In the Pisan hills south of Pontedera, the village of Forcoli is a pretty pastel town of 1,780 residents at the edge of the Era River valley. It is a frazione of nearby Palaia, which is another town that should be visited while in the area.

Forcoli dates officially to 1061 when the land was donated by marquis Alberto degli Obertenghi to the Badia di San Michele church of Poggibonsi. It grew up around the local church and castle. Between 1141 and 1153 it was the holding of the Archbishop of Pisa, then of Lucca, before being conquered by the Republic of Firenze in 1285. Through the 1500s-1700s it was passed among various feudal lords until the unification of Italy and the land reforms that abolished the feudal system. Being a small town it was placed under the administration of Palaia.

The church of San Frediano sits on the hill above the village, a pretty domed structure that sits up next to the stalwart castello and its brick walls.

The area is dotted with olive groves and tall cypress trees. It's known for its white truffles and mushrooms, and the quality olive oil. A Tuscan grape varietal known as Bonamico is also referred to as "uva di Palaia" (the Palaia grape) and originates in this zone. The local cecina is a chickpea flour baked specialty that you should try while you're here. It's cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Palaia, for its part, has Etruscan origins. The historic Pieve di San Martino is a 13th century brick church with Romanesque and Gothic touches. The temple of Minerva Medica is a mystical brick structure built in the early 1800s by Andrea Vaccà Berlinghieri, a physician, dedicated to the goddess of medicine. His father was also a physician and a freemason, and the building contains symbols and mysterious elements, flanked by 8 Ionian columns.

Around the Pisan hills are lots of towns to explore, like Pontedera, San Miniato, both very enticing with churches and palaces as well as beautiful settings. Pisa, Lucca, Viareggio and Montecatini Terme are worth visiting, too.

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