Italy  2011

Montecatini Terme is an Italian district of approx. 21,000 inhabitants within the province of Pistoia in Tuscany. The Valdinievole is an original mix of famous thermal resorts, intact nature and ancient Medieval villages. It is found in the deep and secret heart of Tuscany, between Pistoia and Lucca and, for centuries, was a crossroads for culture, trade and meetings. Her hills conceal villages and castles that, from the “Swiss Pesciatina”, stretch out until Montalbano where the genius of Leonardo da Vinci was born. From the chestnut woods, passing through the landscape scattered with olives trees, we reach the valley where the precious waters of Montecatini Terme and the steam of Monsummano Terme’s grottos are born, and where the natural reserve of Padule di Fucecchio extends. The Valdinievole is the homeland of Pinocchio, the most famous puppet in the world Pescia is one of the oldest towns in Valdinievole. It owes is name to the river that flows through it, dividing it into two separate districts. On the left bank of the river sits what once was considered the religious center with the parish church of Saint Maria, now known as the Cathedral. On the right bank, the civilian center develops following an unusual urban layout, with the large market square and the historic Palazzo del Vicario (Governor’s palace) dominated by the Clock Tower. This town is testimony to an immense artistic heritage and noble past: it is nestled in a valley surrounded by gentle hills mantled with olive groves and chestnut woods, known as Valleriana and has the nickname “Swiss Pesciatina”.

It is a virgin landscape, the ideal setting for natural excursions, which will unveil real treasures to visitors in search of jewels still unknown to mass tourism, such as ancient arts and crafts (like handmade paper production), by-gone traditions and genuine gastronomic culture. A stone’s throw from Pescia you will find Collodi, Pinocchio’s homeland, a characteristic hamlet with its maze of old houses clinging to the hillside in a cascade, where you will see the grand Park devoted to the famous puppet and Villa Garzoni with its Baroque gardens, one of the most important villas in Tuscany.

Together with its historic and artistic vestiges, Pescia is also the cradle of a culture that is more tightly linked with nature: it is the capital of floral nurseries, cut flowers, decorative plant production, olive grove selection and sale, and the recovery and cultivation of citrus trees. A town rich with colors and scents in a very special corner of Tuscany.

Lucca, clasped within her well-preserved walls, encloses a historical, architectural richness of masterpieces from different ages. In the vast plains and on the hills that surround the city are scattered numerous splendid villas, characterized by parks and gardens rich in tree-lined lanes, statues, fountains and waterworks. The olive grove that colours the landscape with its typical silvery grey supplies an incomparable oil, famous throughout the world. The vine also contributes to the character of the landscape, especially on the hills, producing the famous Doc di Montecarlo and delle Colline Lucchesi wines. Florence - a city unique for its architectural monuments and the numerous art masterpieces kept in the churches, museums and palazzos; the cradle of the renaissance and an internationally important cultural centre - cannot but include a moment to admire the enchanting landscape views of the surrounding territory. Everything is close to hand: green hills, scattered with olive groves and vineyards, that welcome villages, castles, fortresses, all kept within walls that are real jewels of medieval military architecture; the parishes and the monasteries are the purest expression of Romanesque art; the numerous villas with their wonderful parks decorated with statues, fountains with waterworks, centuries-old plants, mazes, precious essences, all demonstrate how the territory around the Florentine domination has always been appreciated for the incomparable beauty of its natural ambience and the sweetness of its climate. An extraordinarily rich territory, both for its historical-artistic heritage but also for its traditions, folklore and gourmet cuisine.

June 5th was our arrival day. We all met later that evening for our Welcome Drink and some nibbles.

June 6, 2011 Monday

After a typical Tuscan continental breakfast we are off to a day packed with beautiful sensations and experiences….

Meet & Greet by an English-speaking tour leader and transfer to PISTOIA fort he visit to the VIVAIO BARNI – the king of ROSES production all over Italy. The Barni family has been in the plants and roses cultivation for 5 generations: Nonno Vittorio started the cultivation of roses, being very passionate about this flower. Cultivation, breeding and research go on still today with new cultivars and awards: San Souci, Wanda Ferragamo, Variegata di Toscana, Rita Levi-Montalcini are just some of Barni’s most extraordinary creations. Beside its own production, Barni can also boast over 200 varieties, both antique and modern.

Upon arrival we are welcomed personally by the owner Beatrice Barni who will give a brief introduction to their nursery, followed by a welcome drink. Afterwards she took us around their “garden” to show us their wonderful roses and tell us all about them: what they are, how they sprout, how they are cultivated, where they come from, legends and curiosities and much more….we had some rain to deal with this morning but inside the greenhouses we stayed nice and dry.

You can read a bit about Wanda Ferragamo rose here… unfortunately Wanda was not in bloom while we were there!

and here is a wonderful personal memory about the Rita Levi-Montalcini

By coach we reach Pistoia’s historical centre, a worthy visit because it has so many historical attractions that cause it to be called “City of Art”. Many prominent artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance worked in or for Pistoia and left here some of their most important works of art. Just to mention some: Giorgio Vasari , Brunelleschi, Della Robbia, Giovanni Pisano etc. Thanks also to them the town holds marvelous monumental buildings as well as splendid, sophisticated Romanesque and Gothic churches. The first feeling you will appreciate is the way of Tuscan living… We head immediately to Piazza della Sala: this has been the food market place since very ancient times and is the town’s pulsing place every morning.

Leaving Piazza della Sala we reach the jewel of Pistoia, the Piazza del Duomo – clearly one of the most beautiful town centres in Tuscany. Visit to the Cathedral with its precious silver altar (private visit) and afterwards there is a special private visit for us to see botany representation in arts: the “Arazzo dei 1000 Fiori” – a XVI century tapestry representing a botanical garden with, as the name says, 1000 flowers! Exquisite!

Our visit continues with another highlight: the famous façade of the Ospedale (Hospital) del Ceppo with the seven ceramic panels representing the various virtues of mercy (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc). Six of these are works of the Della Robbia workshop. The church of St. Andrea contains another famous artistic masterpiece of Pistoia – the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, which is reminiscent of a similar Pisano work at the Duomo in Pisa.

Then a visit at the Basilica of S. Maria dell’ Umiltà. The dome (a work of Giorgio Vasari 1561-1567) of this church is what you see as you approach Pistoia.

On our way to the restaurant where lunch will be served we stop at the Caffè Valiani for a drink and to take a quick look at its Art Gallery: In the 14th century, Valiani was the site of the Oratory of St. Anthony. In 1864, when the cafè was built over the ruins, many treasures came to light, treasures such as the walls with frescoes from the school of Giotto. Regulars included Verdi, Rossini, Bellini, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Puccini. The Cafè'-Valiani Pastry is one of the Oldest cafes in Italy (founded in 1831 by the Valiani family who still own it.

Lunch will be at the Trattoria San Jacopo. This trattoria located not far from Cathedrale square has been run with hands-on passion by the owners since 1990. Find here a rustic-elegant interior and traditional cooking that changes with the season but some dishes are ever present such as Maccheroni al Sugo d’anatra: homemade thin sliced pasta on a duck sauce – this is the Pistoia dish, traditionally prepared by the locals on July, 25th – Saint Jacopo’s day, the town’s holy patron.

In the afternoon we have a full immersion in the TOPIARY ART: the art of creating living sculptures with trees and shrubs. This is a technique rooted in Pistoia’s tradition, representing its outmost artistic expertise. Although sculpting plants isn’t a new idea its recent rediscovery by artists, horticulturalists, gardeners, and young people has given living sculpture an innovative popularity. It requires craftsmanship, art and a lot of creativity with a final scissors’ touch. The plants are pruned and then trained over frames to form beautiful shapes. The good topiaries are made from Ligustrum Jonandrum, Ilex Crenata, Buxus and Taxus.

There is no limit to creativity: shapes can be elegant, funny or just beautiful - animals, garden features, cars, umbrellas, arches, flowers, sportsmen, cones, pyramids, balls, cubes, spirals and espaliers etc…in all sizes. We visit the “ROMITI nursery” boasting high expertise in topiary art. Meet & Greet by the owners who will introduce their nursery with all its creations. Afterwards some took part in sculpting their own plant!! There are some wonderful articles to read on topiary here: 

At the end of the afternoon, return to the hotel and rest of the time at leisure until we left for our Welcome dinner. We will reach the upper town (Montecatini Alto) by FUNICOLAR - this is a typical means of transport which in few minutes connects Montecatini Terme with the very charming medioeval village Montecatini Alto. Here there is a very nice little square with several typical restaurants.

Dinner at the restaurant LA TORRE on the charming Piazza Giusti square. The restaurant offers refined Tuscan cooking and a very good wine list.


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row