the atmosphere is incredible.
Not far from Certaldo, on the other hand, are San Gimignano – the Manhattan of the Middle Ages – and Castelfiorentino, another village that, like Certaldo, is divided between valley and mountain. Nearby – 12 km from the centre – is also Gambassi terme, a hill town where you can relax at your best in the thermal baths of the Via Francigena.
Then visit Empoli, a town known for its square – dedicated to Farinata degli Uberti, the captain who opposed the destruction of Florence – and its collegiate church, a splendid religious building erected in 1093.
Also not to be missed are the first towns in the province of Pisa, such as San Miniato, Volterra and Monteriggioni, in the province of Siena. The latter is a real must-see for your souvenir photos, as it is surrounded by several viewpoints that allow you to admire its walls.
And finally, it is impossible not to visit the Chianti hills, perhaps the most famous area in Tuscany. In this landscape, shaped by cypresses, olive trees and, above all, vineyards, comes the most appreciated Italian excellence in the world: Chianti DOCG wine. Enjoy visiting as many wineries as possible while tasting this unique product.
What to do in Certaldo?
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If you think that Certaldo Alta is only to be seen, you are wrong! There are many opportunities to experience the castle at its best, and here are some suggestions.
To begin with, I recommend a leisurely stroll through the village streets, even in the evening, embracing the relaxed pace of the lifestyle of its ancient inhabitants. Visit the small shops present and indulge yourself by buying some handicraft souvenirs: one of the typical products is, without a doubt, ceramics. These, which have been hand-painted for centuries, are also your opportunity to have an out of the box experience: attend a ceramics painting course, a fun time for everyone, young and old.
For sports enthusiasts, on the other hand, my advice is to visit the Parco della Canonica, a green area not far from the village, full of cypress trees, gentle hills and, above all, an incredible panorama: from here, you will be able to see all the towers of San Gimignano in the distance, in all their splendour.
Speaking of panoramas, Certaldo Alta is full of unique views, first and foremost the viewpoint called “la terrazza” (the terrace). Located near Porta al Sole, this location is a must for your souvenir photos. Finally, remember to taste all the local products, enjoying them during an aperitif and buying some to take home. And on that note…
Local food and wine
Here are some suggestions on dishes that anyone should try during their visit to Certaldo Alta. Start with the Certaldo onion, known for its sweetish flavour and so celebrated that it has become the village’s symbol. This agricultural product is now protected by the slow food association. Other typical products that you absolutely must try include:
- onion soup, made from the typical bulb and the excellent Tuscan extra virgin olive oil PGI, which also originates from these lands;
- lesso rifatto (remade boiled meat, also called francesina), which is a boiled veal muscle sautéed in a pan with tomatoes and onion and then diluted with its own broth;
- onion marmalade, which is excellent with cheese and boiled meats, but also berry desserts.
All these dishes can be perfectly matched with the excellent Chianti DOCG wine, another treasure of this land together with the very rare white truffle.
These flavours are sure to make you fall in love to the point that you will find it difficult to leave them: so why not also take part in a cooking course? That way you can take home with you all the secrets of this land; perhaps after getting to know all the ingredients during a tasting experience.
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I also want to leave you with a list of events in Certaldo that you absolutely cannot miss:
- “Mercantia“, organised in mid-July, is one of the best-known street theatre festivals in Europe and hosts around 100 theatre performances and 40 craftwork stands;
- The “Corteo storico”, an event organised for September that sees several people parading in traditional medieval clothes until they reach Piazza Boccaccio, where some of the poet’s novellas are staged;
- The “Boccaccesca”, an event entirely dedicated to gastronomy, where the entire village is invaded by typical products and slow food presidia from all over Italy; all this while local chefs delight spectators with show cooking and street food of all kinds.
How to get to Certaldo
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Last but not least, some directions on how to reach the village.
Certaldo is located on state road 429, 45 km from both Florence and Siena. The town is served by a convenient station, located very close to the funicular; while the two nearest airports are Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci and Pisa’s Galileo Galilei.
Here we are at the end of the tour to discover what to see in Certaldo; but before you set off to travel around Tuscany, remember that with Italia Delight you can organise the wine and food holiday that suits you best! Enjoy your trip! 😎
Cover photo: pixabay, Pixamio
Featured photo: pixabay, Pixamio