Pistoia is a little-known delight. It lies in the heart of Tuscany, a stone’s throw from Florence, Lucca and Siena, but tends to get missed out by travellers. This isn’t completely surprising. The town is less grand than Florence, less ancient than Siena and less complete than Lucca, and its name doesn’t perhaps sound as pretty. Yet Pistoia is a gem. All the ingredients of an old Tuscan city are there – old walls, striped churches, frescoes, medieval watchtowers, arcaded piazzas – packed into a rather small centre. Pistoia is a city proud of its history, and of its noble buildings. Around Cathedral Square, considered one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy, lies a city full of treasures: churches, cloisters, palaces and monuments that date back to medieval times. Nearby are numerous museums, as well as trade and craft shops, or you can sample traditional food in cosy, characteristic surroundings.
As well as its splendid architectural and religious heritage, and its enchanting surroundings, Pistoia has hosted an important presence of railways for more than 150 years: the Porrettana line, from Bologna to Pistoia was the first rail connection crossing the Apennines from the north of Italy towards Florence and Rome, through an impressive series of tunnels and viaducts. The steam locomotive depot built at Pistoia in the 19th century, where the line from Florence to Lucca met the Porretana, closed for active service in the mid 1990s but now operates as a restoration and maintenance facility for heritage railway stock, and houses an impressive collection of steam locomotives. Complementing this historic perspective is the presence of a wide-ranging and innovative grouping of current rail industry suppliers such as Hitachi Rail (whose plants, formerly owned by Ansaldo Breda, were established over a century ago as Officine San Giorgio), and ECM – to give just two prime examples. Pistoia is consequently the home of DITECFER, the Rail Technologies, High Speed, Safety & Security Consortium, a grouping embracing almost 50 rail oriented organisations.
At the city’s margins are small towns, parish churches and castles of extraordinary beauty, along with one of the world’s biggest collections of land-art (Fattoria di Celle). Then there is the zoological garden immersed in the green valleys of Vincio, and a most unusual “Eco-museum” that offers ecological and cultural itineraries for travel through the mountains. Another major factor in the Pistoia economy is the vast acreage of planting beds, filled with decorative trees, shrubbery and flowers, that uninterruptedly cover the flat land surrounding the city at its south and east borders. Also famous are its shops filled with home linens and clothing and such unique products as hand-cast percussion cymbals and embroidery using the Casalguidi point stitch.
An ideal location for food lovers, Pistoia offers specialities to satisfy the most demanding palate. Renowned is the chocolate produced by master craftsmen of the province and the “curly” white candies whose origins date to medieval times. No one should leave without trying two varieties of cookies whose flavours are unique and traditional to the Valdinievole area: Brigidini di Lamporecchio and Cialde di Montecatini. Grappa and other spirits are made by the craftspeople in the mountains, using the products of the surrounding forests and fields. Also enjoy the sheep’s milk cheese (Pecorino from the Pistoia Mountains) that is exclusively produced here, and sample the crusty fresh breads from wood-burning stoves. From the same mountains come chestnuts whose flour has been used in delicious cakes and sweets. The Montalbano hills yield a fruity and spicy olive oil IGP and an excellent Chianti Montalbano DOCG wine, distinguished by its intense ruby colour.
The cuisine of Pistoia is, like all of the tastes of Tuscany, tied to the culture of the people. Traditional recipes are handed down from generation to generation, highlighted by the use of local original ingredients.