Under the Tuscan Sun in Cortona

Cortona is a town that has always interested travelers to Tuscany, but until recently only a discerning few tourists knew of its existence most preferring to first visit the more famous towns and attractions of the region. Many though visited Cortona to see for themselves this impressive medieval town, built high on the hill on Etruscan foundations and so rich in history. Many admired the lovely architecture and wonderful views over the Chiana valley. As many admired the uneven clusters of terracotta roofs, watched over by the arrogant towers above seemingly ‘closer to the sky than the railway station below’ as Henry James described it in 1873. In 1996 everything changed , thanks to the American writer Frances Mayes, who, fresh from a divorce made a life changing decision, bought a crumbling villa at Cortona and wrote a book, resulting in putting Tuscany, and the town of Cortona firmly on the map. Within a couple of years the book had sold millions of copies, a film was also made and Cortona became an extremely popular place to visit, especially by American tourists. All this however has not spoilt any of the charm of the town. Of course local businesses used the fame of the book to promote themselves and the town. Many ‘agriturismo’s sprung up and abandoned farmhouses were beautifully converted to provide accommodation in the wonderful countryside surrounding the town. But as well as boosting the local economy, the increasing fame of the town brought it to everyone’s attention, even a new local festival the ‘Tuscan Sun festival’ was borne. This summer festival, held at the end of July, is a blend of art exhibitions, culinary sessions, workshops and musical events, delightful to experience and more importantly giving great exposure to local artists, craftsmen and musicians with many new talents hence discovered. An interesting way to explore the town is by following in the footsteps described in the book. Sit and watch the world go by on the steps of the ancient town hall, wonder if the old little old men playing cards in the pavement cafes are really arguing or just animatedly ‘discussing’, or just soak up the atmosphere wandering the pretty Medieval streets and piazzas of the town. Cortona of course has a rich and ancient history and there are many interesting things to see. It houses a wonderful museum displaying items from Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations, as well as paintings and artefacts from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The most famous piece exhibited is probably the Etruscan bronze ‘lampadario’ or hanging lamp which was found locally. Around Cortona there are various Etruscan chamber tombs to visit including the renowned 'Tanella di Pitagora' near Camucia, and two at the foot of the hillside at Il Sodo. Cortona is not only just worth a visit, but is also a great base from which to explore Tuscany, being centrally located and near good road links. Many farmhouses and villas in the valley’s surrounding the town now provide excellent holiday accommodation in lovely locations with un spoilt views of the Tuscan countryside. See our website for a great selection of villa and apartment rentals in the area.