Discover what to visit in and around Montecatini Terme in the heart of Tuscany, immersed in relaxation, Art Nouveau and local specialities: the ideal place for a relaxing break or a holiday of pure wellbeing.
Today we take you with us to Montecatini Terme, one of the most renowned spa resorts in Italy and beyond, so much so that in 2021 UNESCO recognised it as a World Heritage site and awarded the title “Great Spa City of Europe”.
Located in the heart of the Valdinievole in the province of Pistoia, this beautiful Tuscan city is undoubtedly one of the most interesting tourist centres in the region. With its 20,000 inhabitants, it has always been a tourist destination, thanks mainly to its thermal springs, which already in the 19th century attracted many people to the city, including several celebrities such as Giuseppe Verdi, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Giacomo Puccini and King Vittorio Emanuele II. The most famous personalities are today remembered by the “Walk of Fame” along the pavements of Viale Giuseppe Verdi.
But, if you follow us on this virtual tour, you will immediately realise that Montecatini Terme has all the cards in order to offer you a relaxing but also enjoyable holiday, in the name of culture, well-being and good food, whether you are just passing through or, better still, whether you decide to choose it as a base for visiting its splendid surroundings.
In fact, Montecatini is in a favourable position with respect to the great attractions of Tuscany: Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Versilia are no more than half an hour away, not to mention the wide choice of hotels at prices that are usually more convenient than in the big city.
But let’s proceed in order!
A bit of history
Montecatini’s history is closely linked to that of its thermal baths, which boast a centuries-old tradition. Just think that the first written records date back to a Lucca parchment dated as early as 1201. Over the following centuries, they continued to acquire a fair amount of fame, so much so that in 1773 the Bagno Regio, the town’s first spa, was built.
At this time, at the head of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany sat Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, a central figure in the history of the city. It was he, in fact, who wanted the land reclamation works in the Valdinievole area, fundamental for future urban development, as he allowed for its renovation at the end of the 18th century, with large, long avenues adorned with trees, which you can still admire today.
It became a prestigious spa resort at the beginning of the 20th century, with the birth of, among others, the Torretta and Excelsior establishments, a period in which large hotels and palaces were built, all strictly in Art Nouveau style.
A curiosity: in 1928, the town changed its name from Bagni di Montecatini to Montecatini Terme, and together with all the municipalities of the Valdinievole passed from the province of Lucca to that of Pistoia.
WHAT TO SEE IN MONTECATINI TERME, BY DAY AND BY NIGHT
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Our itinerary for you between thermal waters, shopping & nightlife
From Montecatini Terme to Montecatini Alta, connected by funicular railway and all to be visited on foot, you can relax in the thermal baths. These are complemented by the many clubs, restaurants and discos popular with young people, as well as shopping in the streets of the centre or attending the numerous events that take place throughout the year, especially at weekends. But don’t think that the city is just a place for wellness or entertainment, because it is also a beautiful place to visit, with important monuments and buildings, also suitable for children. And what about its food and wine specialities?
The itinerary we have prepared for you speaks volumes! We suggest you start from the town’s main square, Piazza del Popolo, not far from the Montecatini Centro railway station. From here begins Viale Verdi, the main tree-lined street of the city, along which you will find all the most important monuments and spas of Montecatini Terme. Then all you have to do is follow us for a nice walk.
1. The Parish Church of S. Maria Assunta
At the beginning of our itinerary, right in Piazza del Popolo, you can visit one of the most particular but at the same time representative monuments of Montecatini Terme, the church of Santa Maria Assunta, a basilica built at the end of the 1950s on the remains of an old neoclassical church from the 1800s, designed by architect Raffaello Fagnoni. On an octagonal plan, it has four chapels on either side of the presbytery. The building is decidedly imposing, with reinforced concrete structures, softened by travertine cladding. You will find the interior stained glass windows, created by the hand of painter Giorgio Scalco, particularly beautiful, but it is also worth admiring the sculpture “The Crucifix”, by Sauro Cavallini. The cross on top of the square-based bell tower is one of the highest points in the city.
2. The Thermal Park
The avenue leads to the Thermal Park, Montecatini’s green lung with its renowned gardens, among magnolias, maritime pines and many other tree species. It is close to all the main thermal establishments – the Stabilimento Tamerici is located directly inside it – and represents a further fine opportunity for recreation and relaxation. It is often chosen as a venue for sporting events and initiatives of various kinds, and for several years has hosted the “Father Christmas Town”, a popular initiative in the month of December. It is also home to Termeland, an amusement park completely dedicated to children.
The Montecatini thermal baths are fed by four springs located at a depth of 60 metres, from which spring as many thermal waters with different characteristics: Leopoldina, ideal for hydropinic cures as it purifies the gastrointestinal system; Regina, which aids the treatment of biliary dysfunctions and liver failure; Tettuccio, which purifies the liver and aids digestion; and Rinfresco, which aids diuresis and the elimination of waste.
3. The Tettuccio Spa
The spas in Montecatini are all very beautiful and of a high standard. However, one of them stands out for the majesty of its architecture, and that is the Tettuccio spa, known as “Bagno Nuovo” since the 14th century. It owes its name to a roof that covered the first spring. The splendid building you will find in front of you was designed by architect Gaspero Maria Paoletti between 1779 and 1781 and later renovated by Ugo Giovannozzi between 1916 and 1928, following the model of the Roman baths. Its monumental entrance, imposing colonnades and Carrara marble statues are remarkable.
4. The Leopoldine Spa, the Excelsior Spa and other spas
Named after the Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo, they are the second oldest in Montecatini, with a large pool surrounded by classical buildings. Instead, the equally beautiful Excelsior Thermal Baths date back to the early 20th century, a typical example of Art Nouveau scenery in the open air, where you can really immerse yourself in the atmosphere of those times, enriched by beautiful colonnades and frescoes that will surprise you. Here you can undergo inhalation therapies, crenotherapy and mud therapy, as well as fully enjoy the relaxation of the wellness centre. Another establishment, Terme Redi, is located in viale Alessandro Bicchierai, not far away.
5. The Municipal Palace and the MO.C.A.
Past the very first stretch of the avenue, you reach the Palazzina Regia (1783) commissioned by Pietro Leopoldo and the Palazzo Comunale, inside which you can visit the Montecatini Museum of Contemporary Art, the MO.C.A. (Montecatini Contemporary Art), inaugurated in 2012 as the first civic gallery in Montecatini, with works by world-famous authors such as Annigoni and Mirò. The palace, designed by architect Raffaello Brizzi and engineer Luigi Righetti, dates back to the early 20th century and is particularly rich in both interior and exterior decorations, realized by the same artistic hand that carried out not dissimilar works in some of the city’s luxury hotels and the casino. The salon on the piano nobile, with its cantilevered balcony, is particularly beautiful.
6. The Tamerici Pavilion
Built as a warehouse and for the salt trade of the company of the same name, the Padiglioncino Tamerici is an elegant Art Nouveau building, one of the most distinctive in the whole of Montecatini Terme. It stands along Viale Verdi, and behind it is a beautiful park, much of which is occupied by the New Verdi Theatre. Built by architect Giulio Bernardini, it is renowned for its bas-reliefs inspired by the art of ceramists, and for the decorations made by Galileo Chini, one of the protagonists of the Art Nouveau style in Italy, while the external cladding in stoneware panels was made by Domenico Trentacoste.
7. Funicular and Montecatini Alta
Now all you have to do is hop on the funicular railway to Montecatini Alta. The funicular station is located in Viale Diaz, just beyond the Museum of Contemporary Art. The lift was inaugurated on 4 June 1898, in the presence of the great maestro Giuseppe Verdi, and is therefore the second oldest in Italy, after the one in Naples, which dates back to 1880. Climbing aboard its little red trains will feel like taking a plunge into the past! At the end you will find yourself on a hill, at an altitude of 300 metres, and from this small village you will enjoy a splendid panorama of the entire valley. Don’t miss a visit to the church of 1746 dedicated to Saints Jacopo and Filippo, all in Baroque style, the convent with the annexed church of Santa Maria a Ripa, a 16th-century monastic building, and the church of San Pietro, originally the church of the Montecatini castle.
8. Maona Cave
On the other hand, if you decide to go up to Montecatini Alto by car or using public transport, right on the road you will find Grotta Maona, a thousand-year-old natural cave discovered in 1860 when a mine exploded in the quarry, and the only one to have two wells, one for entering the cavity, which is 20 metres deep and about 200 metres long, and one for ascending. Here, at a constant temperature of +15°C, you can admire a fairytale landscape, with cascades of stalactites and forests of stalagmites. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to meet its inhabitants, rare bats from a colony of 30, the symbol of this natural attraction.
OPENING HOURS: May to October. Monday to Thursday open by appointment. Friday, Saturday and Sunday open daily from 11 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
9. Piazza Giuseppe Giusti
The central square of Montecatini Alta is surrounded by small places with characteristic menus. In the evening, with the lights on, it is truly enchanting and special. The small centre can be reached by car, on foot by the small lanes that wind their way from Montecatini Terme, or by the funicular railway, which we told you about a few lines ago.
WHAT TO EAT, WHAT TO BUY AND WHAT TO DO IN MONTECATINI TERME
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All the food and wine specialities of this beautiful Tuscan resort
Once you have finished the tour we have suggested, all that remains for you to do is to choose what to taste first among the various food and wine specialities and typical products that you can find in the specialised shops in the town centre or in the town’s numerous restaurants.
We suggest you stop at one of the pastry shops or cafés in the centre and start with dessert, particularly the Cialda di Montecatini Terme, first handmade by Orlando Bargilli in 1936 and unique in its kind. You can also find a wide selection of traditional pastries in Montecatini, such as necci – sweet flour flatbreads -, brigidini, castagnaccio and confetti, the latter of which are also sold on market stalls on market days. The Briganduno di Lamporecchio, a crispy wafer of flour, sugar and eggs with an aniseed aftertaste, is also a must-try.
The wines of the Valdinievole, a wine-growing area under the “Chianti Putto” appellation, are all highly appreciated, especially the “Bianco della Valdinievole”, with its dry and aromatic flavour.
…right down to the salty!
The entire province of Pistoia is renowned for the production of ricotta cheese made with sheep’s milk, the one from Montecatini is very light and velvety, very tasty with sweet flour flatbreads but also as a condiment or second course. Don’t forget to taste and take home the “Olive Oil from the Montecatini Hills”, light and tasty.
A basket of local specialities
There are many typical products that come from the mountains and hills around Montecatini, such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, from which tasty jams, syrups but also alcoholic preparations and liqueurs, such as aromatised grappa, are made.
Or chestnuts, especially those from “Svizzera Pesciatina”, either boiled or boiled over an open fire as “frugiate” or turned into flour, the basic ingredient for the very tasty “neccio”.
The Valdinievole holds high the Tuscan tradition of cold cuts and meats: finocchiona, salted raw ham and Tuscan salami to be enjoyed as a snack with local bread. What can we say about the Florentine Chianina beef steaks on all the city’s menus, a true delicacy.
The shopping streets
In Montecatini, shopping rhymes with high fashion accessories of all the most important and renowned national and international brands. The hottest shopping areas are concentrated in Corso Matteotti, Viale Verdi, Viale 4 Novembre and Corso Roma, in the central part of the lower town. There is also no shortage of small shops selling postcards and souvenirs.
WHAT TO SEE AROUND MONTECATINI TERME
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The surroundings of the Valdinievole range from the hills to the mountains and there are many places to visit starting from Montecatini, such as the other spa town in the area, Monsummano Terme, and some villages of medieval origin, among which we recommend Pescia and Cutigliano. Our thermal city can then be an excellent base for visiting other cities such as Florence, Lucca, Pisa or even Versilia and the Chianti area.
- Taste food & wine from Pisa and surroundings
- Savour the local specialties of Florence & surroundings
- Explore Chianti with gusto!
Events not to be missed
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1. Christmas in Montecatini Terme, Father Christmas’ House and the Elves’ Village
Every year during the Christmas period at the Tettuccio Thermal Baths, the “Santa Claus Village” is set up, an event much appreciated by families who want their children to experience the magic of Christmas amid merry-go-rounds, magic shows, circus performances and various themed workshops.
Inside the Montecatini Minigolf, on the other hand, the “Elf Village” is set up, another enchanted place full of settings linked to Elves and Fairies, with magic shows and workshops.
2. Food and Wine Routes
The hills of the Valdinievole, renowned for the production of oil and wines, thanks to the Montalbano mountain range, offer various food and wine itineraries to be enjoyed at the weekend with visits to wineries and farms, with wine and oil tastings, combined with typical local products.
3. “Food&book”, festival of books and gastronomic culture
Every year in October, the “Food and book” festival is organised, featuring writers and famous chefs, with guided tours and illustrated by tastings at tasting tables and show cooking. Free admission, except for some workshops and dinners, it also includes spaces dedicated to children with creative and cooking workshops and invitations to read.
4. “Slow wine” – Wine tasting from the 500 best wineries
This tasting is held every year at the Terme Tettuccio and is one of the most important moments in the Italian ‘wine’ calendar with more than 500 wineries selected by the guide and over 1000 labels. It includes tasting sessions to learn about production methods and the morphology of the land of production.
HOW TO ARRIVE AND VISIT MONTECATINI TERME
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With regional trains both from Florence and from other Tuscan cities such as Pistoia and Lucca. If you arrive from outside the region, you can reach Florence by high-speed train and then take a regional train.
A11 Firenze – Mare motorway, exit Montecatini Terme.
At this point, now that you know what to see in and around Montecatini Terme, all that remains is to wish you a happy holiday in Tuscany! 😉
Cover photo: Unsplash, gulzada-bektemirova