The town clustering round the Montecatini Terme spa is relatively modern: until the eighteenth century the area on which it is built was a swamp.
The old town is a small, perfect Tuscan hill town, Montecatini Alto, strongly suggestive of the better known San Gimignano, with towers, churches and a market place perched at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Of the twenty-five medieval towers built in Montecatini, six survive.
The easy way to Montecatini Alto is by the Funicolare connecting the historic hill-town with the baths in the valley bottom. This one-kilometre line opened in 1898, in the presence of local resident Giuseppe Verdi. The track was blown up in 1944 and restored in 1949. There was a further closure for upgrading between 1977 and 1982.
The two cars, named Gigio and Gigia (also numbered 1 and 2 for the avoidance of ambiguity) are inclined, with three compartments and external balconies front and back. Gradient markers towards the top indicate increasing gradients from 25% to 38.5%. The views are spectacular and the experience didn’t feel vertiginous. The line stops for lunch between 1.00pm and 2.30pm. A round-trip, taking less than ten minutes, costs €7: https://www.funicolare-montecatini.it/orari-e-prezzi/timetable-and-prices.
At the top I visited the quiet little Church of St Joseph & St Philip and, next to it, the Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower with an unusual dial showing only six instead of twelve numbers. The Torre dell’Orologio was fitted with a dial facing northwards across the town by 1552, and the existing mechanism dates from 1695. It chimes “alla Romana”, the Roman striking system in which a low note represents five and a high note one.
At the opposite end of the main square, the Piazza Giuseppe Giusti, I climbed another hill to visit the Church of St Peter the Apostle, which has an odd little museum, including a disconcerting relic of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of Montecatini.
There’s an authoritative account of Montecatini Alto at https://experiencedtraveller.com/journal/2016-08-21-montecatini-alto-in-tuscany-medieval-meets-modern.