Does this sound controversial to you? “Why?”, your friends will ask you, it’s just the leaning tower in Pisa and even if it’s a ‘must see’ monument, it's hardly worth more than a short visit ‘been there, done that’ cross it of your list sort of thing. And of course your friends are correct.
But I have a different proposition for you. Because, for the same reason, the hotels are a tick and sometimes a double tick cheaper than anywhere else in Tuscany. Pisa, and forget about the tower for a minute, is in an excellent location to go exploring whether you travel by car or by train, with excellent connections, up or down the coast or inland. Pick a hotel close to the station, or one with safe parking facilities and away you go.
Our first excursion goes north of Pisa
First visit is up the coast. In the summer months the sea resort cities like Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio are jampacked with the bucket and spade brigade, but I advise you to get off at Pietrasanta and Massa Carrara. The train takes about 30 minutes, treat yourself to a first class ticket, its not that expensive. The next trip we will publish will go to Forte dei Marmi en Lucca, so visit again soon.
Pietrasanta a real artists town
Pietrasanta is a gorgeous artists village, sculptors have been flocking here since way before Michelangelo and the town is a living museum. Artists have left the fruit of their inspiration in every available spot it seems. Their marble works of art became the municipality’s heritage and still new ones are added whenever an artist needs to space up his workshop. It's a delightful place where the locals don't seem too bothered by the more than occasional tourist in the high season. If you want to have a clear view of the sea, I suggest you take a walk up into the hills to visit the monument of Sant'Anna di Stazzema - Museo e Parco Nazionale della Pace, which is a 3 hour walk but well worth it because of the views.
Pietrasanta is located on the coast we call Versilia and is made up of two parts: Marina di Pietrasanta, the seaside resort, and the old town centre of Pietrasanta itself. The Marina is the part that extends inland to about halfway across the plain towards the village of Pietrasanta, south towards the seaside resort of Camaiore and, of course, north towards Forte dei Marmi. The old town centre is compact and consists of 5 or 6 pretty pedestrian streets and a few squares, bordered to the east by the foothills of the Apennines which lead to ancient mountain villages such as Cappezano Monte.
Pietrasanta is actually the only one of the three seaside resorts to have preserved its beautiful old town centre. Until about 30 years ago it was the centre of marble workshops, and its narrow streets were once home to the studios of many famous sculptors, such as the Colombian Fernando Botero, Chagall, Balla, Chromi, Christo, Morandi, Chia and Soldati. In the last 20 years, however, Pietrasanta has changed a lot. The authentic studios and workshops have given way to modern art galleries, quirky design boutiques and popular cafes and restaurants.
Sculptors from all over the world
Sculptors have moved to cheaper locations on the outskirts of the town and now work exclusively in the various workshops open to artists from all over the world. A sculptor from London told me that nowhere else in the world was she motivated to work on her sculptures, surrounded by her contemporaries and gaining experience from working with colleagues. Of course, these studios, the proximity to the Massa marble quarries and the technical guidance provide an environment that she does not have in London.
Under the influence of artists and their entourage, life in Pietrasanta has developed into a bohemian and individualistically chic style that can only be found in a few places in Europe; I'm thinking of Lecce in southern Italy, for example, Ibiza or Essaouira in Morocco.
In the bars Bentleys mix with dusty workhorses
The various cafes each have their own crowd, but the most famous is undoubtedly Bar Michelangelo (it is rumoured that Michelangelo himself boarded here during his time in Pietrasanta), where the culturally inspired crowd mixes with the labourers of the marble workshops. Labourers, by the way, is not a misnomer; anyone working on a sculpture for Damien Hirst may be a true craftsman, but they only take home a mere 2,500 euros a month, while the sculpture may sell for millions.Bar Michelangelo, Piazza Duomo, 23, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - Simply the best spot in Pietrasanta, perfect to enjoy an evening Negroni. The situation allows a first hand view of the talented buskers and all the evening activities on the square. The efficient and friendly staff are a cut above and the bar prices very reasonable. What a gem in this gorgeous art village.
But this is the Italy where pride in craftsmanship is still more important than the price paid for it, and that is the sad irony of this country. Artists of Pietrasanta live harmoniously with Bentleys owners who drive back and forth to Versilia's most luxurious hotels, such as the famous Albergo Pietrasanta. Or the Russian nouveaux riche who populate the terraces of the Enoteca Marcucci in Via Garibaldi.Albergo Pietrasanta, Via G. Garibaldi, 35, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - Prijzen en reserverenRistorante Enoteca Marcucci, Via G. Garibaldi, 40, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - http://www.enotecamarcucci.it/
An amazing cathedral and a free museum
Enjoy an aperitivo on one of the terraces in the beautiful Piazza Duomo, decorated with modern sculptures in bronze and marble and overlooking the ancient Chiesa San Martino, the illuminated ancient walls and the Museo Bozetti. After a while, you will start to notice who is visiting from Forte dei Marmi and who actually lives in Pietrasanta. But the visitors remain discreet, fitting in well with the town's atmosphere, especially in September when mass tourism disappears.Duomo San Martino, Piazza Duomo, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - https://www.duomodipietrasanta.org/il-duomo-di-san-martino/
Pietrasanta is a small town, and this is a surprisingly interesting cathedral particularly for it's opulent interior that reflects the area's history and for the unfinished but intriguing bell tower. Venture into the dark interior of the cathedral and the further you walk, the light brightens, the rose window is revealed, and suddenly you recognize the enormous amount of detail in this out-of-the-way site. The Duomo is a site on the Via Francigena. While here, go around the corner to visit the jewel of a baptistry also.Museo Bozetti, Via Sant' Agostino, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - http://www.museodeibozzetti.it/it/hom-
As in behind-the-scenes of films, each piece on display in this amazing museum reveals afterwards what was before the creation of a sculpture, allowing us to imagine the study, the sketch and the inspiration of the artist. The works are displayed in an almost random order and welcome you into a still, yet soul-rich environment. The museum is free to visit, but be aware of the opening times to avoid dissapointment.
Avoid the tourist menu's on the Piazza del Duomo
The restaurants in the centre will offer a Tourist Menu during the summer, my advice is to avoid those places and best wander around the backstreets towards the hills behind the Piazza del Duomo. There are a few trattoria’s adhering to the slow food tradition and well worth your money for a good meal and a proper glass of wine. In the winter it would be a different story.Osteria Stappasogni, Via XX Settembre, 10, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - https://www.stappasogni.it/When resourcefulness knows its goals, great projects are born. Luca Giannini, 30 years old, starts from the base to climb higher and higher: from waiter to director of the well-known Enoteca Marcucci. Ambition then pushes him to open his format in Pietrasanta, the Osteria Stappasogni, precisely in the reality that allowed his entrepreneurial evolution.Bisteccheria de Il Vaticano, Via del Marzocco, 132, 55045 Pietrasanta LU - http://www.bisteccheriavaticano.it/ If you are looking for a proper Florentine steak, this is the place for you, point. However they don’t have other plates to offer, so if you are looking for diversity this is not the place for you. It is however a paradise for carnivores.
Off to the beach in Marina di Pietrasanta
Marina di Pietrasanta is the more family-friendly extension of Camaiore or Forte. During the summer families visit the small fairground near the promenade, which includes a carousel and bumper cars. Behind the fairground you can take a leisurely stroll in the beautiful Parco La Versiliana, 80 hectares of wooded parkland with many walking trails and it is a wonderful retreat during the summer months for those looking to escape the hottest hours of the day or for an evening stroll after dinner.
Visit the marble quarries of Carrara
If you are up to it, you can also walk your way to the next destination, about 5 hours on foot, through some hillside villages, the town of Massa towards the village of Carrara. This is where all this beautiful white marble comes from. Your end destination is Colonnata and the Museo Frantiscritti, supposedly the marble quarries where Michelangelo came to choose his favourite pieces.
Obviously there are plenty of tours up to the quarries, so if walking is not an option, take a tour. There are tours starting at 15 Euros but don't expect a lot from this as it just takes you to the quarry and that's it. I think the Museo Frantiscritti is an interesting option. Some tours offer visits to sculpture’s studios, where you can see the artist at work. They usually work on commission from countries or cities around the world to make a sculpture out of the famous white Carrara marble designated to be placed in an important spot.