The Tuscan hamlet of Certaldo

There’s a place in Tuscany, halfway between Florence and Siena, that offers an enchanting medieval atmosphere and provides a refreshing escape from the tourist crowds filling the most popular attractions nearby. This is Certaldo, the birthplace of one of the most significant figures in Italian literature and home to a centuries-old onion.

On a recent trip to Pisa I decided to make a little detour to explore Certaldo, a little town close to San Gimignano, surrounded by splendid rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves of Valdelsa. This place is mostly famous for being the birthplace of the XIV-century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio and producing a special variety of red onion that the Slow Food Foundation has decided to preserve with a presidium.

Travelling in low season means having few tourists around, but in Certaldo this means having the entire place to yourself. No joking. The tiny (like really tiny) historic center, Certaldo Alto, is perched on a hill above the more modern part of the town, Certaldo Basso, and can be reached by catching the funicular near the train station.

The perfectly preserved old town is surrounded by thick defensive walls and, unlike most Italian villages, it has no main square due to the shape of the hill where it was built. There’s instead a long street, named Via Boccaccio, which serves as public meeting place and hosts all the key sights.

You won’t need much time to get around Certaldo Alto, but I’m sure that its many pretty corners and alleys will literally make you stand in awe.

Here’s what you’ll see:

Boccaccio’s House

This is the house where Boccaccio spent the last years of his life. The building was completely destroyed during the Second World War, but was faithfully restored and turned into a museum, with beautiful furnishing and interesting panels retracing the life and works of the poet. The heart of the house is the library on the first floor, that contains about 3,500 books about Boccaccio, including some precious editions of his masterpiece, the Decameron. Also on the first floor is a large fresco of Boccaccio realized by Pietro Benvenuti in the XIX century. Not to be missed is the terrace at the top of the tower, from which you can enjoy some spectacular views over the town and the surrounding countryside.

Church of San Michele and San Jacopo

The church was built in the XIII century and overlooks a tiny piazza that was used as a cemetery until 1633. It’s the resting place of Boccaccio (the marble tombstone is right at the center of the church) and Giulia Della Rena, one of the patron saints of Certaldo.  The cloister of the church hosts a museum of sacred art with an interesting collection of paintings, sculpture and sacred vestiges.

Palazzo Pretorio

The most iconic sight in Certaldo is this palace located at the top of via Boccaccio.  Built in the XII century, Palazzo Pretorio was the seat of the local political authority and its facade and arcaded courtyard are covered in colorful coats of arm representing all the families that lived here and ruled Certaldo. The first floor usually hosts interesting temporary art exhibitions, while the inner courtyard hides a nice, yet unexpected Japanese tearoom. From the palace it is also possible to access the deconsecrated Church of San Tommaso e Prospero, the oldest church of Certaldo Alto, containing the Tabernacle of the Condemned, a beautiful fresco by the Renaissance artist Benozzo Gozzoli.

Palazzo Stiozzi Ridolfi

This is a splendid complex consisting of a palace and two towers, with an inner courtyard that is thought to host the local market.   

The Nail Museum

Hidden inside the ancient Palazzo Giannozzi, there’s a tiny museum hosting an unusual collection of nails of all shapes and eras, as well as a series of old tools collected throughout the years by the local carpenter Giancarlo Masini. Surely a unique place!

The historic archery headquarter

The basement of the restaurant “Da Messer Boccaccio”, located on the main street, serves as the headquarter of the historical archery of Certaldo. Lovers of medieval history will be able to admire the incredible collection of bows, axes, shields and medieval weapons that decorate the walls of this space. And if you are lucky you can even listen to the stories of some local archers.    

 

USEFUL TIPS

  • Certaldo can be used as a base to explore major Tuscan attractions like Florence, San Gimignano, Siena and  Chianti. Alternatively, you can easily reached Certaldo either by car or by train and then reach the old town with the funicular from Piazza Boccaccio in Certaldo Basso (the return ticket costs €1.50). The funicular is close to the train station and if you arrive by car it is better to park here
  • There’s a tourist information point next to Palazzo Pretorio where you can buy tickets to visit the main sights I listed above; the choice is between a 5 euro ticket that includes Palazzo Pretorio, Boccacio’s House and the Nails Museum and a 7 euro ticket that allows access also to the Museum of Sacred Art
  • If you are in Certaldo around dinner time, I recommend stopping by Osteria di Casa Chianti for a wonderful meal served by a friendly and genuine staff
  • The usually sleepy Certaldo Alto comes to life with some special events that attract hundreds of visitors: Mercantia, one of the biggest festivals of street artists in Europe taking place in July,  and Boccacesca, a tempting celebration of Tuscan gastronomy in October
39 replies
  1. Anne
    Anne says:

    I love Tuscany and visited SAN Gimignano a few years back but have never heard of this place. What a shame as it looks like another quaint place to visit.

    Reply
  2. Anu
    Anu says:

    Nail museum sounds a unique museum. I wonder what prompted someone to collect nails or what fascinated them. I have been hearing a lot about Tuscany – hope to discover it sometimes.

    Reply
  3. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    The Osteria di Casa Chianti sounds like an excellent choice for dinner, and very local too. I’ve not heard of Certaldo while in Italy, but it’s pretty and rustic too. The funicular is pretty cheap!

    Reply
  4. Chantelle Powell
    Chantelle Powell says:

    I am yet to visit Italy, but your description of this town is amazing. Being from Australia, I am always in awe of the fact that you can see and touch history with access to such magnificent and historical buildings. Certaldo definitely sounds like it is worth a visit!

    Reply
  5. Amy
    Amy says:

    I love visiting Italy and Florence is on my list but will need to make sure to have a day trip here as I love getting out of the main tourist areas.

    Reply
    • admin
      admin says:

      Tuscany in general has so many little hamlets to discover, the best thing to do is choose a base and then explore the surrounding area with day trips 😉

      Reply
  6. Jen Morrow
    Jen Morrow says:

    The red brick architecture is so charming. What a lovely little town to explore, especially the archery headquarters and nail museum. Not your typical history lesson there.

    Reply
  7. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    I’ve never even heard of this place before but it looks incredible! I’m super into European history so this seems like the place for me 😉 I love all the brick and the quaint streets.

    Reply
  8. Rosie
    Rosie says:

    Well this is just the epitome of Tuscan shabby chic isn’t it. I love your photos, the stone walls are so evocative. Now it is confession time, I have never heard of Boccaccio. I’d love to learn more about him.

    Reply
    • admin
      admin says:

      Grab a copy of his masterpiece, the Decameron, a collection of tales by a group of youngsters sheltering in a villa just outside Florence to escape the plague that was afflicting the city. I’m re-reading it right now 🙂

      Reply
  9. Lyne
    Lyne says:

    It looks so lovely there! I think it’s the first time I ever heard about a nail museum though, this seems so weird but oddly interesting at the same time ahah!

    Reply
    • admin
      admin says:

      Weird but fascinating at the same time, especially if you take a minute to chat with the guy at the entrance, so knowledgable about this little museum and Certaldo more in general 😉

      Reply
  10. Sarah Booth
    Sarah Booth says:

    How stunning is Certaldo?! I have visited much of Italy but am yet to visit Tuscany. It’s on my list this Summer, I am thinking Florence and Siena and I will Certaldo to the list for an evening dinner spot 🙂

    Reply
  11. Mia
    Mia says:

    It looks like Certaldo is a hidden treasure in Italy! It can be easy to miss small towns in between larger cosmopolitan areas, this is a great spotlight on the town

    Reply
  12. Tami
    Tami says:

    Side trips like your visit to Certaldo almost always pay off in big returns. Getting away from crowded cities and having time to explore is priceless! Certaldo sounds like an amazing little hamlet, with plenty to see and admire. My sons would have absolutely loved the archery headquarters, and I would adore strolling the medieval streets and snapping tons of photos!

    Reply
  13. Aisha
    Aisha says:

    Wow, I would absolutely love to stay in Certaldo for a couple of days! To be honest I hadn’t heard about it until this post but it sounds like the type of place I like to spirit away to after a few days of heavy exploration in a new place. It’s beautiful and rich in history, and best of all, not crowded by tourists and I know I’d be quite content wandering through this quaint little town and taking in all the beautiful scenes.

    Reply
  14. Stella Jane
    Stella Jane says:

    What a gorgeous place! It really does seem untouched by time. It’s amazing how many wonderful little hamlets like this there are in Tuscany. How nice to get off the beaten track and find them.

    Reply
  15. Denny George
    Denny George says:

    I had never heard of Certaldo before. I wish I had read your blog before I visited Tuscany. I guess that does give me a reason to return though.

    Reply
  16. Blair Villanueva
    Blair Villanueva says:

    The moment I saw that movie “Letter to Juliet” I knew that I want to visit Tuscany and also Siena soon.
    I want to have that “Juliet” kind of tour 🙂
    And also taste the Italian local cuisine.

    Reply
  17. Ami Bhat
    Ami Bhat says:

    There seems plenty to see in this town. I like the sound of Boccacio’s house. The old relics and his precious collection is definitely something I would want to see. The Nail museum too, sounds interesting. I guess you would need a complete day to cover all that you are suggesting.

    Reply

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