Hidden Tuscany: Cortona and Arezzo

Cortona is a small charming town in the Valdichiana, in the province of Arezzo in southern Tuscany.

The city, enclosed by stone walls dating back to Etruscan and Roman times, sits on the top of a hill about 600 meters on the seaside level.

This dominant position over the valley offers a spectacular view from all over the town of the surrounding valley and even Lake Trasimeno.

The heart of Cortona is Piazza della Repubblica, with the Palazzo Comunale or town hall building overlooking the square.

The city is small but offers many interesting places to visit, among these the Diocesan Museum (where you can admire a beautiful panel painting of the Annunciation by Beato Angelico) and the MAEC (The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona), where it is possible to see many artifacts found in the Eruscan archeological sites in the area.

You should not miss a visit to the beautiful Santa Margherita Sanctuary, patron of the city, and to the Girifalco Fortress. Both are on the highest point on the hill and are easy to reach after a short, uphill walk. The Girifalco Fortress, constructed for military purposes, has undergone many substantial changes throughout the centuries and today only a part is open to the public.

Various small shops on the main streets of Cortona offer local handmade items and gastronomical products. Great red wines are made in the area (we are just a few kilometers from Montepulciano and Montalcino) and all of the wine bars offer a wide selection.

There are many restaurants in the city, most offering traditional local and Tuscan cuisine (the Chianina cattle, one of Italy's oldest, high quality bovine breeds is bred in Valdichiana).

Just outside of Cortona's walls you'll find the Franciscan hermitage Le Celle, the first monastery built by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1211, where a small community of friars still lives today. Through the course of the centuries, the hermitage was restructured and enlarged several times but Saint Francis's small cell has always been conserved in its original state and can be visited today.

In summer, Cortona organizes the Tuscan Sun Festival, an annual event dedicated to the arts which sees the participation of several international stars and artists.

Cortona became famous as the setting of the film: Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes.

 

Arezzo is located in the south eastern part of Tuscany, at the merging point of 4 valleys: Val Tiberina, Casentino, Valdichiana and Valdarno.

Arezzo among other things is also famous for the work gold.

It was founded in the 9th century before Christ by the Etruscans, then conquered by the ancient romans.

Arezzo is usually out of the usual tuscan tours. It is a beautiful city downtown with its monuments, churches, museums that offer visitors the possibility to go back in time, or history.

The church of Saint Francis is the most famous in Arezzo, with its famous frescos by Piero della Francesca representing the Legend of the True Cross (of Jesus Christ).

Near the church of Saint Francis we will visit Piazza Grande, the Cathedral of San Donato and the Fortress made by the Medici, then further down the ancient Roman amphitheater and the San Domenico church with the famous wood crucifix by Cimabue.

Arezzo and Cortona are not often included in the main Tuscan tours.

If you are spending some time in Tuscany for the first time, you should probably visit some other major locations on guided tours.

You will see in these minor places, less tourists and more local population, but none the less many treasures that witness the importance these places had in history.

The tour starts from your place where our driver will pick you up and he will take you around in a wonderful day tour.

Cortona will be the first stop, you will be taken right in town and then you will walk around on your own.

Before leaving for Arezzo, you will visit the Saint Francis cells, a place hard to be described, and after visiting the convent, you will be heading for the cvity of Arezzo.

You can ask to have a local tourist guide for both Cortona and Arezzo.

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