Famed for its leaning tower, prestigious university and proximity to some of Italy’s best known wine regions, Pisa makes a memorable city break destination.
Located around 10 kilometres from the coast in the picturesque region of Tuscany, Pisa attracts millions of visitors every year, with its iconic Leaning Tower the primary point of interest. Famously tilting almost four degrees on account of its unstable foundations and failed attempts to compensate, the tower is one of three significant buildings in the city’s Piazza del Duomo (also known as Piazza dei Miracoli), the other two being the cathedral and the baptistry of St.John (the largest in Italy). This architectural ensemble is nothing short of stunning and has unsurprisingly been granted World Heritage status by UNESCO, but there’s a lot more to Pisa than a dazzling dose of white marble!
Compact, and easily explored on foot, Pisa’s cobbled streets and piazzas hide a wealth of architectural treasures, as well as numerous bars and restaurants from which one can eat and drink in the views with some delicious regional cuisine and a glass of local fizz or a world famous Brunello. The city is also home to a number of lively markets, some beautiful bookshops and a range of fascinating museums and art galleries which chronicle Pisa’s history as a maritime republic as well as its intellectual and artistic heritage.
Given its pleasant climate and the many festivals that take place here, Pisa makes an appealing year-round city break destination and boasts a wide range of accommodation to suit a diverse clientele. With everything from traditional to contemporary hotels, guest-houses, villas and private rentals, there’s something here to suit every type of traveller. At the heart of the city Rinascimento Bed & Breakfast is notable for its beautifully appointed, characterful rooms and charming service, and Relais dell’Orologio for its blend of elegant, old world atmosphere and modern amenities. The latter also boasts a well respected restaurant with an innovative menu and excellent wine list which includes local, regional and national varietals along with a number of prestigious international labels. Further afield the Bagni di Pisa Spa Resort - roughly six kilometres from the city and housed in a converted 18th century former residence of the Tuscan Grand Duke - provides luxurious accommodation and fabulous views from its serene setting.
Food and wine are integral to Pisa’s identity, and like all Tuscan towns and cities there is a rich tradition here of simple, flavoursome cuisine utilising local, seasonal ingredients. Fish and seafood dishes are more prominent than in other parts of the region largely on account of Pisa’s proximity to the coast, but meat is also popular, with many restaurants dividing the menu into ‘terra’ and ‘mare’ to indicate if a dish is from the land or the sea. Some local dishes to try include Tagliata di Mucco Pisano - a dish made from a breed of cattle unique to the countryside around Pisa, comprising rare steak, sliced and served with seasonal vegetables and balsamic vinegar, Baccalà coi Porri - grilled salt cod, served with tomatoes, leeks and potatoes, and Castagnaccio - chestnut flour cake. Of course traditional Tuscan plates of cured meats, cheeses, bread, olive oil and wine, are also central to most meals.
Pisa is a lively university town with a huge student population and a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. Visitors here can enjoy a range of restaurants and bars from traditional trattorias to hole-in-the-wall drinking dens, casual pizzerias to fine dining establishments. One of the city’s most popular eateries is Osteria dei Cavalieri. Located in the heart of Pisa this traditional tavern serves simple rustic Tuscan cuisine with a modern, creative twist. The restaurant’s cosy atmosphere and notable wine list - which includes an extensive selection from Tuscany as well as other Italian regions, France and Germany - both add to its appeal, and such is its popularity with locals and tourists, booking ahead is advised to avoid disappointment. Two others to note are Osteria Vecchia Noce - a traditional family-run restaurant serving classic Tuscan cuisine, and Foresta in Marina di Pisa which enjoys an enviable location overlooking the sea and offers high-quality fish and seafood dishes, a decent wine list and unforgettable views.
Pisa’s diverse bar scene includes everything from bohemian watering holes to student hangouts and sophisticated cocktail bars. Aperitivo is alive and well here and it’s worth heading out to one of the city’s bars early to meet the locals and indulge in a pre-dinner drink and bar snack. For wine lovers, Duende is a small wine bar with a great selection of natural wines from all across Italy and further afield. There’s also a limited but delicious menu of small plates, friendly, knowledgeable staff who are happy to make recommendations, and an easy, relaxed vibe that makes this the perfect place to indulge your passion for fine wine.
Overall Pisa is a charming and somewhat surprising city; whilst the crowds inevitably come for the tilting tower, it’s the quaint, meandering backstreets, tiny unpretentious bars and beautiful scenery that truly captivate the visitor here. Filled with historical intrigue, laden with cultural curiosities and boasting a food and wine scene that remains more rustic and low key than its illustrious neighbours Florence and Siena, Pisa is a relaxed and rewarding destination which invites exploration.
Via Litoranea 2, Marina di Pisa, 56128
Via San Frediano 16, Pisa, 56126
Località Noce 39, Vicopisano, 56010
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