Pistoia has won the title of Italian Capital of Culture for 2017. The announcement has generated a lot of excitement, heightened by the fact that the Lonely Planet has declared Pistoia one of the 10 top cities to visit this year. What is so special about this town at the foot of the Appennines?

Pistoia is the perfect destination for travellers wanting to discover the authentic face of Tuscany. It feels local and lived-in. It’s Tuscany without the crowds. And it’s a town that takes its heritage seriously, with eclectic interests: art, culture, music and good food. Easy to reach from Florence, it’s perfect for a day trip and the major attractions are all in easy walking distance from each other. But if you stay longer and get to know this corner of Tuscany better, you’ll surely find more reasons to love it. It’s definitely one of the top things to do in Tuscany this year.

Visit Pistoia Italian Capital of Culture 2017

1. Piazza Duomo. Breathe in the Medieval air in Piazza Duomo. Admire the ornate facade of the Bishops Palace, poke inside the frescoed courtyard of the Palazzo Pretorio. The Gothic Baptistry is an unforgettable sight, that looks a little like a marble jewellery box. This elegant square is the heart of Pistoia and an architectural treasure, even by Tuscany’s standards. All around it, a jumble of narrow streets complete the picture.

2. Enter the Romanesque Cathedral like pilgrims have done for hundreds of years. Discover the magnificent altar of St. James, a masterpiece of silversmithing, and an impressive 13th century wooden Crucifix. And to see things from a different angle, you can climb the bell tower that dates back to the time of the Lombard, and take in the view of the city.

3. Have lunch or an aperitivo in Piazza della Sala. If piazza Duomo is the political and religious core of Pistoia, the more intimate square ‘La Sala’ is its soul. This is the most ancient part of the town, where the Lombards that ruled Pistoia in the 9th century kept their seat of government. Later this picturesque square became the main hub of commerce, and many artisans opened shops in the area. Today it’s lively at all times of the day and night, and in the mornings there’s a food market that fills the square with local colour.

4. Admire the colourful frieze on the facade of the Ospedale del Ceppo, one of Pistoia’s landmark buildings. The Della Robbia workshop worked at this glazed maiolica design that represents the seven tasks of charity of the hospital. Recently restored, it’s one of the prides of the city.

5. Explore Pistoia’s underworld. The “Pistoia Sotterranea” is a tour that takes you on a walk under the ancient hospital Ospedale del Ceppo. You’ll learn the fascinating history of the Ospedale del Ceppo during the years of the middle ages and onwards. And you’ll see a most unusual sight: Europe’s smallest anatomical theatre, complete with a table for dissecting corpses.

6. Pistoia Blues Festival. For music lovers, this is definitely the city for you. Pistoia is the stage for a contemporary, internationally acclaimed music festival. Every Summer Piazza Duomo is the stage for this event that has seen performances from the likes of Sting, BB king and Damien Rice. Have a look at the line up on the official site: pistoiablues.com.

7. See Marino Marini sculptures. Pistoia born Marino Marini is one of the most famous Italian sculptors of the last century. Penny Guggenheim was amongst the first to appreciate his work and bought one of his statues to put at the entrance of her museum in Venice. In Pistoia you can see his work at the Marini Museum, hosted in the recently restored Tau Church. Here, beautifully frescoed rooms house the enigmatic sculptures of this artist who was friends with Henry Moore. His knights and horses are the most representative of his work. In autumn 2017, to celebrate this special year, there’ll be an important exhibition in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum at the Fabroni Palace.

8. Admire the marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, in Sant’Andrea Church. It’s one of the finest examples of Gothic sculptures in Tuscany, which shows rich symbolism and expressiveness.

Check out the official site of Pistoia Capital of Italian Culture 2017, with a beautiful introductory video that really gives you a taste for the town.