Are you traveling to Tuscany, and wondering what wonderful towns you need to add to your must-see list? Well, I have a great option for you, the hilltop town of Cortona. This stone-clad town features a magnificent medieval tower, a busy piazza and endless winding alleyways. As a romantic at heart, I fell in love with Under the Tuscan Sun, first the book by Francis Mayes, and then the movie which put this town on the map; and for good reason!
One of my favourite scenes in the movie has to be her writing the postcard while sitting on the ledge overlooking the piazza.
“Dear Mom. It’s market day in Cortona. The piazza is an ongoing party, and everyone is invited. Clichés converge at this navel of the world. You almost want to laugh, but you can’t help feeling these Italians know more about having fun than we do.
I eat a hot grape from the market, and the violet sweetness breaks open in my mouth. It even smells purple.
I wish I could stay longer, but the bell reminds me of time. ‘Ding-dang-dong,’ the bell says, instead of ‘ding-dong.’ I wish you were here.
Let’s take a tour of Cortona, shall we?
The main square, called Piazza della Repubblica, features many historical buildings dating back to the 13th century. A well-preserved town hall, clock tower and former palace are just some of the significant landmarks you will find.
This is a lively piazza, the very heart of this beautiful town. It’s where you will find the locals constantly coming and going, catching up with one another and stopping in on their favourite shops. And, there are many, many wonderful shops. Everything from art to antiques to jewelry to leather. Not to mention the cafés and restaurants.
The Streets of Cortona
Cortona’s streets are steep. You will be going up and down as you make your way through the town. All but one, the main Via Nazionale (linking’ Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza della Repubblica) together. You might hear locals refer to it as Ruga Piana (or flat street).
A couple streets worth seeking out is Via Guelfa and Via Ghibellina. These are the two original streets of the old town.
Lastly, find Via Janelli. It’s a picturesque thoroughfare of 14th-century timber-framed houses. These ancient medieval houses are built of stone and brick, while the jambs, the thresholds and the architraves are exclusively in stone. The upper floors of the house project onto the street and are supported by wooden shelves.
The Etruscan Walls
Cortona is believed to have been a powerful Etruscan town during period of 400-600 BC. Then in the 13th century it became a city state with its own currency. It was owned by the Medici family and remained under their rule until 1737. Following the Italian Wars of Independence, Cortona became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The Etruscan walls are incorporated into the medieval walls that surround the historic center. Inside the walls, you can wander the narrow medieval streets often getting glimpses of the wonderful views of the valley below.
Cortona is situated on a hill (500 meters above sea level), where you can enjoy a unique and amazing view of the Val di Chiana. It lies in the eastern part of Tuscany, in the Arezzo region, very close to border of the Umbria region and Lake Trasimeno. In such close proximity to other wonderful Tuscan towns this makes for a great area to explore.
San Francesco church built in the 13th century
Visit the small Museo Diocesano across the piazza features a superb art collection. It depicts the town’s history from the 3rd century to the 18th century.
Wander the fascinating Museo Etruscan Museum displays artifacts from Etruscan and Roman era.
Take a look at the Etruscan Tombs found at the foot of the town. Here you will see the Etruscan tombs dating back to the 3rd century BC.
Where to Drink and Dine
The best gelato: Gelateria Snoopy
Visit the best wine bar (and shop): Enoteca Molesini
For the best coffee: Café Tuscher
And, the best alfresco dining: La Loggetta
As a holidaymaker…
There is a saying in Italian, Passeggiata, which means to stroll in a town looking good. The chicer the town, the chicer the passeggiata. Cortona is definitely the town to do this in. Of all the Tuscan towns we toured, this one felt and looked a little bit different. The winding alleyways and buildings were a bit more elegant. I fell in love with the pale blue-grey stone buildings; as well as, the finer shops and restaurants that you will find here. Cortona, is a definite must experience town when in Tuscany.