In Val di Chiana, the charming Tuscan valley full of vineyards, olive groves and sunflower fields, lies the Etruscan town of Cortona: a place rich in history and charm. Cortona is the village that inspired Frances Mayes’ novel “Under the Tuscan sun”.
Despite its small size, there are countless attractions to visit in the village! For this reason TravelingItaly has decided to offer you a ready-made itinerary that you can follow, especially if you visit Cortona in just one day and you don’t want to miss any of the top attractions.
A day in Cortona: tour of the old town
The itinerary will guide you through the historical and artistic beauties of the village: palaces, Churches, monuments and landscapes. Discover all the things to do in Cortona!
We start at Porta Bifora, one of the main access points to the old town of Cortona. From here we continue along Via Guelfa through Porta San Vincenzo, where we reach Piazza della Repubblica, which has always been the centre of the city.
The Piazza della Repubblica is overlooked by the Palazzo Comunale with its imposing staircase. The Palace, together with its 16th-century bell tower, are the symbols of the village. Also in the square we find the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo.
Continuing along the route we arrive in Piazza Signorelli, overlooked by the austere and prestigious Palazzo Casali. To the right of the Palace stands the neoclassical Teatro Signorelli (19th century), enriched by a beautiful loggia with seven arches. It is possible to visit its interior.
Palazzo Casali today houses the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona (MAEC). The MAEC museum is currently divided into two main sections devoted respectively to the Etruscan Academy and the Etruscan and Roman city of Cortona. In the Etruscan Academy section there are testimonies of the life and activities of that time: works of great value and true symbols of Cortona culture. It also houses art and furniture belonging to the Tommasi Baldelli family (one of the town’s most famous families) and a series of works by the Cortona-born painter Gino Severini, one of the founders of Futurism.
Walking down Via Casali, we reach Piazza del Duomo, with the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The structure was built on the remains of an ancient Roman temple from the 15th century. Inside, the aisles are divided by columns with capitals inspired by Brunelleschi’s style and it contains important works of art, including Pietro Berrettini’s Adoration of the Magi.
In front of the Cathedral there is another important religious building: the Church of Jesus. Today, it houses the Diocesan Museum of Cortona, established in 1945. Various objects and works of art are collected and displayed here: the Annunciation by Beato Angelico, works by master Luca Signorelli (including the Lamentation of the Dead Christ) and the splendid Assumption handing the girdle to St Thomas by Bartolomeo della Gatta (1470).
The tour continue in Via Jannelli, with an outside visit to the picturesque medieval houses.
The afternoon can be spent visiting the upper part of the village, with the Basilica of Santa Margherita and the Girifalco Fortress.
The Sanctuary is dedicated to Santa Margherita, the patron Saint of Cortona, and it was built in 1304. The Church was designed by Giovanni Pisano and internally frescoed by Pietro Lorenzetti.
The ancient fortified Fortress of Girifalco was built in the 13th century and it was completely renovated in the 16th century, during the Medici era. It is currently open to the public in summer period and it is on its way to becoming an important centre for contemporary art, as well as a space used for cultural events.
Cortona also offers other places to visit that are truly rich in spirituality and landscapes that will leave you breathless, such as the Eremo delle Celle, situated at the foot of Mount Sant’Egidio: a place where nature and silence reign supreme. The Eremo was founded in 1211 by San Francesco with his first brothers from Cortona: the Blessed Guido Vagnotelli and Brother Elia.
What to eat in Cortona
Eating in Cortona is a real pleasure for the palate; its cuisine is based on ancient, simple and genuine recipes that offer a unique and unrepeatable culinary experience. All the restaurants in Cortona offer traditional local dishes combined with classic Tuscan dishes prepared with 0 km products and high quality raw materials. Here are some of Cortona’s best dishes that you should not miss:
- Pasta al Funo
- Tuscan Ribollita
- Ciucio Arrosto (goose)
- Pappardelle with hare sauce or wild boar and goose meet sauce
- Bread Soup
- Local cold cuts and cheeses
What to see nearby
- Montepulciano (38 minutes by car)
Montepulciano is a must: a medieval village of rare beauty with elegant Renaissance palaces, ancient churches and splendid squares. Some scenes from the film New Moon (Twilight saga) were also shot here.
- Arezzo (40 minutes by car)
Arezzo is the Cinderella of Tuscany, unjustly overshadowed by the fame of Florence, Siena and Pisa. It offers everything you would expect from Tuscany: atmosphere, hospitality, art and gastronomy, but without the unbearable tourist crowds.
- Pienza (53 minutes by car)
Pienza is a must-visit destination; thanks to its strategic position, perched on the top of a hill, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the entire Val d’Orcia. This enchanting village is also known as the “ideal” Renaissance city.
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