Saturday, 13 September 2014

Tuscan Trails: Montecatini Alto

The entrance to the funicular
Montecatini is a town that has two parts -- Montecatini Terme, the spa area, and Montecatini Alto, a medieval village above the former. It is also much older, originally built in the 1300s.

The car at the top of Montecatini Alto
It's not hard to get up there -- if you're feeling energetic there's a trail that takes about an hour to hike up, or there's a funicular, a cable railway where there are two tram cars that pull each other up and down a steep slope, passing in the middle.

That explains why they go every half hour from 9.30am and then there's a break after 1pm until 2.30pm.

We caught the 11am up for 7 euros return and sat in an old wooden car painted red, that are named either "1" or "2". 

Passengers face each other on wooden seats and then if there isn't enough room (squeezing a maximum of five per row), then there are standing room only sections in the front and back of the cars.

The fantastic view overlooking Montecatini Terme
At the appointed time, the doors were fastened and we made the slow ascent that took over 10 minutes. We climbed higher and higher through a path in the trees that included cypresses and olives.

When we arrived at the top we were awarded with an amazing view overlooking Montecatini Terme. Today the sky was so clear we could see very far into the distance, but geographically we didn't really know what we were looking at.

Nevertheless, we wandered around the village and it was evident the place was very tidy, and everyone put some pride into their homes. There is a path for cars -- but only very small ones -- to get past very narrow streets. We were surmising that perhaps this was the equivalent to The Peak in Hong Kong, but it's only a guess.

Contrasting pictures over 100 years apart
We wandered into a church that interestingly held a community-organized photography exhibition, showing pictures from the 1900s and today. A good number of them were taken in the same spots to illustrate the changes. Some had more trees in the area, or rustic bricks were plastered over and smooth walls were made, or others looked pretty much the same.

Then we made our way into the centre of the village which wasn't far and there were a few souvenir shops for tourists. In the middle of the square are several restaurants, one after the other and our guide recommended we try La Torre, or The Tower.

I had a rustic soup of barely and canellini beans served in a mini green Le Creuset pot, and shared a tuna salad with my dad. He had another soup with chard, beans and tomato. In my soup the beans had disintegrated, which meant it had been simmering for a long time. The antipasti dish was declared delicious as well.

What was also interesting was a kind of bread we were given, not quite like pizza dough, but had a similar taste to spring onion cake but without the spring onions. It was crispy and had a pastry kind of texture seasoned with salt.

A rustic bean and barley soup for lunch
There wasn't much more to see in the town and we decided to get a head start in getting into line for the 2.30 funicular ride back down. It turns out we didn't have to wait that long because the staff allowed us to sit in the car shortly after 2pm and by 2.15pm we were slowly making our way back down.

Too bad by the time we arrived at the bottom the shops were closed for siesta! So we also napped before doing some window shopping...

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