Prato, an Italian city that matters

Stories by the “Creative Curious Travellers 2016” about the city of Prato. Thanks to: Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci | Camera di Commercio di Prato | USE-IT Prato | LeCù | Fonderia Cultart | Biscottificio Antonio Mattei | Cibino Take Away | Gelateria Fior di Sole | Apothéke Cocktail Bar | Dolci Amari | Caffè Vergnano | Camaloon | The GIRA.


Some travels seem more important than others, we would even say more remarkable. No need to go far far far away to find beauty and to discover great things in the world. It’s what we have learned while we were visiting Prato. An apparently tiny city in Tuscany, 20 minutes away from Florence. Tiny in appearance, but big with all the things it offers, in terms of history, food, and obviously of culture. As we thought would be just a classic trip about as we usually do, discovered way more.

Prato by Jennifer & Mélody - cover post

Prato, a dynamic city

The most interesting part of this city is probably its population, partly composed of young dynamic people, who studied in bigger cities, even sometimes abroad but who decided to come back after all in this small town of “only” 192.946 residents. But why’s that?

After some conversations with locals residents and a bit of history, we learned that Prato was the highlight of fashion design in the late eighties/early nineties for the textile until the economic crisis came to destroy everything in its way, but mostly all the workers and the factories specialised in that. Nowadays, Prato is an in-between city.

First, because it’s near, from Florence, the capital of Tuscany well-known for its history thanks to the Medici’s and fashion houses. Secondly, because it’s becoming an up-and-coming city. Its proximity from Florence made it attractive to a lot of artists and craftsmen who can not afford to live in the big city and can find there a way to express themselves in a humane-scale environment. And that’s what made Prato so appealing to us.

The first thing we remember from Prato is the alternation between the plane landscapes and high buildings. The city seemed to offer itself to us, just welcoming us under its peculiar light. We remember strolling around, our feet striding the Medieval pavers. Before leaving Paris, we naively thought we would be lost outside of nowhere and were surprised by the creativity of the people we met during our stay. Because it’s not a big city and maybe also because people tend to depreciate them, the creative youth of Prato is pushing to collaborate and make their work thrive and known. It was so refreshing to visit their workshop, hear their stories. But the most impressive was how they would recommend each other to us: “Don’t hesitate to call him or her. Oh, you spoke to her? Great, we’ve organised events together”. This sense of community is feel-good. We felt safe, surrounded by benevolent people.

The future of Tuscany

Our trip to Prato came at a point where we were asking ourselves if Paris was really a great city to develop a creative interest. If the city where everything is supposed to happen, right here, under our nose, was keeping its promises. Talk to those creatives helped us to realise that you can create no matter where you find yourself. More, being somewhere most of the hip millennials people could find remote, can allow you to explore and push a little further your creative self because you need to do more thing by yourself. To be completely honest, we looked-up to those collectives, they seem to have reached a point where, contrary to people we ordinary meet, they could exist outside expectations from others.

Maybe it’s because of their personality, maybe we just met the right people but we deeply think it’s especially because of that kind of city: accessible, economically and socially, with an average size that allow to meet people but not to be intimate with everybody though. And cities like this in the world are the future, because everyone is tired with their stressful job, with low salaries and with a cost of life that getting expensive day by day. Living in the “big city” used to be the only option because everything were there from culture to schools by way of works. But it’s not the case anymore, that’s why Prato can be seen as the future of Tuscany where everything will happen someday, where all the connection will be made from there. All the creatives we met are not just doing “art”, they changing the society.

The meaning of travel

For us, everything has started in Prato. For a while, we knew we wanted to find another way to express ourselves. Always writing, but about things we estimate mattered more than our little routine made of parties, open-bars, being where you think you have to be seen… The funniest definition of Paris was told by us by Cosimo, a young architect from the collective chì-na. He told us: “I’ve lived in Paris but I couldn’t see myself stay. Everybody thinks it’s doing something important, but nobody really does anything”. Do things instead of speak of their potentiality became our motto.

In Prato, we’ve done things that can seem goofy for french people like finding ourselves eating a red velvet cupcake and drinking a hot beverage in a tea room around midnight. “You could never do that in France” – we told to Elena our amazing host. For us, it’s the time where you drink alcohol, because it’s what you supposed to do when you’re cool and French. At least a glass of wine or gin tonic right away. Our staying helped us to put things in perspective. Well, we’re still wine drinkers but instead of partying our way through the city we tried to meet people in broad daylight. “Girls on a mission” we could say. How other people live, think, create, eat…That’s what interested us. What was their philosophy of life? By doing so, we started to realise that we were changing our vision of travel. It was not just about discovering another culture but also reflect on how we travel nowadays.

After Prato, we became convinced that travel should be think politically. Or at least with a purpose. Every day, we can observe in Paris or read in the medias about the consequences of mass tourism. If you love to travel this can be complex because, OF COURSE Airbnb is the easiest and sometimes the cheaper way to stay in a city. But is travelling supposed to be easy? Is drinking all night long and sleeping during the day is supposed to be the only thing? Is checking the cases on every museum visited in-line should be the only aim? Not really or at least not for us. Travel is way more than just sharing a pic on Instagram or check-in some cool places on Facebook. And actually, it’s kind of a good way for some people to share their experiences with friends and family, but it shouldn’t be the only way. What makes an experience unforgettable is people you meet, stories you hear, food you eat and things you see. Travel is all about that and Prato reminded us the essential, permitted us to come back in the right path of discovery and we’ll always be thankful for that.

Prato in 3 spots

  1. chì-na | A cultural association composed by a group of five architects, art historians and creatives, helping the Chinese community of Prato to bond with the rest of the city. With events and workshops, they changing the way we see the Chinatown of Prato, the biggest one in Italy.
  2. Centro Pecci | The Pecci is the first centre built specifically for contemporary art in Italy. It’s not in Rome, nor in Milan, but in Prato, Tuscany. It’s quite a big deal and just one visit explains why. Here, it’s the kind of contemporary art that leave the visitor wandering, thinking and performing, it’s the art that lives. It’s better to be warned because it’s this is not just a museum, but an experience.
  3. La Panoramica | Nothing is more beautiful and peaceful than walk in the “panoramic” path surrounded by hills, olive trees and sheep. From the top, it’s all the city we can see and to say it simply, it’s breathtaking. For these and more tips, it’s useful to consult the USE-IT Prato map: free, not-commercial and made by locals. 
Jennifer Padjemi & Mélody Thomas