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, why not Cortona. It is a stone-clad town with a magnificent medieval tower, a larger and busier piazza and endless winding alleyways to wander. 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 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. Love…”
Cortona is believed to have been a powerful Etruscan town during period of 400-600 BC, and then becoming a Roman colony, and in the 13th century became a city state with its own currency. From 1325-1409 the Ranieri-Casali family ruled the town. It was then sold to the Medici and remained under their rule until 1737. Following the Italian Wars of Independence, Cortona became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Today, Cortona is in the eastern part of Tuscany (Arezzo region), very near the border of the Umbria region and Lake Trasimeno. The closest city also worth visiting is Arezzo.
What to See
Piazza della Repubblica: sits the 13th-century town hall and clock tower with many little artisan shops in and around the piazza. Here you will find art, antiques, jewelry, leather shops, along with many café and restaurants. This is a lively piazza and it is where you will find the locals come and catch up with one another.
Duomo: the Renaissance cathedral, built on the site of an Etruscan temple, has an 11th-century facade and has beautiful 16th and 17th-century paintings inside (as pictured below).
Cortona’s Walls: 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.
Museums: Diocesano and dell’ Accademia Etrusca (closed on Mondays).
Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio (also called Madonna del Calcinaio): either on your way to or from Cortona, along a twisting road on the southern side you will come upon this beautiful Renaissance church. Built from 1485 to 1513, this is one of the most architecturally important Renaissance churches in all of Tuscany.
Etruscan Tombs: at the foot of Cortona’s hills you can find Etruscan tombs dating back to the 3rd century BC.
Where to Drink and Dine
For the best gelato: Gelateria Snoopy
For the best wine bar (and shop): Enoteca Molesini
For the best coffee: Café Tuscher
For the best alfresco dining: La Loggetta
You know 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.