One hour from: Florence
The glory of Leonardo's legacy in rolling Tuscan hills
Sunday 03 February 2002
With spectacular views over Florence, this sleepy hillside town is a welcome fresh-air retreat from the frantic city. With its Etruscan, Roman and Renaissance past there are plenty of remains to see, including a fine Duomo, an impressive 3,000-seat Roman theatre and an excellent archaeological museum.
By car: follow signs from Piazza del Liberta along the viale (ring road); journey time about 20 mins.
By bus: no 7 from the main train station or Piazza del Liberta; journey time about 30 mins.
Pistoia is packed with Gothic and Romanesque buildings within its 14th-century walls, such as the colonnaded Duomo and the unusual white and green marble Battistero (baptistry). Have tea and visit the gallery at the Valiani Caffe Pasticceria, where regulars have included Rossini, Verdi and Puccini. If time allows, drive north to the village of Castagno di Pitecchio at the foot of the Apennine mountains for traditional food at Il Castagno di Pier Angelo.
By car: take the A11 and follow signs; journey time about 45 mins. By train: frequent service on the Florence-Lucca line; journey time about 35 mins.
First popular as a health resort in the late 18th century, Montecatini Terme is once again in vogue for spa breaks. Amid the spas are grand green parks teeming with trendy Tuscans on awaydays from Florence. Hop on the funicular railway up to Montecatini Alto for a peaceful drink.
By car: take A11 and follow signs; journey time about 1 hour. By train: frequent service on the Florence-Lucca line; journey time about 50 mins.
This peaceful market town on the confluence of the Arno and Pesa is ceramic central, having produced pottery since medieval days. Pottery shops abound and there is a colourful selection to choose from. No trip is complete without visiting the Museo Archeologico e della Ceramica, dedicated to pottery from prehistoric days.
By car: take route 67 and follow signs; journey time about 40 mins. By train: frequent service on the Florence-Pisa line; journey time about 30 mins.
The famous Renaissance man himself was born here – well, allegedly, in the nearby village of Anchiano. At the Casa di Leonardo you are invited to look round the birthplace of the artistic bastard son of a Florentine solicitor. In town, the Museo Leonardiano has an amazing set of models based on his futuristic designs.
By car: take route 67 and follow signs near Empoli; journey time about 1 hour.
Playing second fiddle to big sister Florence, the much overlooked Prato is the textile capital of Tuscany and a great place to shop. Don't miss the striking pink brick Duomo with its unusual canopied pulpit and the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, which has works by Donatello and Uccello. Italy's leading gallery of contemporary art, the Museo d'Arte Contemporaneo Luigi Pecci, on the outskirts of town is well worth a look.
By car: take the A11 and follow signs; journey time about 35 mins. By train: frequent service on the Florence-Lucca line; journey time about 25 mins.
Magic of Italy (020 8241 5135; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) offers two nights at the four-star Grand Hotel Adriatico from £385 per person, including return flights and b&b. Europcar (0870 607 5000; www.europcar.co.uk) offers three-day weekend car hire in Florence from £54.50.
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