The highs and lows of chilled out Colle di Val d’Elsa, Tuscany

Colle di Val d’ElsaWelcome back to Tuscany Month, featuring another chunk of the Lost Tuscany Text, this time about Colle di Val d’Elsa, that didn’t make it into the totally redesigned 2010 Lonely Planet Tuscany & Umbria.

Most visitors to Colle di Val d’Elsa are simply changing buses en route to Volterra. However, if you have a hour or two to kill, or you’re itching to stay somewhere off-the-beaten-path and chilled out, this is a great choice.

Colle di Val d’Elsa has long been Italy’s major center for fine glass and crystal production and, unburdened by any notable church, museum or work of art, the place has kept its character as a rural market town. Colle Alta, the historic, one-street part of town located high atop a severe ridge, is a fun place to wander. The lower part of town is modern and ho-hum, though they do a bustling Friday market in and around Piazza Arnolfo, selling everything from giant wheels of cheese to frilly knickers.

There’s a tourist office in both the lower part of Colle di Val d’Elsa (Piazza Arnolfo 9; hours 11am-7:45pm, closed Sun afternoon), sharing space with the bus station ticket office on the main square, and another in the upper part (Via Campana 43; hours 10am-12pm & 3-6pm Monday-Saturday, 10am-12pm & 3-5pm Sunday). If crystal art is your thing, between March and October the lower tourist office books crystal tours (€20), with visits to glass-blowing, shaping, cutting and engraving workshops and crystal showrooms. The Museo del Cristallo (Via dei Fossi 8a; hours 10am-noon & 3-7pm Tuesday-Sunday in summer), in the lower part of town, illustrates the history and production of crystal and displays some stunning pieces (leave your toddler at home). All descriptions are in Italian.

Colle di Val d’ElsaIf you’re on foot, you should access Colle Alta via the elevator, hidden deep in the hillside (look for signs directing you to the cave entrance). If you’re driving up to Colle Alta, park in the free lot near Porta Nova at the western end of town.

Colle Alta has three small museums. The Museo Archeologico, Museo Civico and Museo d’Arte Sacra (the latter two share the same premises). Most interesting is the Museo d’Arte Sacra, with some worthwhile paintings by Sienese masters.

If you’re staying for dinner, Il Frantoio (Via Castello 40; meals €38) in Colle Alta gets full points, both for food and atmosphere. There’s cheaper places in town, but this is the only place where you’ll be pampered, from the complimentary champagne and small tasting appetizer to the main events of liver-filled ravioli and duck (very rare) with roasted potatoes. They also do a fixed-price lunch menu.