What to See and Where to Stay in One of Italy’s Oldest Towns
Perched on a hilltop in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, the historic town of Cortona has become a worthy tourist hotspot. Just 80km south of Florence and 600 meters above sea level, Cortona lies beyond a road of vineyards and olive groves and enjoys a privileged location with Arezzo, Siena and Perugia just visible beyond the miles of rolling countryside. Steeped in history, this hilltop town largely stands as it stood over 400 years ago and what was once was a popular landmark for Italians has since gained notoriety amongst foreigners alike; a small scattering of gift shops being the only evidence of tourist trade in the quieter, winter months.
Narrow, cobbled and often steep pavements wind their way through cafes, bars and pasticcerias and occasionally branch out into smaller, darker, even more interesting alleyways or spill out onto one of town’s numerous historical landmarks.
Art and Culture in Cortona
Attracting artists, such as Luca Signorelli, Domenico Bernabeland Severini, since the 14th century, it is fitting that the Tuscan Sun Festival is now held here. One of the largest festivals in Europe, the hilltop town hosts world class concerts where fine art and film meets local culture and history. In 2009, Anthony Hopkins unveiled his own exhibition here. Accommodation should be booked well in advance by revellers hoping to take part in the event which runs from 31st July-5th August this year.
Other concerts and productions are held throughout the remainder of the year at the Teatro Signorelli and the Auditorium Sant’Agostino and markets are held every Saturday morning.
Cortona is rich in history and the numerous museums are a testament to this. The Museo Diocesano in the Piazza del Duomo, and home to a number of 14th and 15th century Italian art, perhaps the most notable of them all. There is also the Museum of the Etruscan Academy in the Palazzo Casali. Erected in the 13th century, it was once home to the family that rules Cortona. It has since had a number of archaeological pieces donated and now holds some interesting and unusual historical artefacts, gems and sculptures. The Farneta Museum also appeals to visitors with an interest in archaeology and palaeontology. Tourists can also visit the 14th century Santuario di Santa Margherita, and Santa Maria del Calcinaio, a Brunelleschi style church from the following century.
Hotel San Michele
Located within one of the oldest buildings in Cortona, Hotel San Michele boasts a central location just a few steps from the main squares, museums, theaters and restaurants. Double rooms are available from around €100.
This sophisticated and stylish bed and breakfast is located in the town center and offers views over the Piazza Signorelli. Some scenes from Robert Benigni’s Oscar winning film, La Vita è Bella were even filmed here. Doubles start from €95 and include a continental breakfast.
Getting to Cortona
Florence airport is one hour by car. However, similar to many other medieval Tuscan towns, Cortona is surrounded by walls and driving within these walls is limited to the locals. It is only possible to explore many of the pre-Roman Etruscan monuments and sights by foot.