I wanted to spend a day in a smaller Tuscan village. Four years ago I took a day trip that included Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa so I was looking for something different. After lots of reading and staring at train timetables I came up with a plan to head to Cortona and then back to Florence via Arezzo. The two villages had extra appeal, Cortona featuring in one of my favorite movies, Under the Tuscan Sun, and Arezzo, in another magnificent movie, Life is Beautiful. And two towns are better than one 😀
There are frequent regional trains on the line that connects both villages to Florence. Regional trains don’t need booking ahead and you don’t need to buy a ticket for a specific train time so you are not locked into a schedule. I could shape the day however I wanted. The only thing to remember about regional trains is to validate your ticket at the station machines. The tickets are easily purchased from machines at the stations. I bought all mine at Florence before leaving being mindful, as all the advice suggests, of the security of my valuables while using the machine. The trains are clean and comfortable.
The trip from Florence to Cortona is about 80 minutes, and it is 20 minutes back to Arezzo, leaving a one hour trip at the end of the day from Arezzo to return to Florence.
Cortona station is at Camucia, with Cortona itself on a hill overlooking. It is about a 2-3 km trip to Cortona from the station. I figured it was walkable. It was, but I don’t advise it. You walk up the road with cars flying past you in either direction, but it does give you the chance to get great photos over the Tuscan country side. Despite that, I’d advise a taxi or wait for the bus. And of course, Cortona is a hilltop town, so the walk is all uphill.
As I walked up to Cortona the views were spectacular and it was a bright sunny day. The homes outside the town nestled into the hillside with expansive gardens. As the old town got closer there were more and more cars and signs to parking lots and bus stops. Clearly tourism is huge here.
I found an entrance to the town and it revealed an uphill path lined with shops. It was mid morning on a Saturday and there were already quite a few people entering the town. I really didn’t need to walk up another hill by this stage but obviously I had to! It was worth it. Such a pretty village and while obviously mostly dedicated to tourism, a wedding party in the main square reminded me that these amazing places we have the privilege to visit are homes to others and life goes on while we sip our spritzes and wander tourist shops.
The village has a largish piazza at its centre and narrow streets fan out from there in many directions. A church overlooks a square that is full of restaurants and cafes serving the masses of tourists enjoying the scenery and the sunshine. I wandered along a few streets looking at the wonderful array of shops, being especially interested in the local meats and cheeses after what I’d learned on my food tour in Florence the previous night.
I decided on where to eat lunch when I came across a small authentic looking trattoria with a menu that appealed. After last night’s food tour I was keen to have more cold cuts and pecorino and this place had not only a plate of exactly that but a pasta with pecorino and pepper, cacio e pepe. I really don’t have the size of appetite for both appetiser and main but that didn’t stop me ordering and demolishing both. They were utterly delicious. The trattoria itself had a lovely homely atmosphere but was obviously well regarded and filled up quickly.
After a long relaxing lunch and feeling I was ready to move on to Arezzo. I started walking back to Camucia but was lucky enough to be offered a lift down with a local. I was pleased not to have that extra time out walking in the sun.
It wasn’t a long wait for the next train to Arezzo and soon enough I was exploring my second Tuscan town for the day. Arezzo is much larger than Cortona and has a busy modern city area that you walk through on the way up to the historic centre. It is another popular place with tourists, which is typical for Tuscany. Being a Saturday there were probably a lot of Italian tourists there as well as international ones.
A visit to the tourist office set me up with a map and I then made my way to the nearby Cathedral for a look. Yet another stunning Italian Cathedral.
From there my interest lay in the Piazza Grande, the centre of town and featured in the movie Life is Beautiful. It is a beautiful large Piazza, flanked by historic buildings on all sides, many of which were draped in flags of different colors, suggesting some sort of event with neighborhood rivalry similar to the Palio in Siena. There is another beautiful old church in this square.
Like Cortona I spent most of my time in Arezzo just wandering, taking photos and people watching. I stopped for an aperitivo before heading back to the train station and returning to Florence.
I was back in Florence early evening and took the time to have my first wander by the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio on the way back to my apartment. The Duomo takes my breath away every single time I am near it.
It was a gorgeous evening in Florence with street markets in full swing, a beautiful carousel and crowds on the Ponte Vecchio taking in the sunset over the Arno. The sunset glow on the Ponte Vecchio was stunning.
Dinner was at a pizzeria in the street I was staying in. Too tired to venture further. This traveling caper is exhausting.