The town of Montecatini nestles among the hills of the Cecina valley, a few miles from the city of Volterra. In ancient times it was known by the name of Monte Leone (Castrum Montis Leonis), and was in a constant tug-of-war between Pisa and Volterra, before finally falling under the dominion of Florence in 1472. The history of Montecatini is closely tied to the nearby copper mines of Camporciano, which were exploited from the time of the Etruscans right up the early twentieth century. In the 1800s, they were the largest copper mines in Europe.
Walking through the streets of the historic centre, you cannot fail to notice the piazza that lies in the shadow of the castle and the bulky eleventh-century Belforti tower. The latter has a square base, thick walls in black-and-white stripes, and no crenellations or any of similar flim-flam. The tower originally belonged at various points to the Volterran families of Belforti, Pannocchieschi and Inghirami; it then served as the headquarters of the Volterran and Florentine governors, before passing to the French barons de Rochefort. Two horizontal apertures functioned as peep-holes over the castle of Volterra and the Sillana fortress.
The Romanesque church of San Biagio also faces onto Piazza Garibaldi, as does the fourteenth-century Palazzo Pretorio, which today functions as an archive and an integral part of a circuit that includes the mining site of Camporciano and the Mining Museum. The old copper mines are located around a kilometre from the town, and inside them you can see numerous tunnels an the famous Alfredo Shaft, and learn about all the stages in the ancient process of copper-working.
The whole area of Valdelsa Val di Cecina is dotted with little villages and hamlets, all surrounded by nature. These include the medieval village of Querceto, whose Romanesque church is dedicated to St John the Baptist; Sassa, which stands on the rocky spur of a hill, enjoying a gorgeous panorama; and Miemo, which is known as a breeding ground for wild boar, mouflon and roe deer.
A 20-minute drive takes you from Montecatini Val di Cecina to Volterra, the alabaster city. In Etruscan times, this was one of the dominant city-states. Archaeology-lovers can visit the ancient acropolis, the Roman theatre and the Guarnacci Etruscan museum.
Events worth noting are mainly gastronomic, such as I sapori della valle (flavours of the valley), which takes place in May, and Settembre Montecatinese. Colori e sapori di un antico paese (colours and flavours of an ancient town), meanwhile, takes place in Sassa in mid-August.
Montecatini Val di Cecina falls within the area that produces Pecorino della Balze Volterrane DOP, a cheese made exclusively with raw milk and vegetable rennet, which captures the flavours of wild cardoons and artichokes. The zone also produces Montescudaio DOC, which can be white or red, and superb sausages and salamis, which should be served on wood-baked bread.