By: Chloë Sibley Writer & Journalist | Specialist Food & Arts

The outskirts of Florence display some of the finest Tuscany scenery. From fruitful fields and rolling vineyards to medieval fortified villages and old stone farmhouses, the countryside is the best way to escape the bustle of city life. 

If you want to broaden your horizons beyond Florence and Chianti, head west towards the coast and spend an afternoon in Montelupo Fiorentino. This hilltop town — renowned for its Chianti wine and ceramic production — is located on the banks of the Arno river, under an hours’ drive from all our villas near Florence. While it is becoming less of a secret to tourists, Montelupo Fiorentino’s local charm and character make it the perfect getaway for art lovers, especially for those with an interest in discovering Tuscany’s ceramic capital. 

The Rocca & the Renaissance: Montelupo’s history

The foundations of Montelupo Fiorentino were solidified during the middle ages with the creation of The Rocca. In the early 1200s, the Florentine Republic built a fortification on a hill by the confluence of the river Arno and river Elsa known as Castle La Rocca. The castle has stood strong to the present day and is open for visits and tours. 

Montelupo Fiorentino was considered one of the most important areas of pottery production during the Renaissance. Its success was due to the natural abundance of clay in the surrounding area, a result of the frequent floodings of the Arno river. The town began producing pottery in the 14th century, and by the 15th century was renowned for its distinctive maiolica, tin-glazed earthenware. These hand-painted ceramics are unmistakable: plates and vases of all shapes and sizes are covered with an opaque white glaze, then adorned with plant and animal motifs, Moorish arabesques, emblems and geometric figures, in cobalt blue.

A guided tour of art: Montelupo’s ceramics museum

The Museo della Ceramica di Montelupo Fiorentino is the town’s ceramics museum. The first exhibition took place in the summer of 1977 and not long after the Archaeological Group of Montelupo was born. The volunteering group extended research in Montelupo Fiorentino, leading to the reconstruction of their potters’ work from the Renaissance. 

The museum has an extensive collection of artwork spanning over two floors, with ceramics from the 13th century all the way to the 18th century. The corridors give a chronological journey through Montelupo Fiorentino’s rich art history, with each room characterised by a theme. The museum hosts over 5,550 works of art, unique in their design, aesthetic and symbology. Among their most majestic attractions is the ‘Mug with Harpy’, an archaic jug decorated with a mythical animal, half woman, and half bird. The cerulean-blue figure stands out on a white background, displaying the potter's skilled use of geometrics to create an unorthodox image. Another iconic piece is the ‘Polychrome Damaschino Bowl’ from the ex-furnace Belluci evacuation of the mid-1400s. The decoration on this bowl, far from the subjects typically found on these types of maiolica, shows a young man crossing a country landscape carrying a bird of prey. 

Visit the Museum of Ceramics of Montelupo Fiorentino every day from 10:00-19:00 (excluding Mondays from 14:00) — children, students, and over 65s benefit reduced rates.

Ceramic celebration at Montelupo’s festival 

The summer of 1993 saw the Municipality of Montelupo Fiorentino organise a special event for the town — the Festa Internazionale della Ceramica, now simply known as Cèramica. This annual ceramics festival takes place in June and is the most interesting and experiential way to get to know the ancient craft. 

A popular exhibit to visit at the festival is ‘Formae’: 25 of the most gifted potters and painters display their work and interpretation of the festival’s annual theme. A recent and new addition to Cèramica is the artisans market where you can discover independent ceramists and designers from all across Tuscany. 

Aside from ceramics, Cèramica is renowned for its gastronomical attractions. An array of street food stalls offer authentic and traditional dishes, served in the most charming ceramic plates, glasses, and jugs. The La Luna nel Pozzo restaurant is set up to cater to everyone’s needs at the festival, priding itself on classic Tuscan food. We recommended trying their Peposo, a traditional beef stew cooked in earthenware with Extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and pepper, laced with wine and herbs.

Aesthetic workshop: Montelupo’s ceramic school

If you want to experience the culture of ceramics, particularly that of maiolica pottery, the International Ceramic School of Montelupo offers a crafts workshop in authentic ceramic decoration. Led by expert ceramic artisan Ferrucio, learn the secrets to decorating vases, jugs, and plates and discover how to turn everyday objects into masterpieces. 

The workshop runs Monday to Saturday and is three hours long, allowing time for detailed teaching of techniques in colour, form and brushes. This activity is family-friendly and includes all necessary materials as well as an English-speaking assistant. At the end of the workshop, you will be able to take the objects you created with you. Your items will be baked and can either be collected or shipped, leaving you with a unique souvenir and reminder of Montelupo Fiorentino.

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