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The Tuscan hamlet of Certaldo

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Between Florence and Siena, Certaldo is the lovely Tuscan village where Boccaccio was born and hosts the renowned Mercantia festival.


Certaldo is a lovely hamlet in Tuscany, halfway between Florence and Siena, that offers an enchanting medieval atmosphere and provides a refreshing escape from the tourist crowds filling the more popular attractions nearby. 


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

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

Certaldo-via-boccaccioThe 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. Instead, there is a long street called Via Boccaccio, which serves as a 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. 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.

Certaldo-view-from-Boccaccio-houseAlso 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, sculptures 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, featuring a beautiful fresco by the Renaissance artist Benozzo Gozzoli called the Tabernacle of the Condemned.

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.

Certaldo-nail-museumYep, you read it correctly, 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!    


  • Certaldo can be used as a base to explore major Tuscan attractions like Florence, San Gimignano, Siena, and Chianti. Alternatively, you can easily travel to 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 Tuscan dining experience
  • 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


Until next time,

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39 thoughts on “The Tuscan hamlet of Certaldo”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    • 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 😉

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    • 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 🙂

  9. 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!

    • 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 😉

  10. 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 🙂

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.


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