This charming city makes a good daytrip from Siena or stop-over between Florence and Siena. Colle di Val d’Elsa is mostly known for its crystal glass production, but it also offers great views of Tuscany, a medieval atmosphere, nice restaurants and a beautiful Duomo.
We went on the first Sunday of June, which turned out to be our luck, as this is the day for the monthly market and glass making show. Due to these other activities and because the weather was fantastic, we did not visit any of the museums... although we did see the from the outside the tower house belonging Colle's illustrious citizen, architect and sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio.
The city has two parts: the old historical center on the top of the hill and the newer part below. If you arrive by car, there is ample parking right below the higher part (historical center). Follow signs to Volterra, the road will take you up several curves right below the old part of town and you'll see the parking lot. If you're heading to Volterra, you will keep going up and as you leave the historical part of town, see the last block of the remaining fortress walls and gate with moat that used to surround and protect the town. If you're on foot, try to walk through the entire town to see it.
If you arrive by bus (it is just 30 minutes from Siena), you will start in the lower part around Piazza Arnolfo de Cambio, where you will see the beautiful modern fountain. If you visit the city the first Sunday of the month, this is also where the market takes place. The market offers a variety of things such as pets, vacuum cleaners, local cheeses, sausages, glass products, plants, clothes, etc.
Besides the Crystal Museum (see further below), there is not much to see in the lower part of the city. Walk up the street Guiseppe Garibaldi, where you will find restaurants and shops, turn right and then right again and enter the stone tunnel that leads to the public lift which takes you to the historical center. The tunnel is beautiful in itself and if you are visiting during the hot summer, it will cool you down as you read about the city on the wall posters while walking towards the public lift. The lift will take you to a terrace where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the lower part of the city, the Tuscan hills and countryside. From here walk around the historical center, visit the Duomo and enjoy the medieval atmosphere.
You can also visit the Archeological Museum and the Civic and Diocesan Museum, both located in the historical center at Via del Castello. The first contains finds from the upper Elsa valley, the latter important art from the area. Opening hours are: May to September: Tuesday to Sunday 10.30-12.30 and 16.30-19.30. October to April: Tuesday to Friday 15.30-17.30, weekends and holidays 10.30-12.30 and 15.30-18.30. Entrance is EUR 3 for each museum.
There are a few restaurants in the historical center. We had lunch at Osteria Sapia at Via del Castello 14. The setting is perfect. We sat on the outdoor terrace with a great view, and plenty of space for children to play around if you happen to travel with little ones. There are a few dishes on the menu, around four of each course, but the dishes were good. Of particular note was the cheesecake available in a number of flavors.
For more information about what to see and do in Colle di Val d’Elsa and the surroundings, there is a very well equipped tourist information office just opposite the Duomo.
Crystal Glass Production and exhibition
Colle di Val d’Elsa accounts for 95 % of Italian crystal glass production and 14 % of production worldwide. The first Sunday of every month you can see how some of this is produced in an open-air demonstration. We saw the engraving of wine glasses and how a fish, a swan a snail and a horse were made out of molten glass – very impressive! The show takes place in the historical center at Via della Misericordia (close to the Duomo) at 3pm. When we visited, it started around 3.30 and it will last some hours so don’t worry if you arrive late (and you do not have to stay for the whole show).
The Crystal Glass Museum is located in the lower part of the city at Via Fossi 8. In the museum you will see a collection of handmade crystal glass from medieval times to the XX century as well as manufacturing techniques. Opening hours are: Easter to October: Tuesday to Sunday 10-12 and 16-19.30. November to Easter: Tuesday to Friday 15-19, weekends and holidays 10-12 and 15-19. Entrance is EUR 3.
All in all we recommend a visit to Colle di Val d’Elsa if you are in Siena for some time and want to see a smaller less crowded medieval city or if you are looking for a place to make a stop between Florence and Siena.