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Pistoia, Pistoia

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Slow-paced Pistoia is relatively tourist-free, but a stroll through its beautifully preserved pedestrian historical center is a must. The impressive duomo (Piazza del Duomo), with a three-tiered loggia and a portico supported by elegant columns, contains a real prize in the chapel of San Jacopo, where the precious silver altar-frontal was crafted by Tuscany's greatest silversmiths from 1287 up until about 1450. The two figures on the left side are by Brunelleschi, later to become the great architect of the cupola on Florence's duomo. Make sure you pass by the Ospedale del Ceppo (Piazza Ospedale), still a functioning hospital after 600 years, to see the wonderful exterior Della Robbia ceramic frieze. On the border between the provinces of Lucca and Pistoia, just outside the village of Collodi, the Parco di Pinocchio (3 Via San Gennaro; 39-0572-429-342; is a theme park devoted to the world's most famous wooden puppet (author Carlo Lorenzini took "Collodi" as his pen name because his mother worked here). The park features bronze sculptures of the characters and scenes from the book put together by contemporary artists. It's a fine place for a picnic, but don't go expecting a little Disneyland: There are no rides, just plenty of Pinocchio-inspired art, a maze, and lots of space to run around. See Tuscan Gardens for some of the other historic gardens near Pistoia.

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