At the top of a hill in a small little Tuscan town there sits a wonderful piece of history and culture. You could pass by this town and its hilltop castle without another thought, but that’s the beauty of Tuscany. The heritage and magic of the region lies in each of its small medieval towns. While the big cities provide the draw of tourists every year the small towns sitting off the beaten path provide little gems of the past just waiting to be discovered.
Small Tuscan towns are the real gems of this region of the country.
Certaldo (CHAIR-tall-dough) and its hilltop town Certaldo Alto are no exception to the small village charm. Whether you find yourself driving into the city from the highway or getting off the train, the most prominent feature in the city immediately draws your eyes. Upward. There’s a castle on the top of the highest place for miles around. That castle used to be a closed town all on its own served by a natural spring and the surrounding hills. Today it’s a thriving hotspot for tourists and locals to shop, eat, drink, and take in some history.
Looking down the main road, Via Boccaccio, in Certaldo Alto.
At the end of a famous street made of cobble stones and flanked by brick buildings is an unassuming church. It’s this church and attached villa that will draw you back to the 13th century in Italy. At around that time the BLAH family created their estate and began to establish a presence in Certaldo.
Palazzo Pretorio, the famous villa and entrance to the museum.
One of the best parts about the museum is that the admission price is low and includes quite a lot to take in for a day trip. A visitor can expect to see the Palazzo Pretorio, the church, house Boccaccio, and the local museum of sacred art. Each area is well cared for and filled with exhibits to take in. There are art frescoes painted on walls and artifacts that date all the way back to the first habitation of the area.The highlight of the tour? Climbing the 60 or-so steps to the roof top and bell tower of the building. This offers the best views of the town and surrounding hills.
The view from the top of the bell tower.
The tour starts in the estate where visitors are allowed to roam freely throughout the courtyard, estate, and church. The house may seem small from the outside, but as you walk around you’ll begin to realize that this was a house built for a noble. The rooms are large and airy with plenty of room to host guests for grand functions. Each room is filled with large windows to allow for the best light and let in the warm summer breeze.
Many of the walls around the property are painted and decorated.
Walking around the house takes an eerie turn as you learn of the cellar and prison. Apparently having an estate at the top of the hill grants you a few enemies! At the end of a hall in the back of the house is a room dubbed ‘The Circular Room’. It’s in this place with one small window where unfortunate prisoners were kept for days, months, or even years at a time.
An eerie hallway leading down to the cellar and the prison.
After the prison and cellar, however, your time through the museum takes a lighter turn. Adjacent to the house is a courtyard leading to the back wall of the town as well as the church. You may feel like a castle guard as you walk among the crenelations, but the views will take your breath away.
Next, make your way towards the church where you can find a number of beautiful paintings. The room is simple and humble with mostly bare walls and exposed ceiling beams, but that’s also its charm. You can imagine a village gathering in such a place and coming together for strength and support. The history and essence of this simple building makes it no less amazing to learn about than some of the most grand cathedrals on the continent.
There is more to see and do beyond the villa and church. The ticket comes paired with access to two more museums where you’ll learn about the famous Boccaccio and relics of sacred art. The tour will have you wandering the old streets past the wonderful smells of Italian cooking. Be sure to try a glass of wine famously known in the region or maybe grab a coffee and a treat.
The museum in Certaldo Alto is well worth the investment of time and money. The town is easily accessed by road and train for a great day or weekend trip. As a bonus, the road leading out behind the castle leads to a wonderful park filled with classic Tuscan themes. You’ll find rolling hills, long walkways, and the iconic cypress trees. Take your time learning about the town and take even more time soaking in the magic of Italy.
If you would like to know more about the museums and area of Certaldo, take a look at their local website.