Cortona – A Tuscan delight

“Life offers you a thousand chances… all you have to do is take one.”
Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

If a trip to Italy is a feast for all the senses, then visitng Tuscany is sensory overload.

The streets of Cortona

Your tastebuds are treated to ripe figs, bold cheeses, salted meats and delicate wine.  Your eyes are dazzled by sweeping panoramic views from hilltop towns over terracotta tiled rooftops.   Winding cobblestone streets leads you to ancient ruins and geranium filled windowsills all begging to be explored.  The smell of meat,  pasta and pizza wafting from the restaurants leaves you salivating at every bend and it’s easy to walk around in a dazed state wondering how to purchase your very own villa to live in this dream.

The rooftops of Cortona – with Lake Trasimeno in the distance

Cortona is classic Tuscany.  Sitting at over 659 metres above sea level,  the views across the town are spectacular.  This lovely  hilltop village has Etruscan ruins, its very own saint, windy cyprus lined roads, bukets of history and medieval architecture all overlooking farming fields, mountains and Lake Tresimano.

It’s beauty has not escaped cinematographers attention,  Life Is Beautiful ( La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama  directed (and starring) Roberto Benigni,  was filmed here as was  Frances Mayes, “Under the Tuscan Sun”, which made Cortona popular with American and English tourists.

I loved reading Under the Tuscan Sun and adored Diane Lane in the movie so Cortona was always high on my list of towns to  visit in Italy.

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Cortona’s cobblestone streets

The tourist horde do descend on the village in summer, but don’t let this sway you from visiting this lovely hilltop town,  it has after all been on the tourist trail for hundreds of years !

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Steep streets of Cortona

Cortona is easy to navigate and close to all the major sights in the region, making it  a perfect base to explore from.   With great food, antique and farmers markets,  ancient ruins and gorgeous medieval architecture, the town is a photographers dream.

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Mr 77 and I rented an apartment   B & B Locanda Pane e Vino here for 4 nights in September and I would go back in a heartbeat.

The food was amazing, the town charming and it was an easy day trip to Florence and Lake Trasimeno.  The food markets on Saturday were a treat and there was plenty of  shopping !

History

Cortona is one of Italy’s oldest cities.   In mythology, it is said Cortona was founded by Virgil  –  the mother of Troy and the grandmother of Rome.  Known by many names, among them Turreno,  Turrena, Turno, Corythum by Virgil, Curitu, Corito, Curtun,  Gurton, Kortus, Croton, Cotornia  by Dionysius, Curtonion by Polybus, and finally Cortona by Titus Livius [Tito Livio]  389 BCE.

The rooftops of Cortona

The charming, steep cobblestone streets have borne witness to many rulers. Originally a fortified city occupied by the Umbrians,  it was conquered by the Etruscans, who named it Curtun,  between 800 BCE to 600 BCE give or take a few years.  The Etruscan walls (showing repairs from the Roman and Medieval eras) form a 3km perimeter around the town.

It was the Capital and an important hub for commerce, trade and north-south and east-west travel through its reign as one of the twelve  Etruscan Lucumonies (the divided Etruscan regions of Ertruria/Tyrrheni).

Part of the Roman alliance from about 400 BC Cortona became a Roman colony named Corito under Lucius Cornelius Silla.  On June 24 217 BCE, during the Second Punic war, one of the bloodiest massacres in history took place at nearby Lake Trasimeno, which you can see from Cortona.   The lake was the scene of Hannibal’s ambush of the Roman army (Battle of Lake Trasimene).

During the final stages of the Gothic War (535–554), Cortona was sacked and destroyed by the Goths.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the Lombard domination, Cortona was administered as a largely independent Municipality.

In the 13th Century, Cortona rebuilt itself into a free commune.   It often battled against Arezzo,  the town and people sufferred during the battles with long sieges and partial destruction of the city.

Cortona was sacked by the powerful Aretine Bishops (Arezzo Bishops) in 1258 who made the town its the headquarters in the 1300s.

When Arezzo was finally expelled, Cortona flourished under the governance of the Lords of the Casali family,  during the 14th century.  In 1409,  it was  sold to the Republic of Florence after it was conquered by the King of Naples, Ladislaus in 1411.

Under Florentine rule,  Cortona was an important military town and there was considerable development with the cathedral and the Girifalco Medici fortress being built  during this time .

Under the rule of theMedici’s in the 16th centuries  Cortona had substantial economic growth allowing for artists, agriculture and building to thrive.  The Grand Duchy of Tuscany continued from 1737  under the rule of the Lorenas ( House of Lorraine)  after the  last ruling Medici descendant (Gian Gastone) died.   The House of Lorena during the 17th century bring further prosperity to the Tuscan region with their patronage and excellent political and administrative rule.

Following the Italian Wars of Independence,  after the 1860 plebiscite, Cortona became part of the new Kingdom of Italy.

Cortona is a major economy for the region.

Things to do 

Mr 77 and I  spent  four nights here  in the last  heat hazy days of summer,  it is a great base to explore the region and there is plenty to do in Cortona itself if you If you have a couple of days.

There are many Medieval and Renaissance buildings. Church architecture ranges from the Romanesque/Gothic of Sant’ Agostino through the Renaissance Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio and Santa Maria Nuova to the more modern Santa Margherita.

1. Visit  Fort Girifalcodating back to 1258, the Fort has been used as a fortress, prison and accommodation for allied forces after world war II.  It is a steep walk to the top but the views are well worth the effort.   There are often art exhibitions and events held in the building, so check out their website to see what’s on.
2. The church of Santa MargheritaThe church is a massive structure that houses among other things, the corpse of the patron saint of Cortona- St Margaret.

Now St Margaret is not your typical Saint, she  had a terrible start in life and lived a rather unholy life, leaving home taking a lover who was a wealthy patron then having a son, out of wedlock. A vision directed her to Cortona after her family renounced her when her wealthy nobleman lover died. She had two choices, sell her body or join the sisterhood. She chose the latter, reformed her ways and practiced tolerance, peace and compassion. St Margaret gave back to the community for the rest of her life. She started to have visions, many of which came true and was sought to heal and bless many until her death in 1292, where witnesses say a sweet perfume of holy grace filled the room.

Like many,after her death she was infamous.

3. Picnic in the country side

The views from the walk to the Fort and Santa Margherita
If it is a clear sunny day, after walking through the town,  visiting the Fort and Santa Margherita, be sure to pack a picnic.  After braving the steep winding hills  you can rewards your efforts with spectacular views of the entire Valdichiana region while munching on the regions superb food.
The views offer ancient villas, farms, agriturismo, vineyards, olive groves all overlooking the terracotta rooftops. The domes of  the churches below and the cypress trees climbing the hillsides are picture perfect Tuscany.
Views from the walk to the Fort
Find a spot in front of the Etruscan walls, listen to the bees and birds, enjoy a nap as some  wine and let your cares fall away.

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4.   Learn about the Etruscans
Visit the  Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca (Etruscan Academy Museum), the museum has a diverse collection with  artefacts from Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and Egyptian periods.
Visit the museum and then visit the Etruscan tombs via a private tour.
For reliable tomb tours, contact Louise Maciejewski  via email to arrange: louise.la.ripa@gmail.com. A half-day tour costs €120 for a group of up to 12.

5.  Markets

 Every Saturday morning there is a market in Cortona and it is divine.   Visit the town square, to taste and buy meat, cheeses , bread and fruit from around the region. Perfect for any picnic !
Cortona’s food market
Be early so you can sample the stall selling Porchetta (Roasted whole pig) .  We grabbed the last portion and our tastebuds were in heaven.
 There is local wine, the Brunello (red wine).  It is our favourite drop from the region as both Mr 77 and I like the smooth and velvety finish.
There are stalls selling the local traditional speciality,  smoked bull.  This meat is   delicious accompanied with drizzle of olive oil, rucola (rocket) and percorino cheese. Combined the flavours all explode in your mouth. The percorino is sharp and full of flavour and balances the smokey meat perfectly.
You can buy different types of goats cheese from organic farmers who use traditional practices to produce the cheese.
Chat to the stall holders and learn about the slow food movement.  It is a big deal in this part of the world.  Ancient production methods are preferred, although there are many who blend methods to produce the foods they sell.
The baker sells crunchy on the outside and soft inside bread which house and the delicious porchetta, roasted with herbs and spices it is fulll of flavour.
On the fourth Sunday of the month inside the city walls, in Piazza Signorelli there is aslo an antique market.  The markets are on from 9.00am.  The market hosts about 50 exhibitors.
Cortona’s Antique market
There is also a food market on a Thursday in Camucia, the town at the bottom of the hill.
6. Walk the winding streets
Take time to just walk. Cortona will give your camera a wrok out, each winding alleyway is more picture post card perfect than the next and the sounds of lunch being enjoyed, friends calling out to each other echoe through the streets.

7. Eat

There are so many wonderful places to eat in Cortona, just follow your nose, however our best meals were at the following places :
 la loggetta –  After three attempts to eat here, on our last night we were able to dine at La Loggetta. In honour of our day trip to Florence we order a starter of Percorino cheese with Caramelised figs and a Bistecca Florentina – Steak Florentine. Another regional speciality. Basically,  it’s a ginormous T-Bone steak  seasoned and flame grilled to rare. The waiter brings it to your table and cuts the meat off the bone to servce.
It is one of the best steaks I have eaten and is  delicious accompanied with a Nobile from Montepulciano – a DOCG wine which is highly regarded.

The meal is simple but delicious. The wine is a perfect accompaniment and the cheese and caramelised figs are a decadent accompaniement.

As we look out over the square, it is hard not to feel like we are in a film it is so ridiculously picture perfect.

Dardano –  A well-known restuarant listed in most guidebooks. The Pastas  here are awesome.  There is also with  ragout made from hare,  grilled meat plates that include duck, guinea fowl, rabbit and chicken and if you are adventurous you can try  Bulls Stomach a local speciality.

The food is delicious.  The Pasta,  a tortellini with cream sauce is delicate. Mr 77 has the ragout made from hare which is rich and tasty.

Then it’s the  grilled meats, I have lamb from the farm and Mr 77 has the mixed grill which consists of duck, gunea fowl, rabbit and chicken.

There are two guys at the table next to us, they interrupt us “Excuse me, would you like to try my meal, please have some, I have seen you looking at it” . He says he will tell us what it is after we try it, we eat it, it has a strange texture but is tasty. He tells us “it is the bulls stomach lining, stripped, cleaned and then stewed with this sauce, it is a speciality.

We chat for a while and it turns out that they own the Gelati Bar Snoopy , he introduces himself as , Francesco and we chat for a while about the weirdest things we have eaten.

Mr 77 and I marvel at how friendly it is here, where else would people offer a taste of  their dinner mid meal.

We order dessert and I try the most decadent, creamy and perfect Tiramasu ever. Mr 77 has the pana cotta,  and we walk the steep winding alleyways home in a food coma.

 Locanda Pane e Vino is run by  Arnaldo from our B & B.  He focuses on fresh food and has and extensive wine list –  there is wine from every region of Italy and Arnaldo caters to all budgets. If you like the wine you try you can purchase a bottle at wholesale price and take it home with you.

Arnaldo is passionate about wine and is knowledgeable about  on what wines are best in this region.  We decide on a 2008 Syrah (Shiraz) from Cortona, a local producer who is doing exciting things with wine, using a mix of Australian and French methods and biodynamics principles, the wine is organic and no preservatives or chemicals have been used, to produce it. The wine turns out to be  exquisite , velvety, plum hued  with little or no acid aftertaste, there is no unpleasant residue yet the alchohol percentage is stil more than reasonable at 14%.

Arnaldo tells us that there are only 8,000 bottles of this Syrah that has produced and I am seriously trying to convince Mr 77 that we need to ship a case or two home. As I find that it is the best red wine I have ever had.

Dinner is a plate of fresh cut salamis, cured hams and other meats with white beans in olive oil, zuchinni with olive oil and pecorino.  Followed by pork wrapped in leek and bacon and beef stew.

Even though we are bursting, we finish with a home made chocolate tart that is rich and decadent.

The meal is delicious and  fresh. Arnaldo stops by to talk wine and writes down some some vineyards that we should visit, including the winemaker of the bottle we just imbibed.

 It is such and integral part of their lives and the produce defines each region.

 8. Support local artisans and shop

There are a number of Art galleries Art Enocchia , Cortona Gift Shop, and boutique shops in Cortona. On one of our walks, we passed a fabulous artist whose medium was block print. I love buying art to bring home as it always reminds us of our travels.
I also bought a red leather weekender from T-Nobile Cortona S.R.L. Via Nazionale, 7. The leather is comparable to what you’d find in Florence  without the overwhelming choice !  I have had many comments about how beautiful the bag is !
On the fourth Sunday of the month inside the city walls, in Piazza Signorelli there is an antique market.  The markets are on from 9.00am.  The market hosts about 50 exhibitors.

9. Piazza della Repubblica

Simply sit and people watch and enjoy the ambience of Piazza della Repubblica.

10. Indulge your sweet tooth

For the sweetest cakes and coffee visit  Pasticceria Banchelli . If it is a hot day grab a gelato at  Gelateria Snoopy

How to get there:

Where to Stay:

We stayed at B & B Locanda Pane e Vino in the apartment.

The owner Arnaldo and his wife were charming, the rooms were immaculate and stocked with basic supplies and there was a lovely view out over the rooftops to the Lake .

The interior of the apartment is all bare wooden floorboards and creamwashed walls with exposed beeams. It is new and modern and the views are spectacular over the countryside. It was close to all the restauarants in town and they also run the restuarant Locanda Pane e Vino.

For a full list and reviews of the accommodation options in Cortona, click on the links below:

Bookings.com – Cortona Accomodation

Tripadvisor Cortona

Cortona with the kids

There is a public garden with good playground equipment for the kids to run around in and plenty of places you can have a picnic with your food market bounty to keep it affordable.

Lake Trasimeno is nearby and is an easy day trip – You can visit Castiglione del Lago , Rocca del Leone,  Palazzo della Corgna – Palazzo Ducale or  Catch the ferry to Isola Maggiore for a boat ride, lovely walks.   Stop at Castello di Magione for some wine tasting.

Climb the winding steep streets to visit the Fort and the church of  Santa Margherita and visit the towns Patron Saint – St Margaret.

There are also Thermal baths at Chianchiano (Terme di Chianciano) – 45 minute drive or Rapolano 40 minute drive.

Where to Eat with kids

There are a number of  excellent restuarants in Cortona, refer to the eat section above.
If you are travelling with kidsFuFluns is an excellent family-friendly restaurant and you can learn how to make pizza with the family, then eat it.

Cortona Events

Events throughout the year: Events in Cortona

3 thoughts on “Cortona – A Tuscan delight

Add yours

  1. I’ve never been to Tuscany but I really want it. ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ gave a strong insight about how lovely Tuscany is.
    And thanks for the description… I love your writting. I hope someday I could visit Tuscany and particularly Bramasole and meet Frances Mayes 😃

    Like

    1. Thank you for your kind words, I am glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you do get there one day, it really is a beautiful place. I would love to meet Frances Mayes too, she is a great writer and an inspiration !

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read some of your post. Your writting are wonderful. Are you italian? Im sure that Italy is as pretty as in IG. As a matter of fact I follow many Italian account. I also a fan of “The Trip to Italy”.. it explores many beautiful places in Italy. I guess Im fernweh 😄 Anyway, have a good life 😇

        Like

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