This Easter and the day after we took a short yet relaxing vacation in the Valdichiana area we like a lot. The valley lies between the Tuscan regions of Arezzo and Siena and the Umbrian regions of Perugia and Terni. Our destination was Cortona and Montepulciano.
Cortona welcomed us with beautiful sunshine despite the uncertain weather forecasts and we had marvelous weather throughout the day and evening, giving us the chance to enjoy a relaxed stroll through the city and enjoy splendid views over the surrounding countryside.
Cortona’s historical center is built atop a hill 600 meters high, and once you park your car outside the city walls be prepared to climb a bit. The most difficult path up is the one that takes you to the Santa Margherita Sanctuary and to the Girifalco Fortress but both are worth it. As we climbed the hill, we found ourselves following the outer walls and from here the beautiful view of the countryside gets better as you climb (we were able to see as far away as Lake Trasimeno!).
We really enjoyed our visit to the Sanctuary: it has richly decorated ceilings and frescoes dedicated to the life of Saint Marguerite, Cortona’s patron saint. Just above the Sanctuary, the Girifalco Fortress sits on the best vantage point on the hill. Some parts of the fortress are not open to the public, but we were still able to visit three floors and the battlements from which you enjoy an exceptional view of the Cortona countryside for kilometers.
We proceeded then to the more central streets of Cortona, window shopping at the local crafts shops selling terracotta and ceramic items as well as food shops offering mostly wines – we are in an area where fine wines are produced after all!.
On Monday morning, a holiday here in Italy, we visited the Cathedral, the Diocesan Museum (go in and at least see Beato Angelico’s Annunciation) and the MAEC museum dedicated to Etruscan archeological finds around the town. This last museum was a pleasant surprise: there were many interesting objects to see and everything is very well presented (with presentations and detailed videos playing in the various rooms, handicapped access to the entire museum and signs in Braille). Spread out over 4 floors, the MAEC has numerous archeological finds discovered in Cortona and the surrounding countryside that go back to prehistoric times (including two large mammoth molars) and to the Etruscan (the bronze chandelier is beautiful) and Roman periods with objects from the necropoli in the area. The Etruscan Academy also includes an Egyptian collection, a library and a picture gallery. The museum itinerary is rich so we recommend dedicating at least an hour and a half to the visit.
Longing to prolong our vacation as much as possible, we headed towards Montepulciano for the afternoon. The city is welcoming and is perfect for a stroll (you’ll also need comfortable shoes here as the walk up the streets can get steep). The central point for the city is Piazza Grande where you’ll find the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Palazzo Comunale, or town hall, decorated in Travertine marble and whose design is very similar to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
We found numerous wine shops and stores with local food products, many with signs offering “free wine tastings” – a welcome treat for all visitors. Even more interesting than the free wine was the visit to a small wine cellar of one of the larger wine producers in the area.
As we recently reported in another post (Montepulciano gets New Moon), the town of Montepulciano will be the location at the end of May for several scenes of the second sequel in the vampire Twilight series, “New Moon” and we were surprised at not finding any reference to this upcoming event or to the book as we walked around the town.
In the late afternoon, after a large gelato cone and a purchase of a beautiful framed painting as a souvenir of our visit (we really liked the wood landscapes created by Alberto Guidotti, we left Montepulciano and the Valdichiana to head home but already looking forward to our next trip! Where should we go?
About Cristina Romeo
Born in Florence at the end of the fabulous '70s, Cristina has always lived in the famous "cradle of the Renaissance". She's in love with her homeland, but also enjoys traveling and discovering new places. Cristina is mum to a lovely little girl, to whom she hopes to pass on all the passion and love of our precious, wonderful Tuscany.