One of the reasons I started to write this blog is that sometimes I forget places I have fallen in love with. Cortona is one of these magnificent locations and I am excited to write about it, scared that I won't do it justice, and scared that people may start visiting more and ruin all that makes it wonderful. Antonio and I ended up there purely by chance. Our last Italy trip was barely planned. We bought a ticket into Rome and a ticket out of Paris - that was about as much planning as we did. The day before we were supposed to check out of our aparthotel in Rome, we had no idea where to go. I turned to Twitter for recommendations and someone mentioned the Sun Festival in Cortona. We said f-it, let's go! It was one of the best decisions we could have made. We could have used these Cortona Travel Tips, but we figured things out as we went along. But you, just read through and get ready to have an amazing time in Tuscany.
I knew nothing about Cortona except what I had read on Twitter about the Sun Festival (which is sadly no longer there, but in Florence). When I arrived (after a very pleasant train ride & a short taxi ride to town) I knew I was in love. There is not much space for cars to get around, so our taxi dropped us off at Piazza Garibaldi. We stepped out and could not resist checking out the view of Tuscany's hills. The city's narrow, cobbled streets and its ancient buildings will capture your soul in seconds. This walled hill city feels untouched by time. There is no starbucks. There is no McDonalds. There are artists shops, shoe makers, jewelry makers and some amazing restaurants.
If the city name sounds familiar to you, its probably due to the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, there's a reason they picked this city as the setting. Of all the different villages and towns throughout Tuscany, Cortona has gained tons of tourist attention (for reasons that will describe in just a moment), but it remains almost untainted by outside influence. One of the main reasons for its popularity is Frances Mayers who crafted an incredible tale (based on a true story) titled “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Ever since that book was first published – and then later transformed into a movie – Cortona tourism has exploded.
Far and away one of the most picturesque places on this huge blue marble we call Earth, Cortona is an almost too perfect representation of a quiet, quaint, traditional Tuscan town, everything that represents the best of this region. In Cortona you can walk-through gorgeous hills, valleys, and Tuscan fields. You can take in modern art in a medieval setting (walk into a gallery - you will most likely be invited to lunch or dinner by the artist - not so you can buy their art, but just because they want to talk to someone about it). You can enjoy delicious food and drink at any number of restaurants...with lots of Italian truffles to enhance your meal.
Millions and millions of people flock to this gorgeous Tuscan village each and every single year to soak in just a bit of that story, and maybe experience a bit of romance. I hope that once you're done reading, you book your trip...just please treat Cortona with love and tenderness. It is unspoiled and I hope that we can all keep it that way.
If you've read this blog before, you probably know that I studied Art History and that I have an unhealthy obsession with churches. Even if you aren’t a history buff, you’re going to appreciate the beautiful churches, the incredible museums (including the Etruscan Academy Museum), and the famous Cortona Tablet – a 2,200-year-old bronze artifact that shares an incredible amount of history from the earliest Cortona village life.
Cortona Travel Tips
You can go any time (just make sure to rent a car - because you'll want to visit nearby cities). Cortona is gorgeous no matter when you go. The Sun Festival has now moved to Florence (I'm super bummed - although Florence is also lovely), but there's plenty more going on in the city, especially food festivals 🙂
June: Sagra della Lumaca - There's a village quite close to Cortona called Fossa del Lupo where the “Escargot Festival” takes place. There's dancing, music, and...of course...escargot.
July: The Cortona Mix Festival has replaced the Sun Festival.
August: Sagra della Bisteca - If you're a carnivore, this one is for you. Just imagine a gorgeous steak with a glass of Chianti made just a few miles away.
September: Autumn Festival - This takes place in the village of Fratta, near Sant’Agata church, focusing on seasonal Tuscan dishes.
October: There are two festivals in the area at the time; The Chestnut festival (Teverina) & the Farm Wagon Festival (Fratticciola). You'll definitely need a kitchen if you come by at this time.
WHERE TO STAY?
Casa Chilenne: There are lots of hotels and bnb's to stay in Cortona, but I was incredibly lucky to find Casa Chilenne. Jeannette and her family will make you feel incredibly at home in this lovely BnB. We trook the room on the top floor. This meant we had an almost private living room with a kitchenette and a gorgeous patio. When we arrived, Jeanette welcomed us with a glass of Prosecco and introduced us to her gorgeous girls Carly and Daisy, her lovely miniature poodles. Breakfast at Casa Chilenne was lovely each morning and Jeanette accommodated our requests for eggs (Italians tend to do pastries and charcuterie in the mornings - this gets tiresome after 2 weeks, I could not have been happier to have eggs made for me by Jeanette. You will love this place. Casa Chilenne B&B is located at Via Nazionale, 65 Cortona 52044 (AR) - Phone/Fax +39 0575 603320
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN & NEAR CORTONA
Hot Springs: We were the youngest people in Chianciano. This is a "blue hair" kinda town, and I can understand why these incredibly smart seniors frequent it. Chianciano is not a spa. It is a town full of thermal baths and spas. It is known the world over for its mineral waters (which are said to have healing qualities). The town is full of parks, but pick a spa and spend the whole day there. These are the best spas in the world (even better than those in Budapest). Our favorite in town was CCN.
Drink Wine: You're in Tuscany. You'd be a fool not to enjoy Italy's delicious wines. There are plenty of wine bars in Cortona, but you'd be a fool to skip Montepulciano (one of my all time favorite restaurants is there - La Grotta). If you do decide to stay in Cortona, make sure to take advantage of apperitivo. Go to the bar around 4-5pm. Order a glass of wine or a cocktail and the bar will give you complimentary dishes. This will hold you over until dinner starts at 9 or 10pm. My favorite place was Caffe Tuscher on Via Nazionale, we felt welcome every night, the wine selection was fantastic, and the art on the walls was gorgeous. This place is addictive.
Santa Maria Nuova: This church is known for its Baroque style dome, rose window, and vaulted ceilings. The church contains an Annunciation scene and Nativity by lesser known Italian artists.
San Francesco: This 13th century Gothic style church was constructed by Brother Elias in 1247 on Roman remains of what was most likely hot springs. Once inside you can enjoy its 17th Century Baroque altar by Bernardino Radi, which is said to contain a relic of the Holy Cross. Besides the Holy Cross, which was brought by Brother Elias from Constantinople, the church also preserves the tunic, an evangelistic manuscript, and a pillow. All these relics belonged to Saint Francis and have been preserved by Brother Elias, who called the saint "my mother", as we are told by Celano in the first biography of Saint Francis. On the wall on the right of the entrance there are the remains of a fresco attributed to Buffalmacco (16th century).
Basilica of Santa Margherita: This 13th century church was built on a hill where a small 11th century church once stood. It was damaged during a siege and redone in 1288 by St. Margherita. She died and the church took on her name. It is known for the rose window and baroque altars.
BEST VALUE RESTAURANTS IN CORTONA
The food in Cortona is out-freakin-standing. Restaurants tend to be quite liberal when they are shaving truffles over your pasta. Tuscan food is simple and beautiful. If you get a place with a kitchen, make it a point to hit up the Saturday market in the Piazza Signorelli for fresh, seasonal Tuscan products. There are plenty of bars that will offer you an aperitivo (buy a drink & get a complimentary snack). You won't go wrong with any restaurant in the city...some will cost you more than others. Don't be surprised if you see people with their canine companions in restaurants in Cortona. Unlike the idiotic rules in the US, Italian restaurants have no issues allowing pups to chill out with their guardians...for the most part, they are incredibly well behaved. Petey would like Cortona.
These were some of my favorite restaurants right in town:
Caffe degli Artisti: Located in the heart of Cortona, Caffe degli Artisti serves classic Tuscan dishes made by owner Francesco Salvadori. The pizza there is delicious as are the pastas and bean dishes. Located at Via Nazionale, 18 +39 0575 601237
La Loggetta: This gorgeous restaurant has one of the prettiest outside areas in town. It overlooks the Piazza della Republica and serves gorgeous Tuscan food. Do not miss it. Located at Piazza di Pescheria ++39 0575 630575
Caffe Tuscher: Great service, awesome wine, and tasty food. You can't go wrong going to this place. Located at Via Nazionale 43 +39 0575 62053
HOW TO GET TO CORTONA?
BY AIR: There's really no airport that is "close" to Cortona, but this gives you an excuse to visit another city. Pick one of these locations and take a train into Cortona (info follows)
Florence International Airport - 75 miles away (I'll be writing about Florence soon, it's a great city).
Perugia International Airport - 75 miles away
Pisa International Airport - 140 miles away (I'd skip Pisa - it's a tourist trap. If you choose this airport explore Lucca instead).
Roma Fiumicino International Airport - 140 miles away (This was my choice. Rome is kind of awesome)
BY TRAIN: Take a train to either Terontola or Camucia train stations. Once you get off, look for the signs with taxi phone numbers. Call a number & ask them to pick you up at the station. It is a very quick ride up to Cortona. It took us about 2.5 hours to get to Cortona from Rome by train.
BY CAR: I'm not a fan of driving, and if given a choice, I'd take the train. If you decide to drive, take the Valdichiana exit from the A1 highway (Autostrada del Sole). After the toll take the E45 towards Perugia and then take the 2nd exit: Cortona San Lorenzo. Follow the signs to the SS71 road in Camucia and to continue to Cortona.
Have more questions about Cortona? Need more specific Cortona Travel Tips? Leave me a comment.