CORTONA and the nearby area
The ancient town of Cortona, with Etruscan origins dating back to 800 BC, sits on a hilltop 1600 feet above sea level, 9 miles north of Lake Trasimeno, 65 miles south of Florence and 120 miles north of Rome. Much-praised by Frances Mayes in her best-selling diary “Under The Tuscan Sun”, the view facing west from Cortona’s ramparts is one of the most spectacular in Europe. The immense Chiana valley stretches out before you as far as the eye can see, to the hills of Siena 40 miles away and the slopes of Mont’Amiata, an extinct volcano further south, down to the famous wine-growing area of Montalcino. You can also see the western tip of Lake Trasimeno, the largest lake in central Italy, where Hannibal defeated an entire Roman legion in 217 BC. And in the center of the valley, 15 miles away, stands proud Montepulciano, another of Tuscany’s jewels, noted for its delicious “Vino Nobile” wines.
The Town of Cortona
itself has so many qualities and attractions, with well-stocked shops selling locally produced delicatessen and wines, hand-made pottery, textiles, antique furniture, objets d’arts, designer clothes and jewellery. Above all it offers an extensive range of inviting bars, restaurants and trattorias where you can taste great local cooking and excellent regional wines. During the summer months the town puts on a series of open-air concerts, opera and chamber music ensembles, theatrical productions, an international photo festival (Cortona On The Move) plus a variety of popular entertainment events and food festivals.
Cortona also boasts one of the earliest Franciscan monasteries founded (in 1211) by Saint Francis of Assisi, hidden in an enchanting gorge nearby. It also has some beautiful churches, such as “Madonna del Calcinaio”, designed and built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1485) and a distinguished art gallery - il Museo Diocesano - housing works by Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca and his pupil Luca Signorelli, a native of Cortona. And finally, at the top of the hill, there is the Church of the Patron Saint of Cortona - La Chiesa di Santa Margherita - protected by an imposing Medici Fortess, La Fortezza del Girifalco.
Famous towns and villages within 60 minutes’ drive
The following locations are well-provided with restaurants and trattorias that are mentioned in the vast majority of “good eating guides” for Tuscany and Umbria.
where you can visit the famous Busatti factory, producing beautiful handcrafted textiles and linen.
where you can visit the amazing Piero della Francesca murals in the church of San Francesco, depicting the Battle of Anghiari and the True Stations of the Cross.
, the famed religious centre of the Saint Frances foundation, to see the Basilica and Upper Chapel (painted by Giotto), then on to Deruta, (15 kms south of Perugia) where you can inspect and purchase the marvels of hand painted ceramic pottery made by local families who still use the same traditional designs, colours and techniques handed down to them from past generations.
Città di Castello
is a very beautiful town in the plain of the Upper Tiber Valley, worth visiting to appreciate the design and layout of its mediaeval streets and renaissance architecture, not to forget the robust delights of traditional Umbrian cooking in the town's excellent trattorias and restaurants.
can be seen from Cortona 25 kms away on the other side of the Valdichiana, perched on a hilltop. Apart from being the famed centre for the delicious Vino Nobile red wines, it has to be experienced on foot to admire its beautiful streets, plazas and red brick buildings, and in particular the magnificent church of San Biagio on the outskirts of town (also built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini).
, the regional capital of Umbria, is home to the Italian National Gallery for early church paintings and icons, which is well worth a visit. But you can't fail to be impressed by its magnificent renaissance fountain in the main square, standing in front of the beautiful Romanesque cathedral of San Lorenzo, not to mention many other interesting monuments and art treasures.
, San Quirico d’Orcia
are charming little villages perfect for a daytrip to the beautiful Val d'Orcia (classified by Unesco as a World Heritage Site
)to admire the exquisitely beautiful environment in which they are located. The surroundings offer rolling Tuscan landscapes dotted with stone farm houses and cypress trees, ideal for photography and painting, but the villages are also lively trading centres for the delicious “pecorino” cheese (made from sheep’s milk) produced locally.
, 40 kms east of Arezzo, where the revolutionary painter Piero della Francesca was born, houses many of his important works, carefully transplanted to the Piero museum from nearby village churches and chapels where he practiced his art.
, the central Tuscan hilltown par excellence
, simply overflows with history and divinely beautiful art and architecture.
Vineyards and Wine tours
From Cortona easy daytrips in your own vehicle (or in a chauffeur-driven minibus) can be made for wine tasting to the top vinyards in Umbria and Tuscany: Montepulciano (Vino Nobile reds), Gaiole and Radda (Chianti Classico reds), Montalcino (Brunello reds), Orvieto (Orvieto whites), Torgiano of Perugia (Torgiano whites), San Gimignano (Vernaccia whites), Spoleto (Montefalco reds)