While spa towns are falling out of fashion in with Italy’s younger set, they’re pretty interesting places for foreigners to visit. The high town Monsummano Alto is the icing on the cake—a medieval castle borgo on a hill with great views of the spa town on the plain below, not to mention a restaurant and bed and breakfast for folks who really want to feel on top of the world.
Why travel to Monsummano Terme?
Monsummano Terme, a 17th century town in an area known for thermal baths near Montacatini Terme, also famous for thermal spas, was once a center of shoe production. People come here for the healing waters, of course, especially those at the highly rated Grotta Giusti (more below). But there’s another part of Monsummano that may be of interest to the tourist. It’s the older part of Monsummano up on a hill scarred by a rather large stone quarry, called Monsummano Alto.
Monsummano Alto was once home to a castle which surrounded the hilltop with 2km of walls. Two gates and a tower still remain. The interesting thing about Monsummano Alto is that you can stay there. The views over the valley, Valdinievole, are stupendous. There’s also a highly regarded restaurant on the promises, as well as an 11th century church, the Church of San Nicolao.
Where is Monsummano Terme?
Monsummano Terme is accessed from the A11 Autostrada (Firenze-Mare), which is just north of the lower town. It is about 9km from Pistoia to the northeast, and 26 km from Lucca to the west. Parco di Pinocchio in Collodi is 12 km away. Montacatini Terme is just on the other side of the A11 Autostrada.
How to see Monsummano Terme
You can see Monsummano Terme on a day trip easily enough, then head up to the high town for lunch at La Foresteria, with a spectacular view over the old town. After, take a look at the Church of San Nicolao with a pine tree growing from its facade.
If you want a spa treatment, head down to the valley and visit Grotta Giusti, a luxury hotel in the old style which offers to swathe you in a robe for an hour in the steamy underground caves below the hotel for €40 at time of writing. If you make arrangements, Grotta Giusts’s shuttle bus will pick you up at Montecatini Terme-Monsummano train station.
It’s easy to combine a visit to Monsummano with similar short visits to the interesting castle at Serrevalle Pistoiese and a walk around Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto.
You can also choose to wallow luxuriously in the car-free tranquility of Monsummano Alto with on overnight stay at Villa San Bastiano.
Other recommended Restaurants and Hotels in Monsummano Terme
If you are on the road between Monsummano Terme and Serravalle Pistoiese, be sure to stop at the Antica Trattoria Da Marino (and don’t skip dessert!) at via Prov. Lucchese 102 (tel. 0573 51042)
Frommers recommends La Cantina (da Caino) near the Grotta Guisti as a fine place to have a rustic, locally sourced meal with Monsummano locals.
Rating Monsummano: The Final Word
Monsummano gets 3.5 stars from me. It’s not a major stop on the tourist beaten track, and Montecatini Terme is quite a bit more popular. You should definitely see the major cities first.
That said, I happen to like Monsummano Alto quite a lot. It’s evocative of the medieval era, quiet, tiny—and still has tourist services. The views are spectacular, even though we weren’t there on a sunny, clear day. You can take some nice, quiet walks from the top of the hill.
Monsummano Terme in November
I rather liked Monsummano; especially Monsummano Alto, the medieval high town that looks down on what was once a swampy and likely malarial valley. That’s why Monsummano Terme, the lower town, only dates from the 1700s. The picture below was taken on an afternoon of indeterminate weather. Sun, cool air, rain, clouds—it was all mixed up. Then this. Sweet.
The next picture isn’t as distinct. We had to wait until a beam of sun came to rest on the town of Montevetollini, which I know we’ll have to visit some day. The valley was shrouded in fog though, an indistinct fog that couldn’t seem to become aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps you could argue that in the summer this would have been a better picture, with those clear blue skies everyone loves to death. I prefer a more brooding sky.