Hilltowns of Tuscany - Cortona
I was predestined to love this romantic hill town in southern Tuscany after having fallen in love with it from Francis Mayes book Under the Tuscan Sun. I may be one in a million who did the same...but that is ok. My story is mine.....and it's story had already captured my heart before I had even touched it's soil. It was built up in mind and imagination as perfection and amazingly enough it turned out to be just what I had hoped...just what I had needed...and just what I wanted at the time. Since that very first visit I have returned over and over to this place that feels so peaceful and familiar.....just like we are old friends. I find comfort in seeing it again. My memories are alive and my senses are mesmerized as I walk though it's streets, take in the unbelievable views, or visit it's perfect church up high on the hill. I have been here alone and I have been here with my family. I have laughed here and I have cried here. I have found so much here but I have never been lost here. I will always return to Cortona. I will always return to say hello. Always.
Cortona can be seen in one lovely day but I think it is special enough to give two....if you have them. A little more time to linger on it's streets or take the cypress lined walk out to see Frances Mayes idealistic Tuscan home. This town is a place to relax. A place to sit in the piazza and watch the crazy Italian world go by. A place to walk through the market leisurely. A place to take in the breathtaking views while listening to the trickles of the fountains as you have a picnic in the park. A place where you can walk through the back streets discovering Italy. A place where you can hike up to the very top of perfection...and at perfection you can step into the colors and the nighttime sky of my most favorite church. This place is a place to see.
So, if you only have one day in time for Cortona....take it! But if you have two....even better!
My favorite Experiences in Cortona
1. PIAZZA DELLA REPUBBLICA - This is the perfect Italian piazza. It's the one that you imagine when you think of Italy - it's small and charming and full of life. Enjoy sitting and savoring a cappuccino and cornetto at one of the cafes or relaxing on the steps while taking in a little people watching Italian style.
2. PICNICING WITH A VIEW - Having a sandwich made at the Crai market in the Piazza della Repubblica and then taking a stroll down the only flat street in town, Via Nazionale. While you are walking take a peek at some of the shops along the way and plan to head back for a little shopping later on. When the street opens up Piazza Garibaldi (where the bus stops) will be to your right. In front of you will be the San Domenico Church, head that way and step inside quickly if you have time or just walk on ahead towards the park and gardens. Keep walking until you make your way to the view at the edge of the park, sit, and enjoy your picnic while taking in the valley below.
If you would like to read more on this here is the link to a recipe from a sandwich I created there - Panino da Cortona
3. WALK TO BASILICA DI SANTA MARGHERITA - Taking the walk up to the very top of Cortona's hill to see the Basilica di Santa Margherita. This is one of my favorite churches and the view is unbelievable. The walk up, although a bit of a trek, is beautiful and takes you through some lovely areas. If a hike just isn't for you though, it is possible to drive up...and it is a lovely drive as well! If you are feeling more adventurous and still have a little more hike in you, you can continue up on the hill to the side of the church to see a Medici fortress. There is a fee and hours to see the fortress itself but the walk and view are free. This is a great place to see Lago Trasimeno.
4. BRAMASOLE - Walking under the Tuscan sun to Frances Mayes house. If you head out of town through the city park it is about a 30 min (2 km) walk. You can find it on google maps if you search Bramasole. I wouldn't do this walk in the heat of the day and make sure to bring water and a snack because there isn't anything along the way except some lovely benches to sit on and enjoy the view below :)
5. EXPLORING - Cortona is the perfect town for exploring. It is small and would be difficult to get lost in because pretty much you would end up at the top of the hill, at the park or at the various openings in the wall.
If you head out of Piazza della Repubblica (to the right of the steps) you will find yourself in Piazza Luca Signorelli. This is another beautiful corner of the town and the local market is here on Saturdays.
From here you can take Via Casali to the Duomo di Cortona (follow the signs for the "Cattedrale") where there is the church as well as a lovely view.
One of my other favorite churches to see here is the church of St. Francis. With the steps of Piazza della Repubblica to your back, head to the left and take Via Santucci - You will see the church shortly on your right.
There are a couple museums here - Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca (Piazza Signorelli) and Museo Diocesano (Piazza del Duomo) I have not had the pleasure unfortunately to see either so if you go, tell me about it :)
There are so many other beautiful and unique spots in Cortona as well as some lovely shopping and eating.....so just explore and enjoy it!
Where is Cortona and when should you visit
WHERE - Cortona is located approx 1 hour 30 minutes south of Florence and approx 2 hours and 15 minutes north of Rome (by car.) There are trains that run daily from both cities. The train will drop you off at the bottom of the hill at the Camucia/Cortona station and you will need to hop on a bus up to Cortona itself. You can purchase bus tickets on the bus or at the news stand. Buses will drop you off in Piazza Garibaldi. Make sure to check the schedules heading back down the hill so you don't miss your train. Might mess up your plans but it won't be the end of the world if you have to spend a little more time here!
WHEN - Cortona is beautiful and famous and in Tuscany....and that means busy with tourists during the summer season. If that is the only time you can come....do it.....but if have a choice to visit during another time of the year do that instead. Spring (April/May) and Fall (September/October) are the happiest and most perfect I think!
Buon viaggio a tutti!