Certaldo is a charming Medieval town that you will find sitting atop a quintessential hillside in Tuscany, and surrounded by vineyards and cypress trees. This picturesque location is a peaceful retreat full of art and history. It is easily accessible from Florence and Siena, and boasts impressive archeological finds from both Roman and Etruscan origins.
Unlike most towns in the area that are built around a main piazza, the town life surrounds a main street called Via Boccaccio. The old part of town is called Certaldo Alto and is accessible easily by a funicular railway.
History and tranquility are abundant in Certaldo, which offers a quieter pace than the larger Tuscan cities but is still easy to access by car, bus, and train. Certaldo is worth a stop on any trip through Tuscany’s Val d’Elsa.
The Town of Boccaccio
Certaldo was a special place for the famous Italian literacy scholar Giovanni Boccaccio, who helped assure the town’s place as a European cultural center. He is thought to have been born in either Certaldo or Florence in 1313, and worked in economics before becoming famous for his Decameron stories. Alongside Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarca, Boccaccio is a member of the “three crowns” of significant contributors to literature in the Italian language.
His life ended in Certaldo in 1375. Today, his house is a museum that celebrates his cultural contributions and literacy legacy.
Boccaccio was buried, following his desires, in the Church of Saints Jacopo e Filippo. Interestingly, his tomb was later moved due to laws forbidding church burials and then relocated back to the church in 1949. They are now kept near his headstone under a white marble tile.
What to See in Certaldo
You can purchase – as a package – a ticket to the three most important sights:
- Giovanni Boccaccio’s house
- Palazzo Pretorio
- the Museum of Sacred Art.
1. Giovanni Boccaccio’s house
Today, the residence of the famed Italian scholar Giovanni Boccaccio has been restored. It now houses the Boccaccio Museum and the “Ente Nazionale Giovanni Boccaccio” which supports scholarly and literacy cultural work related to Boccaccio and Italian cultural studies. This is a must-see if you are a literacy or history enthusiast, or eager to explore the Italian language’s history!
Readings of his works are presented in the museum on the second Friday of each month from October through April, and can also be experienced on Youtube and Spotify.
The building contains an 1820 fresco by Pietro Benvenuti depicting Boccaccio himself. The Marquise Carlotta Lenzoni de’ Medici, of the famed Florentine Medici family, commissioned it.
2. Palazzo Pretorio
The Palazzo Pretorio is the central building of Certaldo. Located on the highest and oldest part of the hill of Certaldo Alto, it was built around the end of the 12th century on the ruins of the ancient houses of an important family in the region, the Alberti counts. Starting in the 1400s, the castle was used to house a Vicar, who was a Florentine magistrate.
The ground floor of the Palazzo Pretorio houses all of the local archeological discoveries. Besides a necropolis, Etruscan tombs were discovered on Poggio del Boccaccio and Poggio alle Fate.
One thing that makes the design of the palace unique is the coats of arms across its outer walls. Each one represents the identity of a different Vicar who ruled from the building in the 1400-1700s. Several of the terracotta coats of arms were produced in the workshops of Florentine master ceramists of the Della Robbia and Buglioni families.
The palace includes meeting halls, a knights’ room, a civil prison, criminal prison, and women’s prison, a chapel, a torture room, guest rooms, and rooms for the Vicar. The rooms are adorned with frescoes by famed Florentine painters, namely and abundantly those of Pier Francesco Fiorentino.
3. Chiesa dei Santissimi Jacopo e Filippo & The Museum of Sacred Art
The “Church of Holy Ones Jacob and Philip” dates back to the 12th century. Its convent was active until the 1990s, and in 2001 it became the Museum of Sacred Art. The church is home to the remains of Giovanni Boccaccio as well as the Blessed Giulia Della Rena, an Italian nun who lived recluse in a cell in Certaldo, devoted completely to penance and prayer, after spending time working in Florence.
The church contains a number of beautiful artworks. It houses the Crucifix of Petrognano, a crucifix created by an unknown artist. It is believed to have been made between 1240 and 1245. The tomb of the Blessed Giulia Della Rena contains a predella with scenes from her life and miracles. Nearby, you will find the coat of arms of a wealthy Florentine family to whom she was related. There is also a fresco from the fourteenth century showing a Madonna and Child with the Saints Jacob and Peter, by the painter Memmo di Filippuccio. A marble bust of Boccaccio, sculpted by Giovan Francesco Rustici and commissioned by one of the Vicars in the 1500s, can also be found in the church.
In Chiesa dei Santissimi Jacopo e Filippo you can also visit the Museum of Sacred Art. This museum is part of the Florence-area project to gather sacred art from scattered churches and house it together in the most important church in a given area. They undertook this action for the safety of the works and to ensure academic and public accessibility.
4. The Nail Museum
In this very particular museum you can explore a collection of unique nails! The carpenter and artist Giancarlo Masini, of Certaldo Alto, collected and curated them. Visitors can go through the collection of nails with related anecdotes, stories, and drawings that draw connections between the artifacts and the many trades in which nails play an important role. You can visit the Nail Museum by reservation: [email protected] or +39 0571.661265
The Town of the Red Onion
The red onion is an important symbol for the town of Certaldo. This connection is referenced famously in Boccaccio’s Decameron tales:
It is displayed proudly on the town’s coat of arms which depicts a white and red split shield surmounted by an onion on a white background Per natura sono forte e dolce ancora, e piaccio a chi sta e a chi lavora – by nature I am yet strong and sweet, I please those who stay and work is written across it.
The area of Certaldo produces several onions, but the “statina”, a summer onion, and the “vernina”, an autumn onion, are the most famous. A common name of the inhabitants of Certaldo is cipolloni – big onions.
Where to Stay in Certaldo Alto
Certaldo’s medieval center offers a ton of charm and character, and staying overnight is a delightful way to immerse yourself in the daily rhythm of the town.
Decameron House is located centrally in the old town, and has an elegant luxury feel that will take you back in time to fit the mood!
Podere Benintendi offers rooms in a beautiful farmhouse villa with a pool. A bit outside of town, this stay is ideal if you want a countryside escape from which to access the town. Check out those views!
La casa torre di Marcello
La casa torre di Marcello is a one-bedroom house located centrally in Certaldo with a classic stone and wood design, and a delightful terrace.
Where to eat in Certaldo: Top Restaurants
Osteria La Saletta
It is the restaurant you expect to find in the center of a historic town like Certaldo Alto. Wooden interiors, arches and ancient beams, and a wide choice of well-displayed wines. The menu is no different and includes local dishes and ingredients of Tuscan cuisine, such as tortelli, pecorino di Pienza, pici and gnudi senesi, lardo di colonnata in dishes that combine tradition and creativity. You can conclude the meal at the “Osteria La Saletta” with cantucci and vin santo or other Tuscan desserts.
Osteria Casa Chianti
A restaurant in the countryside around Certaldo, ideal for seeking tranquility and good local cuisine. The ingredients are simple and top quality, and the menu includes tavern dishes such as grilled meat, homemade Tuscan pasta, and traditional desserts. The “Osteria Casa Chianti” also offers two special menus for dishes based on truffles and porcini mushrooms. Without forgetting the iconic ingredient of the territory, namely the red onion of Certaldo.
While you’re in the area, there are a few options to consider for a perfect day trip or adventure!
Parco di Canonica
A hilly park that boasts play areas, hiking paths, a fitness trail, barbecues, and picnic tables. Its trail connects to Certaldo Alto, the old town, so makes for a great adventure by foot. It is a super picturesque experience, thanks to its paths lined with rows of quintessentially Tuscan cypress trees. Relax and grab a bite to eat at the Chalet Parco di Canonica.
You can reach San Gimignano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its preserved 12th-14th century medieval architecture, with a 20-minute drive from Certaldo. Expect lots of museums, art, food, and wine!
You can reach the area of Volterra, inhabited by humans since the 8th century BC and settled in the Bronze Age, with a 45-minute drive from Certaldo. This area also served as a significant Etruscan civic center. Your visit could include: the Roman theater, the Piazza dei Priori, the Volterra cathedral, the Fortezza Medicea restaurant housed in an old fortress that is now a prison, and the old Etruscan Walls of Volterra.
This mountainous region covers areas of the provinces of Florence, Siena, and Arezzo. The “Chianti League” contains three cities: Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, and Castellina in Chianti. The area is famous for the production of Chianti wine, officially since 1716.
A stop in Certaldo is easy to organize into a Tuscan trip! This town will greet you with a wealth of adventure, art, history, and charm!
How to Get to Certaldo
Certaldo is accessible easily whether you are traveling by car, train, or plane. It is located on major bus and train lines. There are direct buses that will get you there from Florence or Siena in about 90 minutes, as well as trains – those will take about 50 minutes from Florence, or 35 minutes from Siena.
Traveling from major airport cities is possible by train, and will take you 3-4 hours from either the Rome or Venice main airports. There are also regional airports in Florence and Pisa, which have transport options to their city’s train station. In Florence you can take the GEST train (tramvia) to the main Florence train station (Firenze Santa Maria Novella); from Pisa you can take the Pisamover shuttle to the main Pisa train station (Pisa Centrale).
By car, you can easily access Certaldo off the Firenze-Pisa-Livorno highway or the Firenze-Siena highway.
Certaldo Alto, the Medieval part of the town, is accessible by car only to residents. As a visitor, you can find parking outside of the walls of town or in Certaldo Basso. From there, you can access Certaldo Alto by foot or by using the Certaldo funicular – a 427ft funicular railway designed to transport people up and down the 50m slope. The railway’s schedule can be found here.
Is Certaldo Worth Visiting?
Want to find yourself in a town that feels as though you are traveling back in time, surrounded by the echos of powerful families, rulers, poets, and ancient markets? Certaldo should be on your list for sure. From the medieval Palazzo Pretorio palace, to the house of Boccaccio, to the treasures of the Church of Saint Jacopo and Filippo, to seasonal gastronomical markets and festivals, this Tuscan town will provide you with amazing views near and far!