Carmignano, a town in the province of Prato, and the surrounding countryside are a still undiscovered part of Tuscany. Just a forty minute drive from Florence, its landscapes, historical wealth and delicious local products will delight you, leaving you with memories of a great trip for years to come. What is there to see and do in and around Carmignano? We’ve got a weekend itinerary for you!
Church of San Michele in Carmignano
This is of course the church we know well! Founded – they say – by Saint Francis himself in 1211 and built by his close follower (you can read more about the history of this church here), it’s known to art lovers around the world since it’s home to Pontormo’s Visitation, a masterpiece of Mannerist painting. Recently, this work has made the trip across the ocean to the United States in search of funding to restore the entire monastic complex (click here to find out more). Painted in the period 1528-30, the oil on canvas represents the moment of encounter between Mary and Elisabeth when the women both reveal that they are pregnant. Pontormo’s unusual use of colours and flowing fabrics draws us in, and has been influential throughout art history – in fact, even today, many artists are inspired by this. Amongst the crowdfunding rewards we’re offering are scarves by Lanificio Bisentino and prints from a painting by Valentino Grassi, both influenced by Pontormo’s palette.
Rocca di Carmignano
The Rocca di Carmignano is a building located at the top of the town (you can see it very well from our cloister!). It’s made up of parts of the ancient wall of the city and an old tower. Contested in the past between contenders for the rule of this area (Prato, Pistoia and Florence), it came under the Republic of Florence in 1343 once and for all. Purchased by the city of Carmignano in 1990, it is now used for events. You can easily walk or drive up to visit the Rocca (the walk offers spectacular views all the way up!); the building is open on weekend afternoons and summer evenings, but even when closed, you still can get the view!
Museo della Vite e del Vino
A small museum called the “Museo della Vite e del Vino” provides an educational approach to the famous Carmignano wine. The museum is divided into five rooms which show aspects of country life throughout history and techniques of farming and agriculture up to modern times. The museum is located in the central piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and is accessed through the tourist information point run by the Pro Loco. It is open year round with the following hours: Tues-Friday and every first Sunday from 9:30am to 12:30pm and from 3pm to 8pm, saturdays 9:30am to 12:30pm, and closed in August.
Bacchereto, a tiny “fraction” (frazione) of the town of Carmignano was known in the 14th and 15th centuries for its production of maiolica or tin glazed ceramics. Some six ovens were active in this period, producing decoration in line with market needs for both everyday and more decorative wares. Underneath the pieve of S. M. Assunta, numerous shards and discarded pieces have been excavated, and one can visit the room dedicated to this on weekend afternoons.
Near Carmignano: Medici villas
Two important Medici villas, which are on the UNESCO world heritage list, embrace the countryside right near Carmignano, making it such a great home base for art lovers! Villa Medici Artimino was commissioned by Ferdinando I as a summer home for the court, although with its one hundred chimneys (giving it the name “Villa dei Cento Camini”) one can easily imagine that this hunting lodge was a great fall/winter retreat as well. Now it’s a wedding and conference venue under private management, with occasional public openings. You can however visit the archaeological museum located here.
The second Medici villa nearby is the 15th-century villa of Poggio a Caiano, run by the state and with a series of rooms that you can visit with a guide. As lovers of Pontormo, you’ll not want to miss the fresco he created here representing Vertumnus and Pomona, commissioned in 1519 by Giovanni de’ Medici (Pope Leo X). Also here is the really interesting Museo della Natura Morta, still-life museum. Once a year in September, the building and its grounds host a super three-day event with acting, music, artisans, 3D mapping projections on the facade and food called Assedio alla Villa, a great opportunity to get to know the history and traditions of our area.
Carmignano: local foods
Carmignano is perhaps best known for its wine (like much of Tuscany) and for its dried figs. This local delicacy is a Slow Food presidium with a strongly felt tradition amongst the inhabitants. Figs are picked at the start of September, cut in half and laid on wooden slatted trays. Fumigated with sulphur, they are dried in the sun for 4 to 5 days, and then put in a cool and ventilated area for 40 days, during which time they form a sugary outer layer. They are then folded into a figure-eight shape called “picce”. It’s not easy to get your hands on this delicacy, as only a small number are made each year. The area, like neighbouring Prato, is known also for its “biscotti” (properly called cantucci in Italian) and also amaretti. Amari, for example, is a family run bakery here in Carmignano that makes exceptional cookies from local ingredients that have won over locals and many people abroad. (Fear not, you can get these as rewards if you donate on our crowdfunding!).
Where to stay in Carmignano
One of the goals of our crowdfunding, aside from raising funds for the restoration of our church and convent, is to help people get to know this beautiful territory. That’s why amongst the higher level rewards you can choose on our crowdfunding, you’ll find various options for wekeend or week-long stays in Carmignano and surroundings. If you’ve always dreamed of sleeping in a Medici’s home, Tenuta Artimino, a winery on the property of the above mentioned villa, is for you. It offers a hotel with wine tastings, sports facilities and romantic dinners, as well as fully equipped apartments for longer stays. If your ideal itinerary also includes nearby Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo, Hotel Alexandra is an ideal option for a casual home base. In the center of Carmignano, you’ll enjoy Hotel Villa San Michele for its comfortable rooms and homey feeling. While if you’re a large family or group of friends seeking quiet, the Abbey of San Martino in Campo is a spacious and silent experience boasting incredible views over the whole valley of Carmignano.
Words by Vincenzo D’Angelo with research contribution by Greta Giorgetti.