Pistoia is a very pretty town you can visit in half a day. It is often off the beaten path, because travelers focus on the most known cities in Tuscany such as Florence, Siena or Pisa. If you are in Florence (read my suggested Florence itinerary for couples) and you are visiting the city on foot my suggestion is to reach Pistoia by train. Trenitalia is the regional line. The train departs from Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The one way ticket costs € 5. The train takes about 30 minutes to get to Pistoia.
TIP: This travel itinerary is ideal for those who want to enjoy the wide open spaces without giving up the culture. After visiting Pistoia, spend the rest of the day discovering two lovely medieval villages: Montevettolini and Serravalle.
The historic center of Pistoia is not accessible to traffic, and I must say that this is great, because you can really enjoy the town.
Start your walk from the large and bright square in Pistoia where there are the Cathedral of San Zeno, the Bell Tower, the Baptistery, the Town Hall and the Court.
NOTE: When I went to Pistoia it was Saturday and there was a market in the square. I prefer it when it is empty. You can appreciate it more.
The Cathedral of San Zeno was built around the X century. It was destroyed by fires and then was renewed around the XII century. On the facade there are the statues of the two patron saints of Pistoia: San Zeno and San Jacopo. It seems that the bishop Zeno got to the city of Pistoia an important relic of San Jacopo from Santiago de Compostela.
Inside the Cathedral you will find one of the most beautiful piece of artwork: the silver altar of San Jacopo (also the famous Italian artist Filippo Brunelleschi worked on it between 1287 and 1456) and a crypt. Under the presbytery there are the remains of the original church and a stunning Roman villa.
The Bell Tower is next to the Cathedral. It was rebuilt several times, due to earthquakes, and reaches a height of about 67 meters. You can visit it. The cost of the adult ticket is €6, children from 6 to 13 years pay €3.20, free admission under 6 years old.On the right of the Cathedral you will see a unique brick building. It is the Palace of the Bishops (Palazzo dei Vescovi). Here, on the ground floor, there is the Office of Tourism of Pistoia (APT). In front of the Cathedral there is the ancient Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte, dating from the XIV century, which has a typical Romanesque architecture. It has a marble facade.
From the square head to Ospedale del Ceppo, in Piazza Papa Giovanni XIII, just a 10-minute by foot. This hospital was built in the XIII century and witnessed the outbreak of the Black Death that struck Pistoia in 1349. On the top of the hospital there are beautiful glazed earthenwares made by the brothers Della Robbia.
CURIOSITY: The legend tells that in one of the heads is hidden the formula used by the brothers to produce this particular ceramic, which has the advantage of keeping its color unchanged over the years. This is still a mistery!
Unfortunately you cannot visit it inside without booking a guided tour called “Pistoia Underground“. The ticket office is inside the hospital. The tour lasts about 1 hour. 650 meters underground to discover the hidden part of Pistoia. You will be strucked by the presence of ancient mills, and bridges, medieval washhouses and the old entrance of Pistoia. There is also the smallest amphitheatre in the world. The ticket is €9 (all the tour begin at 10.30am until 18.00pm)
It is time to have lunch. In Piazza della Sala and among the narrow streets of Pistoia, you will find many restaurants, wine bar, to taste the local Tuscan food.
This is a tourist part of Pistoia. I had lunch at La Bottegaia and the food was good. I also suggest to eat an icecream at Gelateria Voronoi and to taste pistache flavour!
If you are in Tuscany, don’t miss Pistoia and the medieval villages, especially if you are a curious traveler with a deep love for mistery and history 😉