Cortona is a small charming town in the Valdichiana, or Chiana Valley, in the province of Arezzo in southern Tuscany. It may be small but this beautiful town, located on a 600m tall hill offers not only a breathtaking panorama view, but also great options for art lovers and for those admiring Christian architecture and history, and – like most Italian towns – the local cuisine is something you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Here are a few of the things you MUST do if you have up to 48 hours in Cortona:
Visit a Museum:
Relatively speaking, Cortona has quite a few museums: there’s the ancient cultures’ Maec Museum – the Museum of the Etruscan civilisation which is definitely a must see – it occupies one of the town’s more impressive Medieval palaces, the 13th-century Palazzo Casali (or Palazzo Pretorio), former home to Cortona’s leading Medieval family. The Diocesan Museum – offering a small but prestigious collection of Renaissance paintings and the small yet interesting Museo ai Borghi, scanning the local history of the Val di Chiana.
Visit a cathedral or two:
Fortress of Girifalco & Church of Santa Margherita are probably the most visited ones in town. Located on top of the hill it is reachable within a 15-minute walk from the centre. The fortress dates back to the 5th or 6th century and its history includes battles and renovations, until the era of peace and tranquillity around the 17th century, when the fortress was turned into the local Police House, thus ending the long years of fighting over the fortress and the strategic control it had over the area.
The Church of Santa Margherita, is dedicated to the figure of Santa Margherita, patron of Cortona and Franciscan tertiary, and subsequent cultural and spiritual activities of the Observant Franciscans. It held the remains of a mural that was made in the saints’ honour, dated to around 1300 which is now on display at the local Diocesan Museum.
When in town you might also like to visit the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie or to take a short drive outside of Cortona’s walls where 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 live today.
Enjoy the local cuisine:
The small town offers some great osterias (small restaurants with the emphasis on local specialities such as pasta and grilled meat or fish, often served at shared tables), serving both Tuscan and Umbrian dishes. Some of the local restaurants have balconies overlooking the stunning valley and some offer a Medieval style cantina (cellar).
As ALL Italian towns Cortona also has its share of great Pizzerias.
Check the art festivals:
Summertime is truly a time of celebration in Cortona! The small town has made its name for hosting two of the most known contemporary art festivals:
Cortona Mix (Taking place in the first two weeks of July) – a festival celebrating the mix of the arts – their richness, variety and the ability to invent, with music and literature, cinema and theatre, dance and DJ sets, journalism and non-fiction, and lots of food and wine.
Cortona on the move (currently showing until September 29th), founded in 2011 by the Associazione Culturale ONTHEMOVE, the principal objective of Cortona On The Move is to spread and promote contemporary photography by bringing new creative talents and novel forms of visual communication to the forefront.
More things to do:
Take a walk through the beautiful centre and enjoy a cup of coffee on a terrace overlooking Lago Trasimeno in Umbria and the green hills of Tuscany.
Shop for local handmade items: the main street of town offers a beautiful display of local items – from leather goods to small local art galleries to some great gastronomical products, such as local wines (from the surrounding valleys) and some great cheeses, from northern Tuscany or the neighbouring Umbria.
If you’re looking for some more extreme adventures, rent a bike and ride uphill… The view is always more beautiful once you’ve reached the top in a more challenging way.
With all it has to offer Cortona is truly the small gem on the hill.
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