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Who doesn't dream of an Italian vacation? The art, the culture, the food - Italy is one of the premier locations for travellers of all ages and tastes. But when it comes to visiting the country, popular cities like Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice aren't the only options. There are a number of lesser-known cities that offer visitors a less touristy Italian experience. One of these is Pistoia, a city in Tuscany crossed by the Ombrone Pistoiese, an offshoot of the River Arno.
Described by Lonely Planet as "Tuscany without the crowds," Pistoia should definitely be a consideration for your next vacation location. Not convinced? Read on for five major reasons to add this destination to the top of your travel wish list.
1. Underground passages
Do you enjoy turning your vacations into adventures? Then you'll probably love exploring the Pistoia's underground passages. According to Lonely Planet, the subterranean passages beneath the Ospedale del Ceppo were created in the 13th century when the local hospital needed to be expanded to accommodate the large number of people afflicted by the Black Death. To make the expansion possible, the city diverted the river underground. Today, the tunnels give visitors a peek into medieval life in the Tuscan area.
2. Italian food and drink
There's no denying that one of the biggest draws of any Italian city is the food and Pistoia is no exception. There are plenty of cafes, bars and pizzerias to satisfy even the most ardent foodie. The lifestyle blog Secret Italy recommends trying chianina, a meat dish made from Italian beef. You should also try the thick soup pappa al pomodoro, which is made with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, basil, garlic and bread, among other ingredients.
Frommer's recommends enjoying a meal or snack at Caffe Duomo. In addition to delicious food, the cafe provides a beautiful view of the city's magnificent town square. In good weather you can take advantage of the outdoor seating and enjoy both the view and Caffe Duomo's pizza-like bread. It's an ideal way to pass an afternoon in Italy.
While in Pistoia, you'll also want to try some of the city's sweeter delicacies. According to Discover Tuscany, Pistoia is located in the "Tuscan chocolate valley," an area that's inhabited by some of the most highly respected artisanal chocolate makers in the country. Win points with your friends and family back home by bringing back some samples as gifts.
3. Local markets
The restaurants and cafes aren't the only place you can sample the best of the local cuisine in Pistoia. The city's markets provide visitors and locals alike with fresh tomatoes, lettuce and other produce for which the region is known. According to Tuscany Italy, a tourism website, Pistoia's market days are Wednesday and Saturday. If you're staying at a hotel or hostel that has a kitchen, consider making your own dinner with freshly purchased local ingredients.
4. Beautiful architecture
Even if you're just walking the streets of the city, there's plenty to see. Pistoia's historical architecture, designed in the Roman style, offers travellers a glimpse at life in Tuscany hundreds of years ago. Though Fodor's Travel reported that the city had to undergo extensive reconstruction following the end of WWII due to heavy bombing, much of the Romanesque architecture has been preserved and can be enjoyed by visitors today. Make sure you have your camera or smart phone handy as you walk around the town. You'll want to capture these images.
5. Cultural events
Ready for a taste of the city's history and culture? Take part in one of Pistoia's celebrated festivals. If you visit in July, you might get to see the Pistoia Blues festival, a gathering of international blues artists and rock-and-roll artists that's normally held somewhere around the middle of the month, according to Fodor's Travel. The city also annually holds La Giostra dell'Orso, a celebration of Saint James, Pistoia's patron saint, on July 25. The celebration involves a staged event where three knights fight a bear. But don't fear, animal lovers - the "bear" is actually just a target.