Toward Montecatini Alto, from the thermal baths to the castle
Have you just completed the tour of the sumptuous spas of Montecatini Terme? Well, now it’s time to reach Montecatini Alto, the real historic center of Montecatini which is located on a hill at an altitude of 260 meters above sea level. Between the two Montecatini the distance is short and in fact Montecatini Alto is clearly visible from the center downstream. To reach it you can choose the car and use the parking area located just outside the walls, the historic funicular that connects Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto, or La Corta, a beautiful hilly path surrounded by trees that climbs up to the village. Once you get to the top of the hill you can admire a beautiful and wide view of the Valdinievole.
History of Montecatini Alto
The history of Montecatini Alto has its roots in the Middle Ages. The center is documented as a castle already before the year 1000 and in the thirteenth century it established itself as a free municipality. The therapeutic properties of the thermal waters of Montecatini were known since ancient times but the downstream area was swampy and unhealthy so, to see the birth of the first thermal establishments, it was necessary to wait for the reclamation carried out by the Grand Duke Leopoldo. Since then the importance of Montecatini Alto gradually diminished while the center of Montecatini Terme achieved international fame. It is no coincidence that in 1940 Montecatini Alto became a fraction of Montecatini Terme.
One of the main attractions of Montecatini is its delightful funicular that connects the medieval village and Montecatini Terme. Built between 1897 and 1898, the Montecatini funicular connects the spa area with the city upstream thanks to two red trains, called “Gigio” and “Gigia”, reminiscent of nineteenth-century train carriages. Although over the years there have been numerous technical evolutions and updates, the two trains have kept their original appearance. The journey takes about 8 and a half minutes, on a course of just over a kilometer with an average gradient of 20%.
The funicular tends to be active in spring and summer, but for certainty I recommend that you check the timetables on the official website.
Things to do in Montecatini Alto: tourist guide
The ancient village of Montecatini was endowed with a solid circle of walls, two kilometers long, with eight access gates. Very little remains of those walls since they were destroyed by the Florentines in 1554 and of all its gates only the Porta di Borgo remains. Perfect for a relaxing stroll, the historic center of Montecatini has an undeniable charm. The village is nestled along the top of two hills with the Rocca di Castello Vecchio, the Church of San Pietro and the Bell Tower on one side and the Clock Tower with the Carmine Church on the other.
- Monastero di Santa Maria a Ripa
- Chiesa di San Pietro
- Piazza Giusti
- Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo
- Torre dell’Orologio
Monastero di Santa Maria a Ripa
The Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria a Ripa is located near the Porta di Borgo. The convent, still inhabited by a small group of nuns, dates back to the 16th century while the church is probably from the Middle Ages.
Rocca di Montecatini
Located on the north hill of the village and surrounded by green trees, the fortress is one of the main attractions of Montecatini Alto. The structure is well preserved even if not intact. Of the complex remains a wall enclosure and a square-based tower. From the fortress you can look out to enjoy a great view of the valley below.
Chiesa di San Pietro
Initially dedicated to San Michele, this was the church of the Montecatini castle. Raised to the status of a parish in the 12th century, the church was completely rebuilt and dedicated to St. Peter. The Church of San Pietro as we can admire it today, is instead the result of the renovation that took place in the seventeenth century which gave it the current Baroque forms, which are particularly evident inside. On the other hand, the imposing bell tower that precedes the façade remains clearly visible from the medieval church of the past. Inside there are some valuable works such as the Ascension of Christ by Santi di Tito, the Martyrdom of Santa Barbara by Jacopo Ligozzi and the Assumption of the Virgin by Carlo Maratta.
Also on the north hill, the beautiful Piazza Giusti is the main one in the historic center. Here there are some historic buildings such as the Tower of Ugolino, the Teatro dei Risorti, the Chapel of the Piazza and the Palazzo del Podestà as well as numerous bars and restaurants where you can eat and drink good wine.
Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo
With the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo, we pass to the south hill of Montecatini Alto. Also known as Chiesa del Carmine, the church was built in 1764 in place of a previous Romanesque building. The interior, with one nave, preserves interesting pictorial works at the altars and some statues of saints in terracotta.
Located right in front of the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo, the Torre dei Lemmi (or Torre dell’Orologio) is the only surviving element of the southern fortifications. Looking at its facade you can see a very particular clock characterized by 6 Roman numerals instead of the 12 we are used to. It is a rare example of an Italian clock in which the time is divided into 6 hours repeated 4 times. This system was devised by the church in the thirteenth century and remained in force until the Napoleonic era. There are not many watches of this type still in existence, in Tuscany there are just 25.
Places to visit around Montecatini Alto
In addition to the aforementioned Montecatini Terme, in the surroundings of Montecatini Alto there are several interesting places to visit; among these I suggest Pistoia, Pescia, Buggiano, Serravalle Pistoiese and Monsummano Terme, the other spa town in the area.
How to get to Montecatini Alto
To reach Montecatini Alto you must first arrive in Montecatini Terme. From there you can choose between the car, the funicular and the buses that leave from the Montecatini Terme train station.
By train: Montecatini is easily reachable by regional trains both from Florence and from other Tuscan cities such as Pistoia and Lucca. If you come from outside the region, for example from Rome, you can reach Florence by high-speed train and then take a regional train.
By car: to reach the city by car, take the A11 Firenze – Mare motorway to the Montecatini Terme exit.