Since ancient times, Montevarchi has held a strategic position in Valdarno, situated on the intersection between the roads that connect Arezzo, Florence and Siena.
At the end of the year 1000, the plain was almost deserted, the area was full of woods and the freely-flowing Arno lead to constant flooding. It was only in castles high above sea level that life could continue relatively uninterrupted. The town’s name dates back to the 11th century when the Hospice of San Michele Arcangelo stood on the Ginestra hill, built by the Benedictine Monks to offer help to pilgrims. On the nearby hill (now called the Convent of the Capuchins) stood the historic castle which is now called Montevarchi, most likely because it marked the passage between the Florentine and Arezzo areas.
Today, Montevarchi’s medieval centre is structured around Piazza Varchi, the historic heart of city life. The piazza is overlooked by Palazzo Pretorio - whose façade displays the coats of arms of the city’s mayors - and the 13th century Collegiate Church of San Lorenzo, redecorated a few centuries later as part of Massimiliano Soldani Benzi’s project. In the former sacristy, home to the Museum of Sacred Art, there’s a gorgeous little temple designed by Andrea della Robbia and the Delivery of the Relic of the Holy Milk by Count Guerra, two works that are among the best examples of terracotta glazing, an art for which the Florentine family has become famous.
It’s well worth taking a visit to the Church of Santa Maria al Giglio for its miraculous apparitions that, over the centuries, have been attributed to the fresco of the Virgin above the altar.
Zoology enthusiasts will particularly enjoy Montevarchi’s Paleontological Museum, which houses impressive prehistoric animal relics.
Meanwhile, for art loves the Cassero is absolutely unmissable. The museum holds a collection of 2,500 works made from bronze, marble, plaster, terracotta and drawings by Tuscan and Italian artists.
The landscape is uniquely characterised by the Balze, an erosive phenomenon that has caused steep, clay-rich slopes with their typical yellowish colour.
One of Montevarchi’s typical events is the Gioco del Pozzo, a version of historic Florentine football that takes place every year during the Feste del Perdono on the first weekend of September. The event brings the city center to life, reviving its atmosphere, history, and medieval traditions thanks to the historical re-enactment that fills the village’s streets.
Montevarchi is on the Arezzo Wine Trail, a route of over 200 km that crosses the province of Arezzo, where the wine Chianti DOCG Colli Aretini is produced.
This wine goes perfectly with the Pancetta Tarese del Valdarno, a kind of large pork salami with a rich - but at the same time delicate - flavour. Here, the famous zuppa dei Tarlati (a chicken soup named after a 14th century bishop) is also found.