Just a short distance from Montecatini Terme, at only 290 meters above sea level, you will find the true historic center for which the spas are named after. As you look up, you will see the skyline of Montecantini Alto, a sweet little medieval hamlet with special nooks and cranies just waiting for you to discover their secreets.
If the weather is beautiful, you may just find a bit of difficulty to park the car in the city center because this is a place that doesn’t only attract visitors from beyond the borders of Italy but it is also a place where the locals come to admire the magnificent view of Valdinievole.
In those types of days, park the car at the base of the hill and take the antique trail that winds its way up the hillside called “la Costa”, where you can breath the brisk fresh air and watch as the vistas slowly open up before you.
Set on two hills, Montecatini Alto, sits proud and invites you to explore. On one side you will find the Rocca di Castello Vecchio, the Church of St. Peter (the original church of Montecatini) and the Tower of Campanaria. Instead, on the opposite hill you will find the Torre dell’Orologio and the Church of the Carmine in a distinct Baroque style.
The Montecatini, which is now famous all over the world for its thermal waters and quality spas came about in a second moment, hundreds of years after its romanesque beginnings and a humble medieval castle. The nearby waters in the surround swamp lands were already well noted for their healing characteristics which then helped the area to grow its reputation for well being and beauty care.
The spas around the thermal water slowly grew and built up to create what is now known as Montecatini Terme. At one time the city boasted eight city doors, however today only of these doors still remains: Porta di Borgo together with the Benedictine Monastery of S. Maria a Ripa.
To wander around Montecatini Alto translates into a sensory pleasure for both the eyes as well as the palate. The main sqaure, in fact, is rich with restaurants and little place where you can taste a good wine while dining on dishes made with traditional Tuscan recipes. This is just the place that lends itself to a brisk winter afternoon for a comfortable environment and a deliciously warm cup of hot chocolate (like I have done so many times!)
The main building of the Theater of the Risorti has a floor in stone which has been decorated with stone accents in a distinct Liberty style, rich with stems and antique accents. Fore those who follow Italian opera, this is the very same theater where Guido Riccioli had his debut.
Strolling from one hill to another you will be able to investigate the Tower, the Rocca and the Church. As you walk around, you can inhale the atmosphere of a time long gone by. I encourage you to lose yourself just a bit in the small “vie” and roads that criss cross within the city walls, lined with little shops which bring the center to life. You will see the house of the Italian poet Giuseppe Giusti and Ser Ugolino Caccini (noted as the first person to actually recommend the waters for their healing qualities.) Take the time to appreciate the architecture with the borgo, enjoy the panorama from these heights and sky not to miss not even only little glimpse of the surrounding hillside.
If you prefer, starting the week before Easter till the 31 of October, you can take a cable car to the top of the hill. It was inaugurated in 1898 and connects the historic part of the town (the Station Monte) to the thermal waters before (the Station Valle). There are two cable cars called, Gigio and Gigia, which will carry you back and forth in just 8 minutes. Pulled up by a steel cable, these carts even once carried the great composer Giuseppe Verde to the very top so that he could enjoy the quiet environment and spend a little bit of free time with his friends in the little piazzas that characterize the center.
If you are particularly interested in stalactites and stalagmites I would point out that along the road between Montecatini Alto and Montecatini Terme you will find Grotta Maona (the Maona Cave) and with a brief stop of approximately 20 minute together with an expert guide, you can visit the interior of the cave from April to October.
This is an active little town and there are many events throughout the year which give life to the borgo. Sagras, food festivals, markets for handcrafts and artist, dinner, parties and exhibitions. The Palio dei Quartieri and the Disfida dei Castelli della Valdinievole are held in June. In the Palio there are 4 “contrade” or competing sections of the city which challenge each other in a show of bravura in Archery: Carmine, San Pietro, Porta di Borgo, Rione Casina Rossa and more recently they have added a 5th, called Il Poggetto.
The second big event in June, the Disfida, it is another competition with bows and arrows which symbolically represent the conquistion of the Castello di Montecatini. In the true medieval style there is a parade in dress of the ages, flag bearers and a show as well as classical medieval musicians who preform all throughout the city.
There is always a good reason to stop and visit Montecatini Alto, even if it is just to appreciate the unique and beautiful landscapes of the Valdinievole in the province of Pistoia. .