I love Tuscany. Its colors, the cities and the little villages, the sea, the hills, the landscapes and, obviously, the food.
I admire the perseverance of the people to preserve recipes and habits from the wear of time. I appreciate a certain rough kindness that seems to me has the taste of genuine foods. At the end I love the respect of Tuscans towards the land where they live preserving the beauty.
I was invited to partecipate to a food blog tour in Tuscany. And I have had the opportunity to discover an area I never visited before.
Who wants to travel through again with me to discover the city of Prato and its surrounding area? But remember, I’m not a travel blogger. Through my travel notes I share the emotions I live when I eat where locals eat, what locals eat; learn traditionally habits, explore cities and countryside via foot; talk with local people; visit little farm or little company of artisans; taste traditional food. My travel mood is under the sign of the “slow-travel”. And what I tell on the blog concerns what I felt and tasted visiting places, meeting people and eating local food.
3 days in and around Prato
Just before the end of 2018, Vetrina Toscana and the local association of Prato-Pistoia Confcommercio (Italian General Confederation of Enterprises, Professions and Self-Employment) invited some food bloggers and influencers to discover Prato and the surrounding area. And I was among them!
Vetrina Toscana is a promotional project by the Tuscan Regional Government and Unioncamere. Vetrina Toscana works with small to medium regional enterprises in trade and agricultural, artisan and manufacturing production. The project aims to create a strong link between manufacturing and marketing companies and integrate businesses in the network with territorial cultural and artistic offers.
When you mention Prato in Italy, most people think to its textile companies so I was very and pleasantly surprise from the beautiful downtown, the green hills and the villages called borghi those are authentic gems in the landscape. I still found an area with an authentic farming vocation.
The surrounding of Prato is an authentic discovery of unexpected treasures.
The surrounding comprises Carmignano, Cantagallo, Montemurlo, Poggio a Caiano, Vaiano and Vernio. Prato and each one of these comunes contribute to create an amazing tour where you’ll find historic works of beauty, a prized cuisine and a beautiful scenery where there are typical Tuscany vineyards and mountains postcards on the Apennines.
I visited historical and beautiful places. I met extraordinary people and I tasted delicious local food. I decided to write three different blogposts, each one dedicated to places, people and typical products.
Something about Prato you need to know
Located in the valley crossed by the Bisenzio river, since Medioevo developed a mills system and the area is famous since the medieval age for its textile production and grain mills.
This area is also rich of farmhouses, little family companies and typical products.
And when today we speak of the local food excellences, have in mind, we’re speaking of old recipes and old artisanal traditions passed down from one generation to another.
There is another very important ingredient in order to know and understand Prato and its development. About 24 kilometers from the center of Florence -a 20-minute train trip-, historically Prato benefited from the proximity to Florence. And this one of the reason if today we find some important marks of the Medici family.
History, arts, nature and food. All elements those contribute to make amazing Prato and its Medieval Borghi.
Borgo, at the singular, has the same roots as borough in English. Today borgo reveals we’re speaking of a little and antique village
Prato, the places I visited
Medici Villas, Borghi, Arts, Nature
It offers significant historical attractions. I suggest to make a walk among its streets and squares. You can choose among many different museums but a visit to the Textile Museum is a must.
When you’re in the vicinity of via Garibaldi, have a break at the historic pastry shop Pasticceria Nuovo Mondo, where I strongly recommend waking up your senses tasting a traditional local sweet, the pesca di Prato, or the “Pratese peach”. It’s a delicious, little fancy cake created by expert hands of the Italian Cake Master, Mr. Paolo Sacchetti. Pratese peach, in Italian pesca, is not a fruit but a peach-shaped cake made with two-part brioches soaked in a special liqueur called Alchermes, filled with pastry cream and enhanced with a candied orange or citrus zest as garnish.
During the walk in the Prato’s downtown, for sure you have to visit its singular cathedral.
Otherwise known as the Duomo of Santo Stefano, is Prato’s main Roman Catholic church. There I loved the venerated relic of the Holy Belt of the Madonna (the Sacra Cintola), along with splendid frescoes by Filippo Lippi. Very impressive is also the green and white marble facade of the Duomo.
It has been first an important Etruscan settlement, then a medieval village enclosed by a turreted wall and lastly, the beloved land of the Medici family, chosen for the construction of one of their most important villas, Villa “La Ferdinanda”, otherwise known as Villa of the 100 Chimneys. You can enjoy the fortified walls that have protected the town since medieval times and the village Porta Turrita, one of the original gateways through the medieval walls and now a clocktower. Located on a green hill, from here what you see are only olives and vineyards. Just outside the hamlet walls, one monument of particular interest is the Church of San Leonardo, a perfect example of roman style church.
Tenuta Artimino and “La Ferdinanda” Medicea Villa
Tenuta Artimino is located in the heart of Tuscany countryside where overlooks Ombrone River’s Valley. Surrounded by 732 hectares, the farm of Tenuta di Artimino produces olive oil and wines since the 18th century. The Estate has adopted a sustainable approach to viticulture in the respect of the environment. It’s famous its Carmignano DOCG red wine.
Tenuta Artimino, an Unesco Heritage Site, belongs to the Olmo family since the eighties Tenuta includes the amazing “La Ferdinanda”, one of the Medicea Villas, the 4-Star Paggeria Medicea hotel, a luxury spa, little apartments in the village of Artimino, the farm, and the Biagio Pignatta restaurant.
“La Ferdinanda” Villa
Located among the hills and vineyards, in the front of Artimino’s hamlet, the Medici Villa “La Ferdinanda” was built in only four years between 1596 and 1600. As you can easily understand, it is also famous with the name of Villa of the the 100 Chimneys even if they are not really 100. But, at the same time, is quite remarkable that the Ferdinand I de’ Medici and his wife, Cristina di Lorena -Caterina de’ Medici niece- thought to the wellness of their guests in a age where a big villa was a really cold place. But the Grand Duke built a family home dedicated to the to the “otium” and the pleasure.
In the villa all is worthy of attention: the garden, the Paradisi Loggia, the private chapel, the noble floor, the Gran Duke’s and the Gran Duchess’s apartments, the antique cellar and the Gran Duke’s kitchen where you can admire Leonardo Da Vinci’s genius who invented the first spit roast chimney mechanism.
Today Villa is available for private events like weddings and meetings, anyway is open for private visit. Ask for info: HERE
Food experiences you can do at the Medicea Villa “La Ferdinanda”
You can choose among different options.
For instance one of the wine experiences; cooking class, or a taste in the front of the big and magnificent Leonardo’s chimney. I have had this experience and, believe me, it’s simple wow. Our hosts arranged for us an estate’s wine tasting with local cheese, charcuteries and honey. This is a great experience, highly recommended to those with a passion for wines, food as well as for historical places.
During the warm season, you can also make a long walk around the wood that surrounds the estate, ending the walk with a picnic at open air, or go for truffles with a tartufaio (a professional truffle hunter).
Where to sleep: Paggeria Medicea Hotel
The hotel is a charming structure with swimming pool, garden and tennis court.
It’s a historical building from the early seventeenth century with a rectangular architectural plan surrounded by the peace of the Tuscany countryside.
I loved my Executive Room and the breakfast buffet.
Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano
From the hills of Poggio Caiano that give the town its name (poggio means knoll while Caiano indicates the name of the Roman family “Caius” or “Caia”), there’s a fine view over the plain of the rivers Ombrone and Bisenzio toward Prato to the north and Florence to the east, and over the lowlands leading to Pistoia and the Appenine mountains.
Poggio a Caiano is home to the famous Medici villa called also Ambra, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s certainly one of the most interesting building projects of the early Renaissance; it was built in the 1445 by the express wishes of Lorenzo the Magnificent who chose Giuliano da Sangallo (1445-1516) to carry out the plan. At the moment of Lorenzo’s death (1492), the villa was still incomplete and it wasn’t until 1512 that construction began again ending in the 1520.
The Villa’s gardens are also worth a visit, where you can admire rare plant species.
It was a summer residence for the Florentine family and the site of important family events including weddings as well as unpleasant incidents, such as the death of the same Lorenzo Il Magnifico and his wife Bianca Cappello.
When the Medici family ended, the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano was passed first on to the Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty then to the Savoia family. Now is a property of the Italian State.
Today, it hosts two museums: one dedicated to the historic apartments and the Museum of Still-Life.
On the second floor, the Museum contains still-life paintings from the Medici collections. An unique and amazing opportunity to look what Medici loved to eat and at the Medici banquet table.
Do you want to visit the villa? Look HERE