Project Description



Where it is

Thousands of year old churches, undulating hills, vast expanses of cypresses, Renaissance architecture and, of course, beautiful medieval villages surrounded by high walls or old towers from whose heights you can admire memorable views. Welcome to the Tuscan hinterland, in an area where time seems to have slowed down or passes in step with old customs. The countryside of Montecatini Val di Cecina, in the province of Pisa, is one of these magic places. A little medieval gem inhabited by less than a thousand souls, where everyone knows each other or calls each other by name.

Wind Farm
Where to sleep
Where to eat
Where to eat and sleep

Browse the map and discover the places to visit, where to eat and where to stay, chosen by Legambiente

No one, without knowing its history, could imagine that here there had been the largest copper mine in Europe, still working up to the early 20th century, and from where, as well, there began the adventure of one of the biggest industries of the 20th century – Montedison. The mining complex, situated about one kilometre from the town’s centre, today represents a typical example of industrial archaeology, but also an effective prototype of experiential tourism that brings together culture, innovation and dissemination. The visit to the mining museum is therefore a must for those wishing to make an incursion into the area of the Val di Cecina.

Thanks to the efforts of the municipality, which has been able to redevelop an abandoned site – the mining activities ceased in 1907 – and important regional and European funding, you can now book a visit to parts of the 19th century tunnels (the network of tunnels extends for about 35 kilometres on 10 levels and to a depth of 315 m.), the Alfredo Well Tower (with its original freight elevator) and the church of Saint Barbara, the symbol of the devotion of the miners for their patron saint. In the summer months of July and August, you can also join atmospheric nocturnal visits, along with, of course, a fantastic dinner based on typical local products (after all we are in Tuscany!) and theatrical performances that are held outside. A small warning for visitors – the tunnels are a home to bats, but don’t be alarmed as they are harmless and for most of the time in hibernation.

Belforti Tower

Instead, for those who love trekking you can take a tour that follows the old mine railway, or abandon the mining complex and climb up to the wind turbines at an altitude of more than 500 metres. From the wind farm, taking a pleasant walk along dirt roads that cross over the whole ridge you can reach the small village of Miemo.
In a sector such as tourism where it is difficult to innovate, we are facing a great challenge. That is, to link up with the other situations in the area, making all that we have around us accessible and available through a new way of recounting our culture and history”, as Luca Bollea, Councilor for Tourism of Montecatini Val di Cecina explains. Years ago, he left his profession as a journalist and turned a new page in his life.

He did a diploma course in permaculture and moved to the village with his family, where he restored the imposing Belforti Tower, inherited from a distant uncle, transforming it into an elegant family-run B&B of three rooms (it has also been in the TV programme Quattro Hotel conducted by the chef Bruno Barbieri). Almost 30 metres in height, the tower, which overlooks the Castle Square, the heart of the village, was built in the first half of the 15th century by the Belforti family, dominant in Volterra at the time. And during the war, it was used as a refuge from the bombings. If you find yourself in the area, try and stop over at least for one night. It’s also worth a visit just for the unparalleled view over the surrounding area which you can admire from the terrace on the top floor.

And talking about the area, situated at the very centre of the same valley, Montecatini is a perfect starting point for discovering the Val di Cecina valley and its surrounds. If you are not familiar with the area, a good choice could be to begin with a classic medieval tour of the more renowned places, perhaps from Volterra, famous for being the city of alabaster – it’s said the most appreciated in Europe. And in the Etruscan era it was one of the main city states, reaching across the sunny hills of the Val d’Elsa to the iconic San Gimignano, the supreme symbol of postcard Tuscany – wheat fields, towers and the flavours of the past – that for decades has literally sent Anglo-Saxons crazy. And not only.

The masterpiece of human creative genius, is a unique testimony to a past civilization and of an extraordinary example of architectural style and landscape illustrating one or more phases of human history”, wrote UNESCO in 1990, including San Gimignano on the Word Heritage list. After having wandered around inside the 14th century walls, you must not miss the opportunity to sip a glass of Vernaccia, the first Italian wine, exclusively produced in this area, and boasting of being a Registered Designation of Origin (D.O.C.). For the enthusiasts, there is also the possibility to satisfy your curiosity wandering through the rooms of the Wine Museum of Vernaccia, located in the Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli.

Countless extraordinary villages

Instead, if you want to avoid the crowds (San Gimignano in some periods of the year can be so), we suggest you lose yourself in the many and extraordinary hamlets and villages that from Montecatini descend down to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Discover the typical uniqueness of Tuscany. Such as in Pomarance, a Touring Club “orange flag” municipality, where the exploitation of a renewable  source such as geothermal energy has existed for more than 200 years. Since antiquity, this area, then quite inhospitable, was baptised the Valley of the Devil, and inspired Dante in the description of his Inferno. However, today, this hellish setting with its white columns of steam rising up from fissures in the earth has become a sort of tourist attraction and a very impressive spectacle. If you want to know more, in the hamlet of Larderello, where there are the famous geothermal cooling towers, now a monument of industrial archaeology, you can visit the Geothermal Museum, that describes the birth of a unique experience in the world.

Other villages to visit

From Pomarance, it is worth taking the route through the woods of the Val di Cecina to the tiny village of Querceto (Municipality of Montecatini), where it will seem you have entered a fairytale when you see this medieval village where history has been interwoven for over three centuries with that of the Marchesi Ginori Lisci family, the owners of the Ginori di Querceto Castle. You can also visit here the cellar of the family’s wine production.

To conclude this medieval tour, the last stop should be the village of Sassia, (Montecatini), a place already inhabited in Etruscan times. Perched on the northern point of the Poggio al Pruno, from its panoramic balcony you can enjoy a wonderful view, that looks out over the Tuscan Archipelago. Below, at your feet, the famous Avenue of Cypresses, paid homage to by Giosuè Carducci, begins to climb, and here begins another story. …”The cypresses that, tall and slender, lead from San Guido to Bolgheri in two rows, almost like running giant boys, leapt out at me and looked at me”.

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