Perched atop Siena’s wine region, this enchanting medieval town hosts a fall culinary festival highly recommended for foodies and others with an appreciation for Italy’s fine culinary tradition. The Italian landscape is littered with quaint villages and hillside Outposts, but this little town is a real gem. ‘Alto’ literally translates into ‘tall’ or ‘high,’ but in Italy the term has truly come to signify the unspoiled, Old World beauty of medieval towns neither ruined by war nor changed by time.
Certaldo Alto is the quintessential example of just such a pre-Roman settlement. Surrounded by stone walls, this tucked-away town of narrow roads and walking trails is perched atop a lovely hill overlooking the vineyards of Tuscany. It is charming and fascinating any time of year, but Certaldo Alto is particularly delightful in mid-October during its annual Festivale Boccaccesca. A festival designed for Italian food and wine lovers, the Boccaccesca celebrates the intoxicating tastes and smells unique to Tuscany: chocolate tartufo, decadent salumi, marmellata cipolla made from the famous Certaldo onions and, of course, chianti. Lots of chianti. Locals describe the festival as a large public dinner; visitors describe it as simply unforgettable.
Certaldo Alto is reached on foot in 10 minutes or by funicular from the station in the main piazza in 2 minutes. Built almost entirely of brick, it is well preserved despite some damage during the Second World War. All the principal buildings, as well as some attractive houses, face onto Via Boccaccio. Half-way up on the left is the Casa del Boccaccio (rebuilt in 1947) with a tower and loggia, which was bought and restored in the early 19C by Marchesa Carlotta dei Medici Lenzoni.
Facing onto the little piazza is the church of Santi Michele e Jacopo. The simple brick facade dates from the 13th century and the interior has been restored to original Romanesque appearance. In a niche is an urn containing the body of Beata Giulia. Next to the church is a small cloister, which gives access to the Museo d’arte Sacra inaugurated in 2001. The museum has some fine and rare works which include: a monumental 13th century Crucifix; paintings by Meliore, Puccio di Simone, and Ugolino di Nerio most of them removed from churches in the countryside around Certaldo.
At the top of the street is Palazzo Pretorio, originally the castle of the Conti Alberti with its facade decorated with picturesque coats of arms in stone and glazed terracotta which record the Governors sent from Florence. Around the courtyard are the rooms where justice was administered, dungeons, and a chapel with a fresco of Doubting Thomas attributed to Benozzo Gozzoli. Several rooms have Fine doorways, fireplaces and some fresco decoration.
A terraced garden and a walkway overlooking the town walls provide a splendid view stretching from the hills of the Val d’Elsa to San Gimignano. There are many little restaurants from which to pick as you stroll up the short way to the church. This is a little town not to be missed.