|by Sean O'Neill||Italy||1|
Cecilia Weckstrom has designed several toys for Lego, such as Exoforce, Power Racers, and Sponge Bob. Since April, her job title has been Experience & Innovation Director. She travels the globe spotting business opportunities for Lego. She's rarely at home for two weeks straight.
Clearly, Cecilia is a great person to ask for travel advice. She has broad travel experience as a Finn who works in the U.K. for a Danish company. Plus, she's a professional innovator, with a sharp eye for creative vacation spots.
So where in the world would Cecilia say you should go on vacation?
"My recommendation has to be Pietra Santa in Tuscany, Italy, a stone's throw from Pisa, known for the leaning tower. Pietra Santa is the home of sculptors from all over the world. Originally even Michelangelo lived here. It has the best foundries in the world, having cast sculptures for Ferdnando Botero, Henry Moore, Mitorai and many more. It further has countless marble-yards, where you can turn up, rent yourself a spot, a block of marble and the tools and have a go yourself and not forgetting the delicious food and cappuccinos in-between. Italians have turned having lunch into an art-form and if you want a piece of the real Italian culture, in an authentic setting unspoilt by truck-loads of tourists--look no further.
My dad moved there in the early nineties, which is when I discovered it too. I have visited many times--almost every year if I can make it! Pietra Santa is great for a day trip from Pisa, or you can stay at the many tiny little hotels around and in Pietra Santa itself, and go dip your toe into the sea at Forte di Marmi, the beach resort nearby. It is affordable, genuine and a wonderful place to get your creative juices flowing!"
Can you recommend a restaurant in Pietra Santa?
Restaurant Gato Negro just by the Piazza del Duomo is excellent and hugely
popular. So try to stop by earlier in the day to reserve a table to make
sure you get one. Another little known restaurant is Da Piero's, just over
the railway bridge, whose sea food pasta Frutti di Mare with a little
Frizzante white wine is the best I've ever had--all fresh ingredients and
simply unbeatable value.
I've tried both and each serve excellent food. Gato Negro is a little more expensive, but then they are in a prime location. Signora who runs Da Piero is very friendly and greets everyone like a long-lost relative, whether you can speak Italian or not.
A stroll around the city is good fun, try to stick your nose into the Duomo and the little chapel at one of the side streets to see amazing murals painted by Ferdnando Botero himself, another
resident of the town, make sure you also stumble into a marble yard and have a look at what people are working on, it's simply amazing and of course a cappuccino at the Piazza is a must.
Is this a place children will like?
Italians love children so wherever you go, don't be surprised if your little one becomes the centre of the attention in a shop, a restaurant or a cafe. The town is not a child-specific place as such, so not a lot of play areas or entertainment specifically for children, but then if it's a day trip make sure to visit ice-cream shop next to the Piazza del Duomo,
nothing beats proper Italian Ice-cream!
What is it about this place that draws you back?
The town is unique as the center for sculpture in the world, but it also is a quintessential little Italian town so it is a very genuine experience of what life is like away from the big tourist traps. It is a very beautiful place, a truly authentic Italian town at the foot of the mountains, it seems to time has stopped here--life has a different rhythm and it is very easy to relax here and it is impossible not to get infected by the creativity which seems to be abundant here--everyone is an artist and if you aren't already, you soon fancy being one too! And it makes for an easy daytrip from (or to!) Pisa, Florence, Lucca, and Forte di Marmi.
Any hotel or rental car recommendations?
I haven't stayed in hotels here, but there are plenty to choose from both around Pietra Santa and in the town itself, in many different price ranges so you are guaranteed to find something to your liking and budget. You can also rent a car at Pisa airport and go visit places like Lucca and Florence too, which are neat little day trips.
How to book it: Fly a U.S. discount airline to New York City, and then hop a flight to Bologna on Eurofly for about $700 round-trip during peak season. Or fly on Zoom to London, and hop a discount carrier (which you can find at WhichBudget) to Bologna, Rome, or Florence. Rent your car through AutoEurope for cheap rates. Look for hotels via online booking website Venere.
Related: 14 Top Questions About Italy, Answered.