The town boasts a population of about 20,000 between its Lower and Upper towns. The Lower, main town nestles in the Vallis Nebulae, or Valley of Fog. It is Italy's largest spa town where two million tourists per year as well as the locals flock to drink the healing waters gushing from four natural thermal springs: Leopolidina (taken for constipation), Regina (restores bile flow from liver to bowels; hepatic and bladder disorders) Tettuccio (liver; lower cholesteral levels), and Rinfresco (diuretic; restoration of mineral levels after excercise). Beautiful parks invite strolling, cafes and restaurants are plentiful, and the stores stay open until no more customers arrive. I have seen shops still open at nearly midnight!
The Upper town, Montecatini Alto, is the region's most ancient inhabited town. Crowning the mountain, it was an important strategic stronghold inhabited in succession by the Ligurians, Etruscans, Romans, and Longobards. In the 1300's, the Medicis of Florence gained ownership and peace reigned until Pietro Strozzi, under the banner of Henry II of France, took the town in his defense of Siena against the Medicis. The war between the Florentines and Siennese led to Cosimo de Medici nearly destroying the town in 1554. Buildings which survived the onslaught and are still visible today include the Palace of Justice, Chancellery, loggia, parish church, several convents, 170 houses and a few medieval and renaissance towers. Its Piazza Giusti is lined with restaurants and bars, attracting a lively crowd of locals and visitors for local cuisine.
In 1898, a funicular (cable car) railway was built, connecting the upper and lower towns. The two cable cars depart every half hour. The round trip takes about 14 minutes and costs less than 10 Euros per person. It is worth the trip to visit the upper town, perhaps enjoy an aperitif or lunch, shop for souvenirs, and peek at the historical churches and buildings.
In addition to the easily accessed waters, shopping, live music, beautiful parks, and wonderful restaurants and cafes abound. Famous frequent visitors to Montecatini include the composer Giuseppe Verdi and the poet Giuseppe Giusti.
Foods famous to the area
- Cialde -- a bisquit made with just almonds and sugar into two thin wafers.
- Chocolate (the area is known as the "Chocolate Valley").
- Waffles Montecatini -- made with egg and sugar, they are a much sought after dessert.
- Vin Santo -- sweet wine favored by priests for Mass
Typical and popular dishes of the Valdinievole area (some recipe pages are in Italian. Chrome browsers will automatically translate to English. Not sure about Internet Explorer):
- Farro soup
- Pan Bagnato - wet bread
- Maccheroni sull'Anatra Muta (pasta with duck - often served for Feast of St. James, July 25)
- Pappa al Pomodoro (plum tomato soup with ciabatta)
- Ribollita -- a thick Tuscan stew made with dark greens, lots of beans, vegetables, olive oil, and thickened with ciabatta.
- Farinata -- a thin, crisp, pizzalike pancake made from chick-pea flour
- Pasta e Fagioli - pasta and bean soup
- BaccalÃ alla Livornese - salt cod
- Castagnaccio - a plain chestnut flour cake, typical in Tuscany in the fall made with olive oil, pine nuts, and raisins.
- Necci con ricotta, thin crepe-like chestnut-flour cakes rolled and filled with cheese
- Brigidini - holy anise biscuits, invented by nuns
- Buccellato, a sweetbread with raisins and anise,
- Cantuccini, (biscotti)
- Befanotti Glassati - thin shortcake cookies decorated with glazes and sprinkles especially popular around Epiphany
- Torta coâ€™ Becchi - "Cake with beaks" - (chocolate or vegetable versions)