Everytime I think I ‘know it all’ in Tuscany (a dangerous thing to think), I learn of a new place I hadn’t even heard of. Tuscany as a region is a rather large place, full of small towns and hidden corners that even many native Tuscan’s themselves don’t know about.
Call it the anomaly of living in a place where so much is beautiful yet while some towns such as Pienza strike a chord with many, places like San Giuliano Terme end up being more of a ‘hey what, where?’ kind of reaction. Coincidentally it can be tough finding info about the area in English although it could be that I just didn’t find it.
In the province of Pisa, the hamlet of San Giuliano Terme is 80 kilometers west of Florence, five kilometers from Pisa and about twelve from Lucca, making it a prime base destination for discovering these charming Tuscan towns.
The town is situated below Monte Pisano and has a rich history (plus an intact Medici aqueduct) with Etruscans thought to be the first to discover its mineral waters. Ironically, it was more well-known in the 18th century, because of its thermal spa many travelers passed by its wake to rest and spiritually soak in the waters in what was once known as ‘bagni di san guiliano’.
Upon first glance, I felt this area to be extremely charming, the first thought was ‘relax’ as we left Florence’s chaos behind and moved immediately with a slower pace. The main piazza was very pretty with tree-lined avenues and the river (more like a stream) running through it. Bagni di Pisa, a thermal spa and luxury hotel, dominates the landscape as I imagine it did in the 1800’s when famous poets/writers like Lord Byron and Shelley chose this town as their refuge.
Our ‘home’ for the weekend was the quaint B&B Cribo, a small family run bed and breakfast with large rooms within walking distance to everything in the ‘center’. We were greeted by ‘mamma’ Cristiana whose kindness you can feel from a mile away. I was there as part of a special tour to discover the area with fellow bloggers and instagrammers from Italy & beyond. It was nice that we all stayed in different places to give a real idea of all of the options in the area.
Since Friday was a work day, we headed to dinner soon after arrival, to a place I don’t think I will ever forget, Locanda Sant’ Agata a mere few kilometers from San Giuliano Terme, head by Chef Luca Micheletti who revisits Tuscan recipes with a creative flair.
A beautiful area of Tuscany, I was so very impressed with each dish which he sources locally, from a foam of cod-fish, a peppery peposo (beef stew) with beets, fresh pasta. We also got to visit the kitchen to watch Chef luca whip up some droolworthy desserts in a blink on an eye. The evidence is below, needless to say we were all in a very happy place this evening and this is absolutely a place I would go out of my way to eat at next time I’m in this area.
The next day we were treated to a variety of interesting activities local in the area. One of which involved dressing up in actual theater costumes which was such a unique as special treat – that I have dedicated an entire post about the experience (coming soon I promise). In the interim I was very happy to discover a new, incredibly jaw-dropping amazing (seems to be a lot of those in Tuscany) place I naturally have never heard of before. Damn
It also happens to be the largest monastic complex in the region,this Chaterhouse of Calci to us english folks. Only 10 kilometers from Pisa, Certosa di Calci was founded in 1366 by monks Carthusians under the auspices of Archbishop Francesco Pisano Moricotti. It remains one of the most important monasteries of the Certosine order in Italy.
The monks upheld a vow of silence, prayer and seclusion and were only allowed to speak on Sunday afternoons, during their walk. During prayer times, the monks were not even allowed to sit, instead stood in their assigned places in the grand church. Of course when the Grand dukes were visiting, they had their own special apartments.
In the 17th & 18th century, after being bought by a very wealthy family, it was expanded and renovated which is why it reflects a baroque style of architecture. There are stunning marble floors, frescoed ceilings and beautiful furniture. I highly recommend you check out this aerial drone video on youtube to truly appreciate the grandness of the place.
There is so much to this place it is hard to figure what is ‘most notable’. Highlights include the refectory with a famous ‘last supper’ fresco by Bernardo Poccetti, the Foresteria Granducale (the space of the monastery reserved for the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the monks’ cells (tiny as you can imagine) and the pharmacy. I especially loved wondering the inside courtyard where lies a cemetery and a beautiful fountain, there is a real serenity and peace to this place, for someone who talks too much, it forces me to shut up and be happy about it.
At Certosa you will also find the Museum of Natural History of the University of Pisa which is home to many artifacts. We didn’t get the chance to visit this section but it will give me a reason to come back. I think I was in a sort of daze as we toured each room because it was just so splendid it can be almost overwhelming to take everything in.
The only criticism I can say about this place is that asking ‘how to visit’ was sort of confusing for me. It is via guided tour only, from what I understood from reading reviews many people visiting waited a long time for a guide to arrive. To make matters even more confusing our guide said that it is recommended that visitors call and make a reservation (with a minimum-sized group) to ensure there is a guide while the website says that they have a guided tour every hour.
After our fun tour, everyone was more or less famished, so we headed to the Frantoio Bovoli Vicopisano which produces olive oil for lunch plus we got a special tasting. You may or may not know but 2014 was very hard on local olive producers in Tuscany, many didn’t even process their olives this year due to bad weather and bugs. This means this year’s previous EVOO will be pricey.
In any case, this place was nestled in the green valley of Vicopisano with a beautiful view surrounded by orchards and olive trees.
We embarked on an olive oil tasting before our meal, they have many different scented ones, from lemonolio to a fragrant basil one – each was poured on a tiny bed of rice to maximize the taste. The frantoio is certified organic and also has an impressive orchard of kiwis that they make into an absolutely gorgeous marmalade – which we ate with pecorino cheese and on top of fresh ricotta. I know my oil and love my oil so this was a real treat.
They also make their own organic version of nutella using extra-virgin olive oil. While I initially felt like a kid out of school expected a snack as they brought trays of bread covered in their ‘Cioccolina’, I have to say it was the perfect end to a simple, tasty meal.
Salus Per Aquam
To end on a high note Sunday was spent at the Bagni di Pisa spa, a place made famous as the summer residence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco Stefano of Lorena. Besides being able to hang in this absolutely stunning 18th century structure. Easy to get lost, we wandered around the hallways and meeting rooms and popped into some corners that I’m sure we weren’t allowed. Some lucky blogger/instagrammers even got to stay here and their rooms were bigger than my apartment in Florence.
The options at the spa included indoor and outdoor thermal pools, Bioaquam with hydrojets, Bagno di Minerva whirlpool, sauna, turkish bath – you can see the full 2014 spa menu here. The thermal waters run at a temperature of 37°C (98.6°F) – and yes it was quite fun to soak in them.
My favorite area was the Hammam dei Granduchi (Grand Dukes’ hammam), a small natural cave equipped with a thermal waterfall, a pool dug out of the rock and a stone settee. We were led there one group at a time and no-one in my group spoke, for the 15 minutes we remained inside, all I could hear is the drip of the water. Like the monks of certosa, it seemed criminal to ruin a space with speech.
Everyone had lunch at ‘Dei Lorena’ restaurant inside Bagni di Pisa before heading back to our respective hometowns and my oh my was that a lunch. We started with a simple salad and crispy violet potato ‘chips, then indulged in some gocchetti (like gnocchi) made of farro with porcini mushrooms and pumpkin, last on the savory train was a stuffed guinea fowl with spinach & truffles (pictured below). Dessert was a chestnut semifreddo served with rum. Like a foodie miracle. I ate it all, and didn’t feel the least bit ‘stuffed’. Must be the magic of the spa.
To give you an idea of who else joined the #SGTtour, this photo of incredible Italian instagrammer Marzia Bellini (aka Milkydrop). We all had a wonderful time getting to know a place that was unknown to many of us before. My next post about this area will be about the kind of dress up adults can actually get excited about.
Where We Stayed
Bed and Breakfast Cribò, via Marino Dinucci, 8, 56017 San Giuliano Terme PI. From 63 euros a night. website
What We Saw
Certosa di Calci, Via Roma 79, Calci (Pisa)
Tuesday – Saturday 8.30am-6.30pm, Sundays 8.30am-12.30pm
Closed Mondays. Reservation’s required.
Where We Dined
1. Locanda Sant’Agata, SS12 dell’Abetone e del Brennero km, 5+812, 56017 San Giuliano Terme PI
2. Il Frantoio di Vicopisano
località Palazzetto, 3/5 • VICOPISANO (Pisa)
tel. 050796005 • fax 050796707
Where We Spa’d!
Spa & Hotel & Restaurant
Bagni di Pisa, Largo Shelley, 18, 56017 San Giuliano Terme – Pisa – Italy. Tel. +39 050 8850432 – Fax +39 050 8850401.
email@example.com – www.bagnidipisa.com
How to Get there
By car from Florence. The route takes 1 h 10 min (89.0 km) via A11/E76.
By train from Florence, it costs about 9 euros to get to there. The railway station of San Giuliano Terme is situated near the town center 3 minutes walk from the Thermal Baths. You may need to connect from Pisa or Lucca (trains run from those towns every 30 minutes). Check here for more info.