I was born and grew up under the Tuscan sun, in a small Etruscan village nestled in a gentle hill overlooking the Valdichiana. That town is Cortona.
Whether it is for its natural beauty, Chianina steak or the genuine hospitality of its inhabitants, Cortona certainly knows how to make you fall in love.
The village is located in the province of Arezzo, on the border with Siena and the Umbria region. Its broad and tranquil panorama extends over the entire Valdichiana as far as Lake Trasimeno.
Cortona is a land of ancient legends, even mentioned by Virgil in the Aeneid. When I was little, my grandfather taught me a famous popular saying: “Cortona, mother of Troy and grandmother of Rome”. Legend has it that Dardano, a valiant Etruscan warrior left Cortona to found the ancient city of Troy, from which Aeneas fled to found Rome after the famous war.
The architecture and daily life of the village convey the atmosphere of a past rich in history. The historic centre is characterized by narrow alleyways, squares at various levels creating ample layers, elegant Renaissance buildings, churches and shrines. Via Nazionale — known as “Rugapiana” (a combination of wrinkle and flat) by the inhabitants perfectly describes the only flat alley in the city — is the main street of the town and home to many lively coffee bars and small artisan shops. As early as the 1500’s it was considered the aristocratic heart of the town.
What makes Cortona truly special, in addition to its innate beauty, is the culture with which it has preserved the authenticity of local life. This can be understood immediately by walking through the streets of the center, stopping to chat with the shop owners or having a coffee at the bar. The festive atmosphere that you breathe on Saturday morning at the market remains unchanged as the years go by; I still feel as if I was still a child shopping with my mother. Growing up I learned to love Cortona, and all of Italy, precisely for this authenticity that time seems to never erase.
Here and there in the alleyways and squares you will find many typical Tuscan trattorias, taverns and restaurants. A visit to the town starts by sipping a coffee in a square or on the “Rugapiana”, and enjoying a “Meringa con panna” from the Pasticceria Banchelli bakery. The two main squares, Piazza del Comune and Piazza Signorelli, represent the beating heart of the village where the inhabitants meet to chat, shop or relax by reading a newspaper seated outside one of the many bars. After a pleasant stroll through picturesque alleys taking in the views, I recommend a visit to the Etruscan Museum which is located in Palazzo Casali. You can admire numerous relics from the ancient Etruscan civilization that tell the history of the city. One of the most beautiful pieces is undoubtedly the bronze chandelier dating from the 5th century. Also absolutely not to be missed are the famous Franciscan Hermitage “Le Celle”, the Basilica of Santa Margherita da Cortona and the Fortress of Girifalco.
For lunch, treat yourself to the highlights of traditional Tuscan cuisine. Cortona’s specialties include Chianina steak, crostini of Tuscan liver and Ribollita (bread soup), obviously all while sipping a good Valdichiana wine.
In the afternoon, take the car and get lost in the countryside just as Frances Mayes suggested in the book “Under the Tuscan Sun”, which later became the very famous Walt Disney film that celebrates the beauty of this land:
“My idea of heaven still is to drive the gravel farm roads of Umbria and Tuscany, very pleasantly lost.”
Visit the small Umbrian villages on the border with Tuscany: Castiglion del Lago, Monte del Lago and Passignano sul Trasimeno.
For a pre-dinner drink, a good glass of wine accompanied by the famous “ciaccia dell’Imola” (a typical bread from the peasant era filled with cold cuts) at the Enotria wine shop, or a cocktail sitting at the tables of the Caffè Tuscher in Via Nazionale.
Enjoy the last rays of sun that lightly filter through the alleyways of the town, illuminating the ancient buildings with gold.
Villa di Piazzano is a period residence dating back to the Renaissance. Today it offers warm and genuine hospitality in the tradition of an ancient country house, where guests are welcomed according to the highest standards. The outdoor restaurant overlooking the pool is beautiful. Comfortably seated on the sofas in the large garden, you can enjoy an extraordinary sunset overlooking the hill of Cortona.
The magical Villa Montanare is a stone farmhouse built in the 1640. After some minutes drive via a lovely private white road you reach this little piece of heaven. The Villa Montanare is perched on a hill overlooking a breathtaking panoramic view over the Val d’Esse and Val di Chiana Valley and surrounded by a paradisiac variety of olives, cypresses, pines, figs, fruit trees, rosemary bushes, lavender and stone walls .
Today the Villa Montanare is a romantic private escape owned by the wedding planner, designer and stylist Silke and her husband Andreas. There are two charming suites with stunning views overlooking the Tuscan hills, garden access, a small rustic Tuscan kitchen and beautiful swimming pool surrounded by greenery.
The Monastero di Cortona is located in the highest part of the historic centre. From the windows you can enjoy a breath-taking view over the roofs of the ancient town. Until 1976 the building housed a convent and its original religious structure is still visible in the interior layout: the beamed or vaulted ceilings, and the frescoes that have been recovered and restored. The oldest area of the hotel houses a spa with an indoor pool and the central outdoor space features a garden and an outdoor pool.
Villa Cozzano is a family agriturismo producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Red Wine. If you decide to stop in for a few nights while visiting the surrounding towns and villages, Villa Cozzano is the ideal place to experience country life in an authentic way surrounded by nature. It is conveniently located on the border between Tuscany and Umbria and therefore an excellent base for visiting the towns of both regions.
Osteria del Teatro offers a perfect mix of elegance and tradition for you to enjoy an excellent Tuscan meal with a modern twist, thanks to the skill and experience of chef Emiliano Rossi.
The Beerbone will delight you with its creative burgers featuring Chianina meat and Cinta Senese (from the area). A must for a quick lunch or an informal dinner in the splendid setting of Via Nazionale.
At Bucaccia you can try traditional Tuscan dishes prepared to perfection.
Loggetta Cortona is located in an ancient palace from the 13th century. During the warmer months you can eat outside in the beautiful medieval loggia that overlooks Piazza della Repubblica.
Castellani 1919 for vintage and antique
Antonio Massarutto Sculture
L’Antico Cocciaio, for typical ceramics
Fabrizio Dionisio, farm “Il Castagno”
Cortona On the Move is an international festival of contemporary photography that takes place every year from July to November. The exhibitions are hosted in a series of historic buildings throughout the historic centre, which are usually closed to the public.
In August, the Cortona Antiquaria is held – the oldest antiques show in Italy.