Colle di Val d’Elsa, commonly named “Città del Colle”, is considered one of the most peculiar places in Tuscany. It was built along a famous Middle Ages trade route and is now a charming town tucked between a series of Tuscan hills. Therefore, “Colle” is definitely a must-see destination for visitors looking for quietness, and experiences full of tradition, culture, and events.
With a rich history dating back to the 13th century and San Francesco d’Assisi’s times, Colle di Val d’Elsa presents such a favorable and strategic position because of its proximity to San Gimignano and Monteriggioni. Moreover, it is easily reachable from Florence or nearby cities like Siena.
Although not so overcrowded or avant-garde, Colle di Val d’Elsa offers multiple ways of having fun or good times and making your holidays unforgettable. Read on to discover why you should absolutely visit this Italian gem.
Colle di Val d’Elsa – Top 8 Places to Visit
1. The Bulwark of Colle di Val d’Elsa
Located in the lower part of Colle di Val d’Elsa, the Bulwark is a defensive bastion. Currently used as a unique and wonderful terrace, it allows you to enjoy the suggestive landscape close to the Chianti area.
People interested in legends appreciate this spot. It is linked to the Tower-House of Arnolfo di Cambio, which can be accessed through its main entrance on Via del Castello. It is believed that a noblewoman witnessed the defeat of the Sienese Ghibellines from the top of the building. Dante Alighieri referenced this noblewoman in the 13th Canto of Purgatory in the Divina Commedia. The battle, known as the “Battaglia del Colle” took place in 1269.
2. Porta Volterrana
Porta Volterrana, also named Porta Nova or Salis (from its inhabitants), is a significant place based in the middle of Colle di Val d’Elsa. It takes its name from the salt which was extracted from this land and it was considered the main entrance to the district of Santa Caterina village. This magnificent monument dates back to 1479 and is an example of Renaissance military architecture.
Historically designed by Il Francione, Giuliano da Sangallo and Paolo di Francesco, Porta Volterrana presents a large wall with attached circular towers that give charm and beauty to the complex. Let’s not forget, then, the adjacent moat, discovered just a few years ago. In the offing, in conclusion, you will also find free parking from where you will be able to start your tour.
3. The Cathedral of Colle di Val d’Elsa and Other Churches
The so-called Duomo di Colle di Val d’Elsa (also known as ‘Concattedrale dei Santi Alberto e Marziale’) is the most antique church in the town and stands on the remains of a ‘pieve’ dating back to the Middle Ages. Nowadays, after multiple restorations and renovations, this building presents a beautiful brick facade with details in sandstone and rural frames built with local travertine. Inside, on the other hand, you can admire more than three imposing naves and picturesque works of artists like Vincenzo Dandini, Astolfo Petrazzi, and more. Much marvelous is the bronze crucifix produced by Pietro Tacca, a sculptor from Carrara.
There are many other places of religious worship in Colle di Val d’Elsa. One of the most impressive is the Chiesa di Santa Caterina, which has a Romanesque structure. Adjacent to it is the oratory of the Compagnia della Croce. This oratory features a work of art by Zaccaria Zacchi depicting the Lamentation over the Dead Christ.
4. Arnolfo di Cambio’s Tower House
Hidden from the hugeness of the Bulwark, it is possible to observe the elegant Arnolfo di Cambio’s Tower-House. The latter, indeed, is such a relevant symbol of the city. Previously belonging to the architect Arnolfo di Cambio (born in 1245), this building has an outstanding south facade on Via Romite made with local stone and terracotta.
Here, as a visitor, you will be able to admire (on the inside) many rooms rich in frescoes depicting some scenes of medieval battles which concerned Colle Val d’Elsa. By now, under many testimonials, this structure has recently undergone restoration.
5. Priory Palace
Palazzo Pretorio, also known as Palazzo del Podestà, is a fascinating mansion dating back to 1300. Located nearby Piazza del Duomo, it presents suggestive coats of arms of the Podestà and the Commissioners who reigned over Colle Val d’Elsa decades ago.
Moreover, Priory Palace went under restoration in 1990, and by now it is full of Renaissance frescoes and a secular courtyard previously used as a place of refreshment for ex-convicts. Nowadays it hosts the Etruscan Antiquarium and the archaeological Museum of Colle di Val d’Elsa.
Experiences around Colle di Val d’Elsa
6. Palazzo Campana
Palazzo Campana, built during the 16th century, is a Tuscan building with typical Mannerist architecture. It takes its name from the politician Francesco Campagna who immediately expressed the will of building this spot and proposed the project to Giuliano di Baccio d’Agnolo.
Characterized by a scenographic aesthetic and a strategic position that connects this one to the adjacent Borgo Santa Caterina, Palazzo Campana presents Renaissance details and an arch on the via del Castello which will allow you to access the historical center and visit the whole town easily.
7. Sentierelsa Trail and Diborrato Waterfall
Colle di Val d’Elsa is the ideal place for trekking lovers. Indeed, here, you will be able to experience a unique adventure thanks to the Sentierelsa, a nature trail that crosses the city. The latter starts from Gracciano and Ponte di San Marziale. After that, it takes about 2 km to run across the river until Spugna in Colle bridge. You can explore more than 5 km of stunning natural scenery in less than 2 hours. This includes the unforgettable Diborrato Waterfall, which is over 15 meters high and has silky blue water that’s perfect for swimming.
Explore more: Hiking in Tuscany – 10 Enchanting Adventures on Foot
Colle di Val d’Elsa is a charming treasure with its beautiful natural areas and surprising cultural spots. This is the reason why, before leaving this place, you must visit its museums. Much famous is the Museum of Crystal, which takes its name from this precious material, which gave notoriety and economic stability to the village. Opened in 2001, the building hosts tools which tell visitors about the natural evolution of crystal production from the 14th century until now.
The “Museo civico e d’arte sacra” is another must-see attraction. It features three rooms that are filled with 18th-century frescoes, such as the Annunciazione by A. Salimbeni and La Madonna appare ai santi Gregorio e Alberto by Salivetti. Don’t forget to check it out! Saving the best for last, the Tesoro di Galognano is an absolute must-see. This Eucharistic ladle dates all the way back to the 6th century B.C. and is truly astonishing.
Best Places to Stay
Colle di Val d’Elsa offers multiple accommodation options (B&B, farmhouses, or hotels) which are ready to satisfy any kind of traveler’s necessity. Here’s our latest list of top stays:
Centrally Located Renaissance Mansion
At Relais della Rovere, you will be able to reach (fastly) the historical center of the village. Here, moreover, you can relax and sunbathe because of a huge terrace (with pavement in terracotta). There are private rooms with annex bathrooms and traditional breakfast is included.
Medieval Farmhouse Hidden in the Vegetation
At Villa Sabolini, you can choose between huge rooms with antique details or accommodations equipped with modern utilities, a garden area and sweet tastes. This is, surely, the best option for those who want to reach Siena or Florence in less time
Beautiful Hotel among Tuscan hills
At Hotel Palazzo San Lorenzo and Spa, you can reach the center in a few minutes and it offers large rooms (with a modern aesthetic) and a Spa for relaxation. Breakfast is included and it includes Tuscany delicacies.
Restaurants Colle di Val d’Elsa – Our Top 3 Selection
Based in the heart of Colle di Val d’Elsa, Arnolfo restaurant is a unique experience for every visitor. An excellent place, with two Michelin stars, which has large rooms with a modern design. The staff stands out for their cordiality and efficiency. We suggest you taste the sea bass filled with almond mousse and olives.
L’Antica Trattoria di Paradisi Enrico is a local restaurant with rustic characters and a traditional Tuscan menu. Rich in combinations of sweet and savory, we suggest you try the homemade ragù or the lobster and salmon ravioli, made with fresh fish caught by Maremma sailors.
L’Oste di Borgo
L’Oste di Borgo is a traditional restaurant that offers its new clients multiple options between sweets and salty delicacies. Here, indeed, you will be able to taste fresh cheese and cold cuts but we suggest you the inimitable pici alla scamerita.
What to See near Colle di Val d’Elsa
The Etruscan Roman Bath of Caldane
Easily accessible from Colle di Val d’Elsa, the Etruscan Terme Le Caldane are famous springs of warm water rich in benefits for the body and mind which dates back to Etruscan times. This unique water is rich in mineral salts and is ideal for skin treatments. An open-space area that, once, was a complex destroyed in 1260 by the Sienesi.
Very close to Colle Val d’Elsa and Siena, the enchanting San Gimignano is a must-see destination because of its monuments and cultural spots. Indeed, we advise you to take a look at Piazza del Duomo, Rocca di Montestaffoli and Chiesa San Lorenzo in Ponte.
Not so far from Colle di Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni is a medieval village that is part of the Montagnola Senese. Here, you should definitely visit Porta Franca (o Romea), Porta Fiorentina, and Abbazia dei Santi Salvatore e Cirino.
How to Get to Colle di Val d’Elsa
Colle di Val d’Elsa is easily reachable whether you are traveling by bus, car, or plane. Speaking of the first option, we remind you that this village does not have its own railway station and the nearest one is Poggibonsi-San Gimignano (more than 10 km far away). This is the reason why we suggest you take bus 131 (managed by Tiemme) from Leopolda Station in Florence. Traveling from here, indeed, will take you only 1 hour to reach the town center. Alternatively, you can drive from Arezzo, Livorno or Pisa by taking the provincial SS715 and then Raccordo Autostradale 3 Siena-Firenze (RA3). After 90 minutes, an outstanding view will welcome you.
The closest main airports are Rome (Fiumicino) and Florence (Amerigo Vespucci) and once arrived, take a rental car or a bus to reach this town.
Florence to Colle di Val d’Elsa
Only 50 km away from Florence, the enchanting Colle di Val d’Elsa is accessible and worthwhile by driving through the Firenze-Siena freeway and by taking Colle Val d’Elsa North or South exit. Both these roads will bring you to the historical center in less than 15 minutes. This one is definitely the best option if you are looking for fast and cheap solutions.
Is Colle di Val d’Elsa Worth Visiting?
Would you like to live for a while in the so-called ‘giornate all’italiana’ (from English “Italian days”) and be surrounded by dense vegetation, huge and majestic tower houses, or hidden paths? Colle di Val d’Elsa, then, is surely worthwhile. Let’s discover why.
This town is highly valued for its historical center, which is filled with medieval and rural buildings. These buildings were once inhabited and included villas that belonged to Nicola Pisano and the sculptor and artist Arnolfo di Cambio. In addition, visitors can admire the stunning Museo del Cristallo, which displays a collection of beautiful gems and crystals found in this City of Crystal.
Divided into two main and unique sections (Colle Alto and Colle Basso), you will have the chance to admire Colle di Val d’Elsa by taking the 24/7 free ropeway (built in 2006) which overcomes a height difference of more than 40 meters. A mixture of past and future supported by the presence of typical local markets and wonderful people. Let’s take a look, then, at how to reach the beautiful Colle di Val d’Elsa.