For our entire trip in Italy, we stayed in Montecatini Terme, which is a resort town in between Pisa and Florence. This turned out to be not only a pleasant place to stay, but a great location to use as a base of operations. Unless you’re going there for the spa treatments (they supposedly get 2 million visitors each year), there’s not a lot to do in the town itself. There’s a horse racing track (only open one day a week, and we missed it), and one museum (closed on the only day we would have had the chance to go), but there’s lots of good restaurants and fine (and expensive) shops. The shops are open on Sunday, which is not common in that area, so it makes for a big Sunday crowd. The local population is only around 20,000, but they have over 200 hotels in town for all of the visitors.
We had expected to find outdoor thermal baths, but evidently the main draw is for drinking the water at the Tettuccio resort, which is supposed to be good for the liver, arthritis, rheumatism, and so on. There are several special types of water that you drink, and you need to have a prescription for it. The local spa resorts do have swimming pools with the thermal water, mudbaths, etc., but it’s not quite what we thought we’d find.
Much of the architecture in the town is Art Nouveau style, which made for an interesting contrast to the older buildings we encountered for most of the rest of the trip.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Plaza, which was located on the main square, only 50 meters from the train station. It was definitely right in the heart of all of the action, which was great except for the noise at night. The rooms in the front of the hotel face the church (with the loud bells) and the main square (with people singing and shouting until late at night), while the rooms at the back of the hotel overlooked an outdoor bar which had live music almost every night until 1 a.m. Our room faced the back, and it sounded like we were IN the bar. But we were so tired every night by the time we went to bed, that even the loud music couldn’t keep us awake. And the last night we were there, they were playing some great Jazz, and it was a shame that we had to go to sleep early – but we had to get up very early to catch our flight out. Although we liked the hotel and the noise didn’t end up keeping us awake, we’d probably choose someplace else if we went again – even just a street or two away would be much quieter, but still close to all of the action.
We met a man from Chicago who is married to an Argentinian woman who lived in Montecatini for many years – they were just there for a visit, and were staying at the Hotel Bijoux. It was a very nice little hotel that was quite inexpensive, and included both breakfast and dinner cooked by the owner/chef. (I think he said it was only 40 Euros per night, including the meals.) Although it’s not a restaurant that’s open to the public, they let us arrange a day ahead to have dinner there – and they served us a fantastic traditional Italian family-style meal, for a very reasonable price. The owners have only had the place for a few months, so I hope they’re able to make a go of it. The man we met said the rooms are small but nice and clean, and with a private bathroom. I’d certainly consider staying there if we went again, but there are many, many hotels to choose from in the area.
Here are a few photos from Montecatini. Click any photo for a bigger view.
|The Grand Hotel Plaza in Montecatini Terme||The terrace of the hotel – the windows to our room aren’t visible, but would be immediately to the right of this photo, one floor above the terrace. You can see the neighboring bar on the left below the terrace.|
|Pizzeria Trattoria il Vicolo – we went for lunch so were unable to try their pizza (which I heard was excellent), as they only serve it in the evenings. But the lunches we had were outstanding, especially the ravioli with walnut sauce.||Ristorante Da Lorenzo – recommended by the hotel, and it was very nice. We didn’t get a photo of the restaurant “San Francisco“, but it was incredibly good (but quite expensive!)|
|Super Crema da Rino Gelateria – I’m not exactly sure if this is the name – I’m guessing from the sign. It was right by the Montecatini Centro train station. This was absolutely the best gelato we had in Italy. We all thought it was even better than the gelato we had at the Pluripremiata Gelateria in San Gimignano, which was evidently the Gelato World Champion for 2006-7 and 2008-9.||Tutto a 1 Euro – Italy’s version of All-a-Dollar. Ya gotta love it.|
|This is the swimming pool sign at the hotel. It says “swimming pool” in Italian, English, and German – but every time I saw it, all I could think of was “Piss in the swimming pool – swimming bad”.||The pool was lovely, though – too bad it was either too cool or too rainy for swimming.|
|Ahem. I assume this is a “Strutt Your Mutt” day – too bad we weren’t there for it.||And speaking of strutting, Sunday afternoons were great for people-watching in the main square. I just loved these 3 guys on the left (they made a couple of rounds). Then there’s the guys in the center of the photo, eyeing the pretty woman on the right. This pretty much summed up the crowd.|