Tuscany: Places to Explore

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Colle di Val d'Elsa

Most people pass through on their way to and from popular tourist destinations Volterra and San Gimignano—a shame, because Colle di Val d'Elsa has much to offer. It's another town on the Via Francigena that benefited from trade along the pilgrimage route to Rome. Colle got an extra boost in the late 16th century when it was given a bishopric, probably related to an increase in trade when nearby San Gimignano was cut off from the well-traveled road.

The town is arranged on two levels, and from the 12th century onward the flat lower portion was given over to a flourishing paper-making industry; today the area is mostly modern, and efforts have shifted toward the production of fine glass and crystal—surprisingly, 15% of the world's fine crystal is made here. Colle alto (the upper town) is essentially a one-street affair that runs gently uphill from a panoramic terrace overlooking Colle basso (the lower town), past the house where Arnolfo di Cambio (architect of the Duomo in Florence) was born, along a road lined with 16th-century town palaces, to the upper defensive ramparts built by the Florentines. If you don't like the idea of the short climb, you can take a free public elevator linking the upper and lower sections of the town.

Colle di Val d'Elsa at a Glance

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